With millions of Chinese visiting the country’s sacred mountains every year, keeping them trash-free is incredibly difficult. Luckily, that’s where the Spiderman cleaners come in. These dedicated men an women risk their lives on a daily basis, rappelling down steep cliffs to reach plastic bottles, bags and various other garbage thrown there by uncivilized tourists.
Spiderman cleaners get their name from the dangerous nature of their job. Photos released in the media show them dangling thousands of feet above ground on the side of steep mountain cliffs, supported only by ropes or cables, as they attempt to collect hard-to-reach trash. In an attempt to highlight the danger of their work and make tourists think twice before littering, some of the cleaners actually exchanged their regular uniforms for Spiderman costumes. This has made them a hit with visitors, who often stop to watch these real-life versions of their favorite superhero descend into the abyss to pick up a piece of trash, rewarding them with applause and cheers when they complete their mission.
Chinese media often portrays Spiderman cleaners as heroes, and for good reason. They literally risk their lives every time they go after a piece of trash left in popular scenic spots by tourists who never stop to think about the impact their gesture may have on nature or the people tasked with cleaning up after them. Injuries are frequent and the stress is so great that people sometimes faint on the job. In 2014, Chinese papers wrote about a female Spiderman cleaner who fainted while cleaning a giant stone monument at Meng Mountain Guimeng Scenic Spot in Linyi, Shandong Province.
Because of the dangerous nature of the job, few people have the courage to work as Spiderman cleaners, and those who do are rewarded handsomely. For example, two years ago, the Guimeng Scenic Spot put up and ad for a Spiderman cleaner, offering 10,000 yuan ($1,600) a day in wages, but also mentioned that the work was to be performed “at your own risk”.
Spiderman cleaners all around China pick up tonnes of liter from the country’s scenic mountains every year. Some of them have been doing it for over a decade, and despite the great risks involved, don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Luckily, the exposure their admirable profession has been getting in national media during the last few years has inspired more people to think twice before littering. Peng Wen, who has been keeping E’Mei Mountain trash free for the last 17 years, says he has noticed a remarkable decline in the amount of tourist trash in recent years, which means he doesn’t have to risk his life as often as he used to.
So the next time you feel like throwing a piece of trash in a scenic spot or even on the street, spare a thought for these unsung heroes and how they risk their lives to keep the world clean for everybody.