More Chinese Choose 'Zero Waste' Lifestyle

June 11, 2018  Editor: Su Yilin

Saizi lives in a small village in northern Beijing with her parents and two dogs. They used to live in the maddening city center, but after Saizi's parents retired, they moved to the countryside. Saizi quit her job in the city and followed them there.

The family works in the fields to plant vegetables and fruit trees. They are self-sufficient, and one principle they hold firmly is to waste nothing.

According to Saizi, this means taking just enough for one's needs and avoiding extravagance, sorting the inevitable trash, recycling and reusing everything they can.

Zero-Waste Family

Saizi's father always jokes about his wife being too cheap when asked why they decided to live a "no waste" life.

"My parents lived through a long period of material scarcity, and they learned to treasure everything and hate waste," Saizi explained.

For example, her mother would cut open the toothpaste tube to make sure that all of the toothpaste was used.

Another family tradition is using their creativity and skills to turn used items into something new. For example, after recycling the tubes, the toothpaste's cap becomes a tiny little flower pot to decorate the house. Or when their electric fan — which came out of a factory in 1986 — finally broke beyond repair, they turned it into a case. When the dog tore one of her sneakers, Saizi did some modifications and added a lace border to make an original, one-of-a-kind pair of loafers.

No food is wasted. Residue usually consists of fruit pits, nut shells, leaves and fruit that has fallen from the trees. All can be turned into fuel for fire, enzyme cleansers, fertilizers and naturally fermented wines.

They pick up dog poop with scoops made with tin cans, and use the excrement, firewood ashes and kitchen residue compost in their home garden, where nature's magic creates an endless cycle.

"There is no such thing as waste, only resources we haven't found out how to use yet," Saizi said. She is an adored lecturer at seminars nationwide, where she shares her family legacy of zero waste.

21-Day Transformation

Tang Beijia, or as many affectionately call her, "Old Tang," believes that living green is not a sacrifice. In fact, it is a way to pursue happiness and a less stressful way of life.

Tang started her "GoZeroWaste" lab in late 2016, when she began to cut plastic use and reduce trash in an effort to contribute to the battle against plastic pollution.

"I wouldn't call it a challenge to switch lifestyles. It only takes some time to adjust," she said. She created a 21-day process to ease the transformation, starting with writing a journal entry detailing all the waste one produces in a day.

"When you write things down, you will be surprised how much unnecessary waste you have made and how you could have avoided it," she said. "If every one of us could order one less delivered meal, or use one less plastic bag, together we could make a big difference."

Tang starts her day with a homebrewed coffee, with beans she purchased at the Farmer's Market in Beijing and using a grinder and latte maker she found at a second-hand exchange bazaar. For breakfast, a few slices of homemade sourdough bread and a simple and fresh organic green salad. Then to clean the dishes and mug with organic detergent she made with soap nuts.

She coordinates GoZeroWaste teams in major cities like Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou, hosts offline events like exchange bazaars and DIY workshops, and publishes information on eco-friendly living on social networks.

"Going zero waste released me from materialistic desires and helped me focus on things that are more meaningful in life," she said. "Hardly any of the most important, indispensable things in life have anything to do with material items."

To tackle plastic pollution, it is important for the government to make big-picture efforts and for businesses to bear more social responsibility, but that doesn't mean that people have to wait helplessly, according to Tang.

"We can vote with our money to support brands and enterprises that are environmentally friendly, and we have the power to make changes in our living habits right now," she said.

Zero-Waste Villages

On Wednesday, a waste-sorting project was launched in Taoyukou Village, Xingshou Township in the northern Changping District of Beijing, making it the fifth village to join in the cause of rural waste reduction in the township.

One day later, the village reduced its waste by more than two thirds. The "Zero Waste" initiative was first piloted in Xinzhuang Village in June 2016, and soon it was extended to another four villages. According to project promoters, these villages have cut their waste by 60 to 70 percent.

To achieve this feat, an expert team carried out a promotional campaign for months ahead of the launch, traveling door-to-door to teach residents how to reduce waste, sort it, recycle and reuse.

When the project began, all plastic bags were banned from local businesses, and public dumpsters were removed. Instead, every household was given two sorting bins and two boxes to separate their waste, kitchen waste was fermented to become fertilizer and enzyme products, recyclables were recycled, and toxic and harmful materials were handled by professional services. The remaining waste — less than 30 percent of the total — was gathered and handed over to municipal services for disposal.

Xinzhuang's pillar trade comes from its 560 strawberry plantations. An experiment with natural fertilizers made from kitchen waste and excrement resulted in better-tasting fruit that contained no chemical residue.

The village has become a hot destination among urbanites who come to pick organic strawberries, and the plantations have increased their revenue by 10,000 yuan (about 1,560 U.S. dollars) each per harvest season.

Earlier this year, another township in the eastern Jiangxi Province signed an agreement with an expert team to start trials in 55 villages in hopes of cutting the amount of garbage by 40 percent in a year.

Optimism, Challenges

China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment on Tuesday issued an eco-friendly behavioral norm for citizens (trial) advocating eco-friendly behavior.

The code of conduct was promoted by the ministry along with the Ministry of Education and three other government agencies.

The document listed 10 ways to improve the environment in everyday life, such as not keeping up with rapid electronics upgrades, choosing reusable shopping bags, water bottles and low-carbon transportation, sorting garbage and protecting wildlife and vegetation.

"I am confident that each day, a wider public is willing to make efforts to protect the environment and implement a green lifestyle," said Dr. Mao Da, scholar in environmental history with Beijing Normal University and an advocate of the Zero Waste Alliance, a non-profit group that has been promoting waste reduction and eco-conscious lifestyles in China.

"Zero Waste Alliance" has been hosting "citizen forums" and workshops all over the country to share and exchange experience in reducing waste and sorting garbage.

"A harsh reality that we have ahead is that with the rapid development of materialistic consumerism, society as a whole has become more extravagant and more wasteful," lamented Mao.

"We encourage people to live according to the 5R Principle: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. But there is a sixth R that is also vitally important to the cause: redesign," he said, pointing out that producers must commit to making eco-friendly products and take responsibility for recycling these products to keep non-treatable waste at a minimum.

(Source: Xinhua)

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