China’s zero-waste activists fight overconsumption

Carrie Yu, founder of zero-waste shop The Bulk House, places eggs into her personal re-usable egg carton. Increasing numbers of Chinese people are embracing a life of recycling and sustainability, as the country comes to terms with the scale of pollution caused by years of consumerism and growth. (AFP)
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Updated 22 January 2020

China’s zero-waste activists fight overconsumption

  • From central government to major corporations, pressure to produce re-usable goods and packaging is growing

BEIJING: Parcel piles at sorting centers and drivers speeding to deliver takeout are normal sights in urban China, where e-commerce and delivery apps thrive.

But the embrace of consumerism will generate as much as 500 million tons of waste annually by 2030, says the World Bank.

There are signs of a fightback — this week the government announced bans on plastic bags in cities and single-use straws from restaurants from this year.

The zero-waste movement is also grabbing public attention.

“Everything is wrapped with plastic, because it’s convenient, but the cost is tremendous,” said Carrie Yu, who committed to “zero-waste” living in 2016.

By recycling, repurposing and composting their garbage, Yu and her British partner Joe Harvey can fit three months of household waste into just two jars. Nearly every object in their apartment was selected with low environmental impact in mind.

A cardboard egg carton will be reused multiple times. Cloth make-up remover pads hang to dry after washing. Many of Yu’s clothes are second-hand or refashioned.

She buys unpackaged groceries, and makes sure to avoid restaurants that use disposable chopsticks.

GoZeroWaste, an organization set up by Beijing-based activist Elsa Tang, has members in 19 cities across China who meet to swap unwanted items and exchange tips.

“If we make more responsible choices, we’re being responsible for our lives, our health, and the environment,” Tang said.

For decades, Chinese people lived in a planned economy where everyday goods were rationed. Some aspects of zero-waste living, then, are familiar to older people.

It used to be common for merchants in the country to require packaging deposits for goods like yogurt, said Mao Da, an environmental history professor at Beijing Normal University.

“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.

Growing incomes and the rise of delivery apps like Taobao have put impulse shopping and next-day delivery within  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 tons of waste in 2017, according to World Bank data, lower than the US’s 258 million but expected to jump as incomes grow.

Efforts to tackle consumer waste are “slowly becoming mainstream” in China, Mao said.

Shanghai launched an ambitious garbage separation and recycling program in July, requiring residents to sort their own trash or risk fines. Beijing is set to follow.

In a document released Sunday, the government said production and sale of disposable polystyrene and plastic tableware would be banned by the end of the year.

The plan also outlaws single-use straws in the food and beverage industry this year, while disposable plastic should not be “actively provided” by hotels by 2022.

Corporations are also taking note. Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba said last year it would make its annual Singles Day shopping festival “green” and set up 75,000 packaging recycling points in the country. Over 2.3 billion parcels were shipped in the aftermath of last year’s Singles Day.

But big corporations tend to prefer  promoting recycling to reducing consumption. “We must contain the total volume of the material being consumed,” Mao said.

Yu and Harvey are keen to encourage others to try their way of life and have launched The Bulk House, an online store that sells alternatives to single-use products including biodegradable tape and washable menstrual pads.

Yu, who made the change after a difficult move forced her to part with most of her belongings and confront her shopping habit, feels the “zero-waste” approach is good for people as well as the planet.

She explained: “I just feel so much lighter.”


Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

Updated 01 June 2020

Arab News recording exposes Nissan lawyer’s lie on IMF bailout for Lebanon

LONDON: Arab News has published the recording of an interview with a Nissan lawyer after he denied saying that a bailout of Lebanon by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was linked to the extradition of fugitive tycoon Carlos Ghosn.

The former Nissan chairman fled to Beirut in December from Japan, where he faced charges of financial wrongdoing.

In a story published in Arab News Japan on Saturday, Sakher El Hachem, Nissan’s legal representative in Lebanon, said the multibillion-dollar IMF bailout was contingent on Ghosn being handed back to Japan. 

The lawyer said IMF support for Lebanon required Japan’s agreement. Lebanese officials had told him: “Japan will assist Lebanon if Ghosn gets extradited,” the lawyer said

“For Japan to agree on that they want the Lebanese authorities to extradite Ghosn, otherwise they won’t provide Lebanon with financial assistance. Japan is one of the IMF’s major contributors … if Japan vetoes Lebanon then the IMF won’t give Lebanon money, except after deporting Ghosn.”

On Sunday, El Hachem denied making the comments. “The only thing I told the newspaper was that there should have been a court hearing on April 30 in Lebanon, but it was postponed because of the pandemic,” he said. In response, Arab News published the recording of the interview, in which he can be clearly heard making the statements attributed to him. 

Japan issued an arrest warrant after Ghosn, 66, escaped house arrest and fled the country.

Now listen to the recording: