Zero-waste: tricks and trends for minimizing garbage in China

World Today

How much garbage do you throw out every day? Probably more than you’d like to admit.

But reducing it from a bagful to a handful isn’t all that difficult, according to China’s ‘zero-wasters’.

CGTN’s Sun Ye explains.

Elsa Tang has produced only four pieces of garbage in three days, some of which she’ll use again.

This isn’t even her best effort, as she can often go without a single piece of junk in that same timeframe.

But just a year ago, before she accepted the “zero-waste” concept—which promotes a no-frills lifestyle that sends NO trash to the landfill—she thought it has zero chance of working.

“It might be easier in New York, but I was skeptical of how much you can make it work here in China,” she said.

“After all, we don’t even do waste sorting well.”

According to statistics, Chinese people make more than 1 kg of waste each day. That’s more than 20,000 tons for the city of Beijing every day.

Thanks to booming e-commerce, much of urban refuse nowadays is packaging. Last year, the tape that went into packaging in China alone could circle the globe more than 400 times.

When Tang started to look at her ways, she began to see what she could actually do without.

“I don’t do online shopping anymore,” Tang explained.

“I’ve deleted all my take-out apps. These things don’t add up to the price-tag. But you have to think of the real costs, about emissions, about landfills, about what you’re leaving behind.”

Instead, she shops locally, with ten canvas bags in tow and lunch-boxes for meat, tofu and traditional Chinese rice wine.

And more are now shopping—and selling—just like her.

“We are doing away with disposable containers, rewarding clients who bring their own with cookies. Everyone is happy,” Edith Kuo, a pastry vendor, said.

“I moved here from Taiwan not long ago, and I am really happy to see people here, too, taking the environment seriously.”

Other methods include tossing away chemicals and replacing them with plants and using rotten leftovers as compost.

Elsa has now started a community for ‘zero-wasters’ who are willing to trade convenience for conscientiousness. Their waste-less diaries are on display during this year’s Beijing Design Week.

One thing she said she can’t emphasize enough: going ‘zero-waste’ is easy. Just start with the bags.