Sunday, September 16, 2012

Newspaper "Recycling"

Besides the high-rises, the busy streets, the greasy restaurant smells and the crazy nightlife there are actually many other interesting and funny little details that make Hong Kong so very unique. 

One of the things I started noticing is the process around "free" newspapers.

You probably might not have realized it, but Hong Kong has one of the world's largest press industries, and in the digital age that we live in today, the majority of Hong Kong people still reads the news on paper. 

With 7 million people living on this tiny place on earth you can imagine that the newspaper distribution is big business here. Besides the usual subscription based newspapers, such as Apple Daily (Cantonese) and the South China Morning post (English), there are over 7 free newspapers distributed in Hong Kong. 

And it is that distribution of free newspapers that I started to find both interesting as funny, as for the last year I found myself wrestling every day through hordes of people waiting in line to get a copy of one of the free newspapers. 

On my journey to work, which takes only 20 minutes, I pass about 15 of those "distribution points" where the newspapers are handed out to everybody that wants one.

Whether it is the AM730, Sharp Daily or another of those free newspapers, the women who hand them out all have their own strategically chosen location, and I noticed that the place they stay never changes, which to me feels like they all have negotiated upon who is allowed to stand in which location. 

Unfortunately the place they choose to stay is also a place where many people are walking to work, so before you know it you find yourself in a maze of people all zigzagging left and right and bumping into you, as the AM730 is located on your left side ("ah, I need to have that") **BUMP**, followed by the Sky Post on the right ("Ah another free one, let's get it") **BUMP**, the standard on the left ("ah, more!") **BUMP** and 5 more to go. 

You can imagine that when finally reach my work I do not want to read any free newspaper at all. My colleagues all know by now that they shouldn't leave their newspapers on their desk when I pass by, as those editions will all magically reappear inside the dustbin, shredded in a thousand pieces. 

But besides above traffic issues there is another phenomenon that is going on with those free newspapers. 

I noticed that next to the people that actually get those newspapers to read them, there is a significant quantity of people that have another purpose for those free newspapers. 

Every morning I saw a bunch of old people walking with huge trolleys behind them, all filled with... exactly... free news papers. 

"What does one person need with so much of the same editions of one daily magazine?" I wondered, and so one day I decided to do some investigation and started following a bunch of oldies rushing through the office-worked traffic in their hunger for free newspapers. 

Their first stop was the Wanchai MTR station where about 5 different newspapers were distributed. They all quietly walked past each distribution point and got a free newspaper, which then was put on their trolleys.

Collecting "Recycled" Newspapers
I followed them to their next stop, a few meters further where another 2 newspapers were distributed, which they (again) quietly accepted and put back in their trolleys. 

Another corner, and 3 of the same papers were collected quietly again and put back on the trolley, and so the process continued for a while until I got bored with following them and went to work. 

It was only after several weeks later when I found out what really was the purpose of this newspaper-collection-morning-exercise, when on one evening I happened to pass a waste-paper collection point. 

In Hong Kong the government has set up a waste paper collection scheme where people will get a certain fee for returning waste paper, paid by the kilo. 

When I passed the collection point I noticed a line of people (mostly aged 65+) all waiting to have their trolleys of paper weighted. Besides the large collection of carton boxes, there were several trolleys stuffed with...

... huge piles of free newspapers.