Camille Owen

A Green Revolution for China: Waste Less, Want Less

In recent years, the idea of a sustainable lifestyle has been catching on in a major way. Maybe you’ve seen this tweet from @ZeroWasteChef, Anne-Marie Bonneau:

“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

We now realize that it’s more impactful to have thousands of people taking small actions every day than to have just a few flawless upholders of the sustainability movement. However, for those living and teaching in China (including myself), the ideas that Western eco-advocates recommend can seem more difficult, less accessible.

One way we can keep our personal footprints on the ‘green’ side is to reduce waste and save resources in our everyday lives. Read on to find out how many of us do so at EF in China!

BYO Everything

We’re talking tote bags, containers, reusable cups and more. Convenience stores will almost always give you a bag whether you buy one item or ten, so get ready to say “bú yòng dài zi” which means “I don’t need a bag”. Nowadays you can get shopping bags that fold down to a tiny size, so they’re easy to carry around with you. I like keeping a metal cup, cutlery and extra plastic container in the office for dǎbāo coffee or lunch. Bonus: Starbucks gives a several kuai discount for bringing your own vessel!

Save at your Center

We’re teachers over here – inevitably we use so much paper! Save the trees and reuse the blank side of paper for student doodles or note-taking; you can arrange a ‘spare paper bin’ to facilitate this. See if you can use a separate copier drawer to print on the blank side as well! Around the office, get together with colleagues to keep and compile communal teaching resources (i.e. worksheets and handouts) instead of throwing them out. In our school, we’ve also tried repairing/sewing broken materials rather than replacing them. In terms of stationery, refillable whiteboard markers and pens are a cool consideration if your ink is always running out.

Get a Water Guy

At home, you'll probably want to set up a method of getting drinking water easily in China, so consider getting it delivered to your house by the tǒng (Barrel? Large bottle? Keg? I’m sure you know what I mean). When you finish hydrating, return it to your local water guy who with replace it with a fresh tǒng – cheap, convenient and a low-waste solution!

Buy Second-Hand

Trying not to buy, or at least not buy in excess is a great way to reduce personal wastage. When moving in, seek out second-hand WeChat groups where departing foreigners sell or give away household items. Alternatively, just check with colleagues at your center to see who is on the way out and see what you might be able to snag from them. You’ll save a lot of money this way too! It also pays to invest in high-quality for things you know you’re going to use often, like work shoes or certain clothing items. This saves you from replacing them again and again.

Lowering our consumption and waste is a great starting point to show you care about the planet. The good news is, it’s easier than you think as a foreigner in China. Take a couple of eco-friendly steps, make a few changes, and you’re already doing your part in your own way. Good luck!

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