How can China maintain double-figure economic growth without exhausting natural resources? "Growing mushrooms on tea waste," Professor Gunter Pauli, founder and director of ZERI (Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives) Foundation, replied.
Pauli's theoretical basis originated from a pilot project that ZERI implemented successfully in a coffee-growing region of Colombia a few years ago: growing mushrooms on coffee waste.
"When you are drinking a cup of coffee, you are only drinking 0.2 percent of what farmers have produced, and you throw the rest away. A lot of waste and you don't think about it," Pauli told a recent news conference.
The news conference was held to introduce and promote some environmentally-friendly projects by a Japanese business delegation that will attend the Ninth China Beijing International High-tech Expo scheduled to open on May 23.
"But if you can use everything, you can do 500 times more," Pauli acknowledged.
In the Colombia project, mushrooms only grow three months on coffee waste, thanks to caffeine, but normally, it takes nine months, according to Pauli.
"It is a similar scenario with tea and people don't need to cut down trees to grow mushrooms. Imagine in Beijing, everyone is using tea to grow mushrooms. If you design business in multi-functional approaches, you can grow faster," he said.
Pauli was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1956 and once developed a detergent called Ecover that was believed to be among the first group of environmentally-friendly detergent products in the world.
Pauli created ZERI in Tokyo, Japan in 1994 when he was assistant to president of the United Nations University and, two years later, he established ZERI Foundation in Geneva, Switzerland, at the sponsorship of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Swiss government.
"The common vision shared by the members of the ZERI family is to view waste as a resource and seek solutions using the nature's design principles as inspiration," reads the official website of ZERI Foundation.
According to Pauli, ZERI focuses on three areas: research, implementation and education.
"Humanity cannot expect the Earth to produce more for us. We must do more with the Earth that has already been produced for us, " he said.
To date, Pauli has developed hundreds of ZERI projects worldwide and in Japan, about 2,800 companies are committed to the concept of ZERI.
In China, the economy has been growing fast over recent years. During the past 27 years since China initiated the reform and opening-up policy, its economy rose 9.6 percent annually on average, and the average economic growth rate was 10 percent in the past three years, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
In the first quarter of this year, China witnessed its economy grow by 10.2 percent year-on-year, slightly higher than the 9.9 percent of the same period last year.
Commenting on this, Pauli said China must pursue a recycling economy if it wants to maintain fast growth for decades to come. Meanwhile, he suggested China should not imitate the United States and Europe. China must "innovate" and "design its own mode for economy", he added.
Pauli cited the education problem as one of the biggest obstacles to China developing a recycling economy. "The country's whole educational system today doesn't talk about a recycling economy," he said.