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This Chinese Filmmaker Can’t Stop Talking Trash

Documentary filmmaker and photographer Wang Jiuliang spent four years, between 2008 and 2011, documenting over 460 hazardous and mostly illegal landfill sites around Beijing.

His award-winning film Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011) provoked intense public discussion and is widely credited with having prodded the Beijing municipal government into allocating 10 billion RMB (U.S.$1.65 billion) to cleaning up the local waste industry. Wang then revisited the landfills he had documented. He estimates that at least 80% of them have been shuttered or upgraded. “With his photos and film, Wang Jiuliang has single-handedly accomplished what many NGOs in China had worked hard toward for decades—raising public awareness and bringing about policy change,” says environmental activist and filmmaker Shi Lihong.

Wang is now at work on a new film, Plastic China, which focuses on China’s recycling of imported plastics and is scheduled for release this summer. China is the world’s largest recycler and imports about 70% of the recyclable plastics and e-waste on the global market. Wang spoke to ChinaFile Culture Editor Sun Yunfan in December 2013 in Hong Kong.

Born and raised in China (Shaanxi and Shenzhen), Sun Yunfan has lived in the U.S. for the past decade. She studied painting at the School of Visual Arts and received an M.F.A. in Fine Arts from Pratt...