Green lifestyle gains traction among China's Gen Z

By Qin Mingwei and Gao Yuan (Xinhua) 10:08, August 16, 2023

File photo shows students put waste into different baskets at the "Green Bank" in the Central Primary School of Hongxingqiao Township in Changxing County, east China's Zhejiang Province. (Xinhua/Xu Yu)

BEIJING, Aug. 15 (Xinhua) -- Having been discarded in the dust in a corner of a small alley, a little potted succulent plant caught the eye of Zhu Xuan, who was scouring the streets in Shanghai with her friends for "treasures" last summer.

"It was still full of life. It was a pity that someone had thrown it away," says Zhu. "So I picked it up and now it's on my desk. I feel refreshed whenever I see it."

A 20-year-old college student, Zhu is a fan of "stooping," a campaign that encourages people to pick up unwanted items on the street for reuse. It first became trendy in New York in 2019 and is now drawing attention in China as young people grow more alarmed at the waste of resources.

Zhu is one of the many young Chinese who are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their ways of living and who are trying to leave their green footprints on the country's path toward more sustainable development.

China marks its first National Ecology Day on Tuesday amid efforts to enhance public awareness and actions to protect the ecological environment. Gen Zers are making a difference in various ways, including stooping, joining online low-carbon initiatives, or choosing green packaging for commodities.

A table, a chair, a mattress, a toilet bowl and even a bathtub -- Zhu was impressed by the variety of discarded items she encountered on the narrow streets and alleys during her stooping quests.

"These experiences have made me realize how our daily behaviors matter to the environment, and how important it is to recycle resources and avoid waste," she says.

Joining stooping activities also generates new friends for Zhu, who admitted that she would have felt awkward if doing it alone.

"We never felt like we were picking up trash. Everybody was trying to find something still valuable, like treasure hunting. It was really fun," said Zhu.

Stooping appeals to young people as a way of building social bonds among people with a similar interest in environment protection, according to Nan Zheng, the founder of online stooping accounts for more than a dozen cities, including Shanghai, Qingdao, Hangzhou and Xi'an.

Apart from connecting people for offline stooping activities, these accounts also share online information about unwanted items that may be wanted or needed by others. They have attracted the engagement of over 50,000 users, both online and offline, since November 2022, when Nan started his first stooping account.

Young people are the mainstay of used goods transactions in China, with those aged between 25 and 35 accounting for 45.1 percent and those aged 24 or below making up 22.6 percent, according to a research report released last November by QuestMobile, a mobile internet business intelligence services provider.

Zhuanzhuan, a major online platform for second-hand goods transactions in China, calculated that 668,000 tonnes of carbon emissions were prevented through the circulation of used items on the platform last year, equivalent to the emissions produced by a petrol-driven car traveling 90,000 times around the equator.

Having grown up in the internet era, Gen Zers naturally leverage the power of the internet in their pursuit of green living, by exploring new and innovative environmental activities.

An internet-based greening campaign, Ant Forest allows people to adopt trees by paying due contributions online or by garnering enough credits through performing low-carbon activities like taking public transportation, in exchange for a real tree nurtured in their names.

"It often introduces new species of trees, which is very novel and attractive to young people like me, and I would like to collect them all," says 24-year-old Dai Yipeng, who has been an Ant Forest user for over six years.

To earn more green credits, Dai now takes public transportation more often than before.

"Although public transport takes longer, when I realize I've actually helped plant a tree in the desert, the sense of accomplishment is unparalleled," she says.

By the end of 2022, a total of over 650 million users had joined the Ant Forest program to plant more than 400 million trees.

For 22-year-old Zhang Ruilin, a lover of sportswear, the packaging of a pair of sneakers matters almost as much as the shoes.

"Some stores use several layers of thick packaging materials for the shoes, which is a nuisance to consumers because it's heavy and troublesome to unwrap, and also environmentally unfriendly. I don't feel good when I have to throw the packaging away," says Zhang, who now prefers a brand that uses simple bags made of recycled materials.

Buying things with streamlined packaging, along with green transport, less use of plastics, saving water and electricity and reduced food waste, are among the most popular low-carbon practices in the daily lives of young Chinese, according to a report released by Alibaba and WIETOP Research earlier this year.

Compared with two to three years ago, the behaviour of young people has seen a marked increase in practices such as avoiding disposable cutlery when ordering food deliveries, and buying new-energy home appliances and eco-friendly products, the report says.

While two in three young people in China believe carbon reduction is closely related to their lives, they have concerns, too, about the quality control of low-carbon products and the lack of authoritative qualification for such products, according to the report.

The government aims to significantly increase the market share of green and low-carbon products by 2025. By 2030, these products should become the mainstay on the market, according to a plan released by several government departments, including the country's top economic planner, last year.

The future of China's green development depends much on Gen Zers like Zhu, who feels bonded by this shared interest and mission.

"I really enjoy meeting new people and doing a little something for the planet together," she says. "When more and more people come together to work for the environment, our home will become a little bit better."

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Wu Chaolan)


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