If you live in China, you may want to think twice about opening that cutlery pack from your favorite takeout place. A public prosecutor in Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu province, is suing three men for allegedly recycling plastic medical waste that found its way into children’s toys and eating utensils, a local news outlet reported Monday.
After being tipped off by locals, police from Qixia District raided a recycling center on the northern outskirts of the city on Aug. 29 and in the days that followed seized 13.5 tons of medical waste, including plastic bags, tubes, and bottles used in intravenous drips.
An investigation of the company to which the recycling center is registered — Nanjing Kangshiyuan Environmental Protection Technology Co. Ltd. — found that its owner, a 46-year-old man surnamed Zhang, had been buying up plastic waste from Nanjing hospitals since 2012.
After sorting the waste supplies at the recycling center, Zhang’s company sold them to a 56-year-old middleman, also surnamed Zhang (no relation), who resold the materials to plastics factories at a small markup. The elder Zhang was detained by police on Sept. 28. In addition to the two Zhangs, an unnamed third suspect was also arrested. Two of the men have been released on bail pending trial, while one remains in police custody.
The report said that in total, the suspects had bought and resold 3,000 tons of medical waste valued at 40 million yuan ($5.7 million). Some of this waste was recycled into household products and resold in several provinces in eastern China.
Combined photos show medical waste (left) and processed plastic pellets, Nanjing, Jiangsu province, December 2016. Gu Yuansen/IC
According to the article, the suspects may be in violation of a 2011 amendment to Article 338 of China’s criminal law, which states that anyone who “discharges, dumps or disposes of any radioactive waste, any waste containing pathogens of any infectious disease, any poisonous substance or any other hazardous substance” in ways not in accordance with regulations can be fined and sentenced to up to three years in prison — or to between three and seven years in cases involving “especially serious consequences.”
The Qixia District police would not comment on the ongoing case and directed Sixth Tone to call another office, which did not answer the phone.
Additional reporting by Li You.
(Header image: Medical waste is seen piled at a recycling center in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, December 2016. Gu Yuansen/IC)