China’s environment: what they’re doing right

With a background in Environmental Studies and Chinese, I wouldn’t be doing justice to myself if I didn’t write an article about China’s environmental customs! China is often labeled as one of the major polluters of the planet. And there’s no mistaking it; China’s overpopulated, there are days the smog is extremely apparent, and waste is still very much a problem. That being said, while China is one of the major players when it comes to the world’s ecological footprint, it is important to note it is still a developing country. On the other hand, considering they’re still a developing country, China is also at the forefront of many environmental advancements and are doing much better than western countries did during this economic phase (cough, cough – America’s Industrial Revolution). Here are a few examples of what China is doing right!

 

1. Bags

Something you see popping up throughout secluded spots in America is the banning of plastic bags. Get with the program America: banning plastic bags has been going on throughout China for over a decade now. If you head over to your local Carrefour or Miniso, and you forgot your bag, you better be prepared to throw down a couple RMB to buy one. Policies such as this result in me often seeing those token blue Ikea bags on the subway stuffed full with groceries, as people do try to avoid the fees. However, places such as fruit stands, or clothing stores, still offer up bags willy nilly; so when you go shopping remember BYOB (bring your own bag).

 

2. Walk Everywhere

I hope you’ve been working on your cardio! In big cities like Shanghai, you rely on the metro, buses, and your own two feet! The number of people I’ve met in Shanghai who own their own cars – I can count on one hand. In the major cities, getting a license plate often costs more than the car itself and plates are chosen from a lottery with the odds of winning vary from 0.2-2% Once you have a license, it’s still extremely difficult to drive. Some big cities have a policy called “Road Space Rationing.” In a nutshell, based on your license numbers, there are certain areas you can drive in on certain days. This was a policy implemented in Beijing in order to clear up the crippling pollution during the Beijing Olympics and continues to be used when pollution is exceedingly bad. Needless to say, it’s not the American lifestyle where 16 year olds with cars are common place.

 

3. No Dryers

Love it or hate it, dryers are pretty much MIA here. The vast majority of homes here still come with washers but no dryers. Once your wash is done, you simply hang it up inside your house, or, some houses have poles right outside the window, where you can hang your clothes to dry. It goes without saying this is a huge energy saver. The next time you snicker when you see someone hanging their underwear outside their window, thank them for their environmentalism!

 

4. Recycling

Many times the environmental studies student in me has screamed internally when I’ve seen people throw trash into the recycling and vice versa. However, that pain is slowly quelled when immediately afterwards someone comes along and digs around in the trash to pick out the recycling which they then in turn sell. Additionally, those people on carts who wake you up by yelling the same chant over and over are actually looking for recyclables and are calling out the items they take. In the US, the closest thing we have to this is what us college kids call “Hippie Christmas” where students throw out stuff to the curb when they move out, and other students swoop in to take what they want. Personally, I believe this mindset often backfires into being lulled into releasing responsibility of your environmental actions. However, there does always seem to be that trusted Ayi (auntie) who rifles through the trash to pick out what you don’t want.

 

5. Heating/Cooling

While the northern part of China tends to have central heating, down south it is replaced with personal heating/cooling units. Instead of wasting energy in heating the entire apartment, you simply heat the room that you’re in. Personally, I have also noticed a bit of aversion to using these from some of the locals I’ve met. For the entirety of the crippling Shanghai summer, my next door neighbor had her front door open from dawn till dusk. When I asked her why she simply responded: “It’s hot, it cools it down”. However, with multiple AC units in sight, she never turned one on. Similarly, lots of times when I’ve come in to work with a sniffly nose, the response I’ve gotten is “well, stop leaving the AC on.” Whatever the reason to the AC/heating aversion in China, the planet thanks you.

 

There’s no doubt, China’s environmental policies still have some ways to go; but don’t we all? Just note that they’re still trying, and actually, they’re doing quite well at this stage in their development. With all that being said, keep in mind that you are an individual. Take your environmental footprint into your own hands; bring your own bag/Tupperware/cup, walk to the store, eat less meat, purchase locally and make sure you shoot the Ayi a smile when you hand her that empty water bottle.

 

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Maggie Radl has studied Chinese since she was 14 and always knew she’d end up in China after graduating. She is an animal lover, environmental hippie and all around china enthusiast. She loves meeting new people and answering questions so don’t be afraid not reach out and contact her!