Rivers of Rubbish
GoZeroWaste, an organisation set up by Beijing-based activist Elsa Tang, has members in 19 cities across China who meet to swap unwanted items and exchange tips on living more sustainably.
“If we make more responsible choices, we’re not only acting responsibly toward the environment, we’re also being responsible for our lives and our health, and can actually make many changes,” Tang said.
For decades, Chinese people lived in a planned economy where everyday goods were rationed and imported products were a luxury.
Some aspects of zero-waste living, such as reusing packaging, are familiar to older Chinese people.
It used to be common for merchants in the country to require packaging deposits for everyday goods like beer and yogurt, said Mao Da, an environmental history professor at Beijing Normal University and member of the China Zero-Waste Alliance.
“We used to think frugality was a glorious tradition,” Mao told AFP.
In the past, people would catch fish from the rivers and lakes near her village, but “you can see the pristine water right now just full of rubbish,” explained Yu, who grew up in rural Hubei province, near Wuhan.
Growing incomes and the rise of shopping and delivery apps like Taobao and Meituan have now put impulse shopping and next-day delivery within the reach of millions.
Young people who moved away to cities “just bring so many things with packaging” whenever they return to visit, the 28-year-old said.
China produced 210 million tonnes of waste in 2017, according to World Bank data, lower than the United States figure of 258 million but expected to jump dramatically as incomes grow.