The Trash Queen of China Enters India
If one wants to describe Zhang Yin, then the term ‘A global entrepreneur’ is the perfect one. Her life is an inspiration for everyone. Her business started with nothing, but a heap of trash and it grew enormously. Today it is worth billions of dollars. Now it is expanding worldwide.
A few years ago, I read a book called ‘Garbology – Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash’ written by a Pulitzer prize winner freelance journalist, Edward Humes. This book describes the severity of the problem of manmade trash all over the world. While writing the book the scope of his study was limited to America. Edward calculated that a common American citizen produces 7.1 pounds of trash in a day. If one considers 80 years of an average life span and multiplies it 365 days of a year, then a mind-boggling number comes to the front. A single American citizen produces more than a hundred tonnes of trash throughout his life.
While researching what happens to the trash, Edward found that heaps of trash are collected and exported to China by a Chinese woman named Zhang Yin. In China, she produces packing material which is produced from this paper. Now Zhang Yin is richer than the richest American women, Oprah Winfrey and J. K. Rowling. She was ranked 5th on the Forbes list of rich women.
The names Zhang Yin and her company Nine Dragons got published in Marathi Newspapers in March. So, I decided to introduce her to the readers of ’Yashaswi Udyojak’. In the first week of March 2019, the Chinese paper producing company, ‘Nine Dragons Paper Holdings’ and Maharashtra Government inked an agreement. According to the news, Nine Dragons is going to invest Rs. 4,500 crores in Maharashtra to start an industry which will be producing packing material in the form of scrap paper and paper-like things. During the signing ceremony of this agreement, the spokesperson of the company and representative of Maharashtra Government informed the press that more than ten thousand youths will get employment in this business venture.
Nine Dragons is the biggest paper and paper-like material producer in China. It was founded in 1995. Today it is known as the largest eco-friendly paper producer in the world. On 31st December 2018, the half-yearly report of the company was published. But the strange thing about the report was while mentioning about the new factories in future, the proposed industry in Maharashtra was not mentioned at all. All the emphasis was on the construction work of the four new industries in China and how the erection work will be completed at the earliest.
One should note that Zhang’s company is not expanding its operations to India instead of USA and China just for the sake of growth. The Government of China has restricted the import of trash paper from all over the world. As this option is now closed, Zhang has decided to shift the production to India. Currently, a factory in Andhra Pradesh, Asia Pulp and Paper Mills is the top paper products producer in India. But after investing 3.5 million dollars, Zhang’s company is going to take the second spot, and also it is backed by foreign investment.
I got very curious about Zhang while reading Edward Hume’s book, ‘Garbology – Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash’. I tried to gather information about her. Gradually, the success story of an industrious entrepreneur started to unfold. Zhang ‘s father was a Lieutenant in the Red Army. She was born in 1957. This means now she has crossed 60 years. She was raised in a middle-class family in the northern region of China near Hong Kong. After retiring from the army, her father was working as a General manager in a metallurgy company. Zhang is the eldest of her seven siblings.
The cultural revolution in China began in 1966. Zhang’s father got arrested during that period. Finally, he was released when the revolution ended in 1976. The family was rehabilitated. Zhang got a job as an accountant in the textile industry of Guangdong. The economic revolution in China began in 1980. Zhang settled down in Shenzhen on the southern coast of China. Her country was experimenting with changes based on the capitalistic system. That time Shenzhen had just got the status of SEZ. Today, it is an important centre for Chinese export.
Zhang started working in a multinational paper factory. But the job did not last long. Again, in 1985 she went to Hong Kong. She realised that China needed paper packaging material on a very large scale. She started a paper trading company by investing her own capital of 3,800 dollars. Though she had many competitors, she could win the fight against male dominance successfully.
Witting was the first partner in business and her spouse as well. In an interview given to the New York Times, he said that she inherited the strict nature of her army officer father. She was an expert in making the people work. She had her calculations about offering a carrot and stick for workers. The unit in Hong Kong would have proved catastrophic for her big ambitions. She decided to move to Los Angeles. There she met Liu Ming Chung, a dentist. He was born in Taiwan but was raised in Brazil. He could speak fluent English.
They both started a company named America Chung Nam. This company dealt mainly in exporting paper scrap. There was a reason for selecting this sector. During that period the economy of China was developing rapidly. Chinese industry needed metal scrap on a very large scale. Zhang was the first who realised this need and started exporting the used metal and paper waste from America to China. Until then, paper made from bamboo grass and rice stalk was used for packaging in China. The environmentalists started protesting it. Industrialists were searching for new options for raw material. In those days packaging material was made from wood in the USA or Europe. Though the packaging material made from the paper was of good quality, no one was interested in that. The main reason behind was the effort needed to generate the paper from the trash as raw material. No one wanted to opt that way.
Zhang’s company named ‘America Chung’ struck deals with scrap depots in the USA and started gathering paper in the trash. Shiploads containing thousands of tonnes of scrap paper started to go to China. During 1995 the demand for this scrap paper increased so much that Zhang sensed new opportunities. To explore future opportunities and expand her business she went to China. ‘Why should I sell the paper collected with so much efforts to someone else?’ She thought. Instead of that, she decided to start her packaging material unit. Zhang always materialised her plans through her actions. She founded her own company named Nine Dragons in Pearl Harbour region near the border of Hong Kong.
Soon, Zhang became the president and Liu was the new CEO. Within a decade, Zhang’s business turned into an empire. Now she has eleven factories and more than five thousand workers working in them. The annual revenue shot to about 100 crore dollars. In March 2006 Zhang’s company listed its stocks on the Hong Kong Stock market and raised 500 million dollars. After that, the price of the share is increased threefold. Soon Zhang invested another 800 million dollars and ramped up the production by threefold in the next three years. Her company was the topmost producer of packaging paper not only in Asia but in the entire world. In 2011 the company’s revenue was 38 billion dollars. The number of employees increased to 17,000 and the annual production capacity reached nine million tonnes. Today, production has increased several times. Currently, America Chung Nam has around twenty factories spread all over the world.
Zhang has become a true American. She got the citizenship of America. Though her company is listed on the stock market, 72% of shares are still with Zhang’s family. Her sons help in the business.
Though Zhang’s company is based in Los Angeles, it has a tie-up with scrap depots at New York, Chicago and California. Zhang’s company picks up all the metal and paper trash these three cities can produce and exports it to China. This metal trash is transformed into gift articles and toys. Packaging material, corrugated containerboard is made with paper pulp. The articles produced by Chinese producers are packed in these packaging materials and then exported to the USA. When the American people throw away the packaging material after using the products, again it comes to Zhang’s company in the form of trash.
Zhang got this innovative idea from an American. He used to say, the wasted paper is like a forest. A forest grows again and again even after cutting a hundred times… same is the case with paper. The reused paper cycle continues. It continues for generations. Zhang explained this philosophy to the banking sector and the wheels of the economy also started rolling.
There is an important finding of the trash industry. There are some parameters that are fixed to calculate the wealth of an individual and a nation. These parameters are universal and eternal. If one finds fewer numbers of trucks carrying scrap heading towards the garbage depots, then it can be assumed that the recession has started.
It happened in 2008. As the problem of trash is increasing every day, India should learn the lesson at the earliest.
Originally Published in Yashashwi Udyojak. Subscribe Today.