Chinese factory shreds wedding photos for fuel

Chinese factory shreds wedding photos for fuel

At a dusty warehouse in northern China, Liu Wei feeds photos of beaming bridal couples into an industrial shredder -- turning stories of heartbreak into a source of electricity.

Chinese factory shreds wedding photos for fuel
Photo by Jade Gao / AFP

Wedding photos are big business in China, where parks, temples and historic sites often teem with newlyweds posing for elaborate shots capturing their supposedly unbreakable bond.

But in a country where millions of divorces take place each year, many marital snaps end up shoved into the attic or tossed into the trash.

Liu's company offers an alternative: bereft ex-lovers can have their memories destroyed and recycled into fuel.

"From our daily business exchanges, we found the destruction of personal belongings is a blank space nationwide," the 42-year-old told AFP at his factory, 120 kilometres (75 miles) from Beijing.

"People with less experience in the market probably wouldn't have spotted this opportunity," he added.

Despite cultural taboos around destroying images of living people, Liu's facility receives an average of five to 10 orders per day from across China.

They include large wall photos and smaller decorative shots and albums, mostly cast from plastic, acrylic and glass.

Workers heave the images onto a forklift truck and scatter them onto the warehouse floor for sorting.

They then obscure every face with dark spray paint to protect client privacy and smash unshreddable glasswork with a sledgehammer.

"These people are all trying to find closure," said Liu. "They mainly want to unpick the knots in their hearts."

- Complex motivations -

Sullied and broken, the pictures give glimpses of broken families in happier times.

In one, a woman in a white bridal dress reclines on a bed of flowers, while another shows a lovestruck couple gazing into each other's eyes.

A sporty pair in matching kits pose with a football, while nearby, a smitten man presses his face tenderly to his pregnant wife's belly.

Brandishing his phone, Liu films the defaced photos and sends clips to customers for final confirmation.

He estimates he has served about 1,100 clients -- mostly under the age of 45, and around two-thirds women -- since launching the service a year ago.

They typically speak little about their separations, and several declined interview requests from AFP.

Liu says the motivations for destroying wedding photos are often complex.

"Few of them do this out of malice," he told AFP.

"It might be that this item brings on certain thoughts or feelings... or be a hurdle hard to overcome."

Some clients attend the destructions in person to give a sense of ceremony to a closing chapter in their lives, said Liu.

Others keep their photos for years and only dispose of them when they remarry or finally come to terms with a former spouse's death.

Given the irreversible nature of the process, Liu says he gives clients a final chance to salvage their items in case they live to regret their decision.

After getting the green light, he films his staff gently pushing the photos into the shredder's gnashing teeth.

The debris is taken to a nearby biofuel plant where it is processed with other household waste to generate electricity.

- 'Respect others' choices' -

Divorce rates soared in socially conservative China after marriage laws were relaxed in 2003.

They have fallen dramatically since the government enacted a law in 2021 mandating a month-long "cooling-off" period before couples untie the knot.

China registered 2.9 million divorces in 2022, down from over 4.3 million two years earlier.

The number of marriages rose last year for the first time in nearly a decade, giving Beijing some relief as it seeks to reverse a steep fall in births.

After annihilating the visual evidence of hundreds of unions, Liu says he has become numb to the emotions they stir up.

"The deepest feeling I have in my heart towards my clients... is that you must respect others' choices," he said.

"You must never persuade people one way or another," he added. "It does no good."

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