How virgin plastic sabotaged the recycling industry | Fortune

Cut into a hillside in northern Malaysia, amid oil palms and rubber trees, stands a large, open-air warehouse. This is the BioGreen Frontier recycling factory, which opened last November in the village of Bukit Selambau. On a searing-hot afternoon in January, Shahid Ali was working his very first week on the job. With his feet square in front of a chute on the production line, he stood knee-deep in soggy, white bits of plastic. Around him, more bits floated off the conveyor belt and fluttered to the ground like snowflakes.

Hour after hour, Ali sifts through the plastic jumble moving down the belt, picking out pieces that look off-color or soiled—rejects in the recycling process. Though it looks like backbreaking work, Ali says it is a great improvement over his previous job, folding bedsheets in a nearby textile factory, for much lower pay. Now, if he eats frugally, he can save money from his wages of just over $1 an hour and send $250 a month to his parents and six siblings in Peshawar, Pakistan, 2,700 miles away. “As soon as I heard about this work, I asked for a job,” says Ali, 24, a squat, bearded man with glasses and an easy smile. Still, he’s working 12 hours a day, seven days a week. “If I take a day off, I lose a day’s wages,” he says.