Can intelligent collection integrate informal sector for urban resource recycling in China?

Yanyan Xue, Zongguo Wen* (Corresponding Author), Hans Bressers, Ning Ai

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Collection is a key activity in sustainable solid waste management and resource recycling. In many developing countries, collection is undertaken mainly by the informal sector. This is accompanied by various environmental, social, health and efficiency problems. Some top-down experiments to integrate informal collection into the waste resource recycling chain have proved unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in waste management are formulating a new collection model: intelligent collection. In China, there are dozens of emerging companies who are engaging in intelligent collection of recyclables. What are the intelligent collection cases in China? Do they have potential to integrate the informal collection into the waste recycling chain? To answer these questions, we selected and interviewed 15 Chinese intelligent collection companies to identify their organisational model and comparative advantages over informal collection. We found that intelligent collection companies in China operated in two forms: human-human interaction collection and human–machine interaction collection. Comparative advantages were found in organisation, trade, data accumulation, and profit making sources. These render them with a high potential to integrate informal collection. Intelligent collection in China is still at an early stage. Its potential for a sustainable business model needs to be further explored. Its application as a supplement to the Municipal Solid Waste collection system and as an exclusive collection for high value waste items under the Extended Producer Responsibility framework seems promising.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-315
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of cleaner production
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2019


  • Intelligent collection
  • Internet and Communication Technologies (ICTs)
  • Internet of Things (IoTs)
  • Recycling
  • Waste management
  • Informal collection
  • n/a OA procedure


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