China's Recycling King Is Disrupting Waste Management In Guangzhou

Zhang Xin Tian


Think recycling isn’t a lucrative industry? Yang Jing Shan, founder of Guangzhou-based social enterprise Fen Lei De begs to differ. 

 Mr Yang participating in activiites organized by Fen Lei De and local primary school to visit people in needs

“According to the wisdom of our ancestors, those who cut others’ hair and pick up trash never run out of livelihood!” he says, laughing. Literally translated, Fen Lei De, means, “gaining from recycling” in Mandarin. By connecting homes to the recycling market, Fen Lei De aims to provide a sustainable solution to tackle the problem of increasing waste in Chinese cities. 

How exactly? Fen Lei De buys recyclable household waste (such as unwanted glass, wood and metal) from households and sells it to factories who consider them valuable raw materials and reprocess them. Fen Lei De also collects data about high quality recyclables and shares it with local government and institutes to constantly innovate waste management in the city. 

Here Mr Yang tells Asia For Good his social entrepreneur story:

How did the idea of recycling come about?

I was a successful businessman in the IT industry then 10 years ago, I was involved in a car accident. [He escaped uninjured but the experience shook him.] Luckily I survived, so I decided to take a break from my mundane work.

I went traveling in Taiwan, and that was the first time I heard about recycling. I found it interesting that “waste” could be categorised and recycled. I remember what my Taiwanese friend told me, ‘trash is really gold’!

When I came back to China, this idea stayed with me. I thought that probably recycling could be a business.

I sold my IT manufacturing factories and became a “waste picker” to understand the industry. I went around my neighbourhood in Guangzhou to find out what made up everyday trash. It was not fun, I felt embarrassed going around picking up rubbish! But I made a great discovery. Non-organic household waste like glass could be recycled! In 2008, Fen Lei De was established. It was among the first companies in Guangzhou that make recycling a business.

Fen Lei De community based grocery shops help residents to collect harmful materials

Can you explain to us how Fen Lei De works? How is it doing now?

Sure. So in modern cities there is always a need for recycling. On one hand, too much waste has been produced in cities. On the other hand, industries need raw materials, most of which could have been recycled materials. So, we are bridging the gap by building a platform to bring individual households and industries together. 

To start with, we established community-based collection points all over Guangzhou. These stations allow Fen Lei De to collect accurate data on the quantity and quality of the recyclable materials in the city. These data are updated in our cloud database by staff at each collection point. The factories that need recycled materials are able to access the information at their fingertips. So we revolutionise the recycling market by integrating the internet in our data collection and sharing process.

Currently, our company has around 100 management staff. In Guangzhou, we cover 3 districts, 13 streets, so around 300-400 thousand households. Under us, there are more than a thousand “waste pickers”. They used to wander on the streets to pick up trash, but now they collect data of the recycled materials for us.

Fen Lei De founder Yang Jing Shan speaks to Guangzhou major Chen Jian Hua

Fen Lei De founder Yang Jing Shan speaks to Guangzhou mayor Chen Jian Hua

It's not easy, right? What are the challenges and how do you tackle them?

Definitely not. Recycling is such a big problem that we all feel at lost at first. It is easy to just blame the government for not doing anything about it. But that is not helpful with solving the problem.

So let’s say if most people see a hundred of problems, we just focus on one problem at a time so it is more manageable. There are so many people in Guangzhou, we focus on those who are willing to join us, instead of those who are not.   

Instead of blaming the government, [as many are wont to do] we work with them because of our common goal: we all want to live in a clean city. To be fair, waste management is a global issue. China is so big that we can’t expect everything to be fixed overnight. So we work with the government by assisting in policy-making by providing data and expertise. When local government sees that we are making things work on the ground, they support our new initiatives.

Besides working with the government, we have tried to create a cultural shift from the bottom-up. It is not easy, and we need to start with making people aware of how their daily habits are related to recycling.  

Education in campus

You put in a lot of work into educating people about recycling, what have you done about that?

We start small of course!

In China, 20 years ago, people greeted each other by saying, “Have you eaten?” So food is important to Chinese people. So we start with advising people to separate kitchen waste from other waste.

Then, we installed battery recycle boxes in the communities. We even made a simple song for people to remember. It goes (loosely translated): “Harmful materials put aside, separate food first, and leave the rest.”Little by little, people develop the habit.

And of course we come up with innovative ways to make it even more convenient for different groups of people. For the young people nowadays, they love shopping online. Then we can have the young people to book a slot online for our staff to pick up the recycled materials from them.

For the senior citizens, we organize Sunday collection day and “buy” the recycled materials from them. The small incentives make a big difference for the elderly.

Most importantly, we let them know what they would have missed if they don’t join us.

Fen Lei De's website is under construction at 


[Traditional Chinese] 






「分類得」- 顧名思義,楊先生創立這家社會企業是要「人人都能從分類回收中取得盈利」。「分類得」提供一個一站式的管理平台,將每戶家庭和回收市場直接聯繫在一起,為中國城市日益增長的垃圾問題提供一個可持續的解決方













當然可以。大城市對回收再造有很大需求。一方面,城市生產了太多垃圾;另一方面,工業需要原料,大部分的材料可以從回收渠道取得。所以我們建立了一個平台,將生產垃圾的家庭和需要回收材料的工廠聯繫在一起。一開始,我們在廣州各個社區設立回收點。這些回收點讓「分類得」準確地收集這個城市的回收物料質量和數量等數據。這數據在雲端數據庫及時更新,需要回收材料的工廠可以很方便地取得這些資訊。我們通過互聯網收集和分享數據,完全改變了回收市場的運作模式。現在,我們的公司大約有100名管理人員。在廣州,我們覆蓋3個區, 13條街道,這包括大約30萬至40萬戶家庭。我們的社區回收點有超過1,000名拾荒者。從前,他們在街上流浪拾荒,現在,他們替我們收集回收物料的數據。









我們當然從小做起!在中國, 20年前大家見面都問「您吃了嗎?」,因為中國人重視飲食。因此我們先教大家將廚餘與其他廢物分開。然後,我們在各社區設置電池回收箱,我們更創作了一首歌:「有害單獨放,食物先分開,其他歸一類。」慢慢地,人們就養成習慣了。當然,我們也設法以創新的方法為不同的組群提供更大的便利。現今年輕人喜歡在網上購物,所以我們為他們提供網上預約服務,我們的員工便按時上門收集回收物料。對於老人家,我們舉辦周日回收市場,「購買」他們的回收物料。不要小看這些小利,它們對老人家來說作用可不小。最重要的是,我們讓大家意識到,不加入我們的行動他們將會損失甚麼。




[Simplified Chinese] 






我之前是个成功的商人。十多年之前,我遭遇了一场车祸。我幸运的活了下了。经历让暂时停止枯燥的工作中,开始一新的旅程。 在台湾的候,我第一次听回收。我得“品”能被分再利用的个概念非常有意思。我还记得台湾的朋友说过的话,“垃圾是黄金”。当我回到中国的候,个想法一直浮在我的海中。我一些靠回收品生活的人们。这让我意识到,回收利用可能是一门有前景的生意。我卖了自己的工厂。为了了解回收利用这个产业,我成为了一个“收买佬”(广东话里收买废物的拾荒者)。2008年,分类得正式成立了。它是广州正式将市场化运作引入回收这个产业的最早的公司之一。 













我们当然从小做起!在中国,20年前,大家见面都问,“你吃了吗?”因为吃文化在中国这么重要,所以我们教大家把厨余垃圾和其他垃圾分开放。然后,我们在各大社区安装电池回收箱。我们还有一首好记的儿歌,“有害单独放,食品先分开,其他归一类。” 慢慢的,人们就能养成习惯了。当然,我们还想办法为不同的人群提供更大的便利。对于年轻人来说,他们喜欢网上购物。这样在他们可以在网上预订,就有专人去他们家里收集分类好的材料。对于老年人来说,我们举办周日市场,从他们手中购买可回收材料。可别小看这些小利,它们对老人家来说,作用可不小。最重要的是,我们要让大家意识到,如果不参与我们,他们会失去什么。



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