These Nature Lovers Are Working to Clean up South China

By Adam Robbins, August 22, 2018

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Every day, China taps our favorite apps and lunch appears. This happens 20 million times each day, China Youth Daily reports, but it comes at a hefty cost: over 60 million plastic cartons tossed aside daily and nearly 15 billion plastic bags each year. 

Some is burned, but too often it joins a tide of plastic pollution swept by rains and rivers into the world’s oceans. Of nearly 8 million tons that join the sea each year, China delivers over 2 million, according to the environmental journal Hakai Magazine. In January China’s National Development and Reform Commission promised new rules to limit the flow of single-use plastics, but it’s easy to feel powerless as we wait for a solution.

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Image via @solart/Pixabay

Is there anything we can do? Yes. In fact, there is. 

In Guangdong, we’re home to Green Foot, a volunteer-driven community helping us reclaim our home from this mountain of trash. Jessica Huang, ambassador for the Shenzhen headquarters, explains that Green Foot founder Angela Wang loves the outdoors but found herself increasingly heartbroken. 

“When she’d go to climb mountains, she’d see a world full of rubbish. She didn’t want to escape from China to a cleaner place. She decided to take her own share in doing something for China, for our country.”

In 2016 she set up shop in Shenzhen and started recruiting like-minded strangers. By December she’d launched Green Foot’s first event, a hike through Dongxichong with her new friends, filling 10 rice bags with the trash they found. Since then Green Foot has spread across the region. 

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Image via Green Foot

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Image via Green Foot

“From our [WeChat] platform data,” Jessica reports, “10,000 people [have been] involved in at least one kind of event.” These include popular trash pickups, swap-meets and workshops about reusing old items. “They were all in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan, but we’re talking about expanding to Shanghai. Green Foot members are so proud to be involved, they want to spread [to other cities].”

“You’ll see the same banner, the flag, the same warm faces because we choose our ambassadors very carefully,” she continues. “And they speak English! We’re international, with many foreign members who help with creative ideas.”

READ MORE: Photographer Scales Great Heights to Protect China's Environment

One ambassador, Joen, recently brought 40 eighth-grade students to Shenzhen Bay Park to get involved firsthand. “[We] spread out into the park, picking up litter. After one hour, we gathered up and each group shared their thoughts. After the sharing, I shared guidance and let them realize why we do this and how we can help in creating an environmentally friendly society.”

It’s not just the trash they cart away, but the sense of purpose they share. When they take action together, “the world has been united in a new way,” Jessica tells us. “So that’s why we can build a community like this: because we know what people are longing for, in this money-talks society... Now we’ve become a community where people are tightly attached.”

Get involved by following WeChat ID ‘green_foot’ for announcements (in English and Chinese) about events — as well as a program rewarding you with ‘green points’ for participating. One thing worth marking on your calendar is World Cleanup Day, September 15, 2018, when China joins 150 countries for a day of action, with Green Foot leading southern China. 

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Image via Green Foot

But if sun or rain keeps you away, consider Plastic Free Fridays as your personal challenge: each Friday, avoid the use of any single-use plastic cartons, utensils or bottles. “We understand that our life is getting busier and busier… it can be hard,” Jessica acknowledges, but Green Foot offers links to cute, reusable options you can use instead. 

“We can start changing our habit one day a week – we can realize what our life will be like without disposable plastics.” 

In a world awash in waste, Green Foot offers a path to a better future. It’s up to us to follow, one step at a time.

READ MORE: Meet the People Working to Save Shenzhen's Coral Reefs

[Cover image via Green Foot]

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