Preface: Many individuals around the world, particularly the millennials, have taken their zero waste initiatives consistently as a lifestyle. They are most likely inspired by Bea Johnson, the zero waste life guru, who started the transition for her whole family from as early as 2006, then by Lauren Singer, a 25 year-old New Yorker who was able to fit her three years’ trash into a single glass jar, or by Rob Greenfield who has taken his extreme zero waste journey across America diving into over 1000 dumpsters to show what Americans are throwing away. Bea Johnson has a book called “Zero Waste Home”; Lauren Singer has created her own company the simply.co that sells real sustainable cleaning products; Rob Greenfield also has a book called “Dude Making A Difference”. Most recently Rob had a new project which was for him to wear, yes wear, all the trash that he created in a month by living like an average American. All three have been prominent TED Talk speakers.
My name is Nicholas. Yes, I am one of those individuals that they have inspired. I have just started down my own zero waste journey not long ago. Compared with them, God..I don’t see that there is any comparability, I am nothing but a “green” rookie. My target for 2017 is to transit toward a zero waste life by the end of the year. In fact, I am just as ordinary as probably every one of you who is reading my blog right now. My logic is nothing but a simple one: If I can do it, then everybody can.
Personally, I had never sorted or thought to reduce my own trash until I came to France in 2014. Neither had I ever looked into my personal impact on the environment resulted from my individual actions. I did make a speech 10 years ago at my university in China. I was talking about “Think Globally, Act Locally” which emphasized the importance of tiny little good deeds from each individual to achieve far greater benefit on a global scale. But how could I have thought globally considering the fact that I had never been out of China or had any prior international experience, not to mention to act accordingly.
After university, I went to the East-African country Kenya and I worked and lived there for three years. My eyes were finally open. I began to see through my own eyes that our entire globe is connected. I saw the shoes and clothes that were thrown away in other parts of the world end up in piles for sale in a small Nairobi market. I saw containers loaded with merchandise being transported on Nairobi roads every day. Those containers were either from or going all over the world. In the supermarket in this tiny little town where I am currently living, there are two products that are imported from Kenya, which are haricot and avocado. It is in Kenya that my global perceptive started to take form.
I read more than 2 times on the news that some seaports in East Asia had intercepted containers that were smuggling elephant tusks originated from Kenya. I read about illegal mining in Ghana that threatened local habitat and polluted local environment. I heard about illegal logging in Equatorial Guinea and the Congo Basin that was depleting our planet’s precious rain forest. I have a heart of an earth lover and news like this would normally upset or agitate me.
During the 3 years, I never sorted or looked at my own trash and in fact I never had to. It was all taken care of. There was a house-girl in the house that accommodated the Chinese staff of the company. There were also employees in our office who took shifts to do the cleaning. I don’t even remember to have seen once the garbage truck at our door. They usually came after we left the house. Of course our house-girl was there taking care of it. Looking back in retrospect, I would say that even if I wanted to sort my own trash, I would not be able to do it because there was no infrastructure or collaborative system for that. I hope that the situation over there has somehow improved a bit by now.
Kenya is such a beautiful place that I was made almost oblivious to my personal impact on the environment. If it does not rain, it’s clear blue sky all year round. I was never worried about CO2 emissions from the cars. Also, for security concern, we always moved by car, so there was really no much I could do in that respect. I really had no clue about what I could do or contribute from an individual or “local basis” to fit into the context of “act locally”.
In September 2014, I came to France and settled in in this beautiful little town called Bayonne in the south of France. One of the things that I was so much impressed about was to see the French people carrying their beer and wine bottles, news papers and magazines, old clothes and shoes to a local recycling station and have them properly recycled. “The shoes they they put to recycle may likely end up in Nairobi too”, I thought to myself. Recycling is a daily practice over here and there was comprehensive infrastructure and collaborative system to facilitate that. For those from the developed countries, recycling is such a unextraodinary daily practice. In China, we do have many families who would keep our bottles, cartons or metals etc then sell them to the recycling person who navigates districts to buy those. But over here, it is incredible to see that people from one community to another act locally and daily in such a proactive manner.
I have done dozens of interviews with the French people asking about their motivations in recycling. It is quite interesting to find out that many do not always think about the environment as they did before, because it has already become part of their natural habit. They don’t have to think about anything. They just do it. People in many developed countries are like this, which is quite amazing. Though recycling is not the most effective solution in terms of waste reduction, people’s participation on a community level is definitely something that we can learn from.