Mrs. Zhou avoids the city. In the seven years she’s lived and worked in Beijing’s vast northern suburbs, she’s ventured only once to the capital’s peak-roofed core. Raised in a village in Henan province, she never learned to read or write much. Subway maps and street signs are impenetrable. She frets about getting lost.
But Zhou, 36, knows the capital. It appears to her each day in the fragments of plastic she sorts. Garbage collectors from across the city lumber in with with waste stacked high on their motorbikes. Zhou spends her days picking through twisted tubing, abandoned appliances, and take-away containers still splattered with sauce.
From the hearth of her brick and concrete shelter, she’s also learned a little about the world beyond Beijing. The ever-growing city sheds plastic like snakes shed skin, yielding no shortage of waste. But her livelihood depends on the worth of the material, which…
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