4 Questions on Sustainability Answered: from student followers at THSI

1) What methods have you used to reduce/classify trash in your community or house?

To reduce waste or reduce things/stuff, you need to spend a little bit of time at first. This time spent now will save almost uncountable time in the future. The way we (my girlfriend and I) both reduced waste was to reduce the things in our house and lives first. With a lot less stuff, we could see our home more clearly and think more clearly. It allowed us to focus on reducing waste and because we had much less things cluttering our home, we used less effort to focus.

There are so many examples, a couple of examples that have jumped into my head:

  • Cleaning sprays

We used to have loads of different bottles of cleaning sprays (there was perhaps 8 under our sink, some were ours, some had been left by previous tenants), we reduced first and we used them up each week when we cleaned our apartment. There were cleaning sprays in there we had never used, for example a window cleaner, but, because we wanted to live with less stuff, we decided to clean the windows to use it up.

Once they were all used up, we replaced these 8-ish sprays with 1 reusable bottle filled with DIY cleaning spray. We use the same spray to clean our entire home. It’s made from household items that nearly every kitchen in the world already has in it: water, vinegar, baking soda, lemon (squeeze in some lemon/lemon essential oils/a bottle of lemon juice). Instead of looking at 8 bottles, we now look at 1. At the same time we have removed a whole load of horrible chemicals from our home.

The now and the past

  • Kitchen paper/tissues in different forms:

We used kitchen towels and other forms of single-use paper without thinking to:

  • wipe up a spill on the floor
  •  remove some food on the kitchen surface
  • blow noses
  •  cleaning a desk or shelf
  • etc

Now we have replaced those with reusable items:

  1. Kitchen: we bought a cotton dish cloth (which we throw into the washing machine with the rest of our towels every week or so).
  2. Floors: 1 cloth (an old one we had)
  3. Floors: 1 cloth for surfaces like desks/windowsills (which we also already had)
  4. Face/mouth: we took another piece of cloth and cut it into many pieces, stitched the edges and they now serve as napkins/handkerchiefs for wiping our mouth after eating (which we don’t use every day as we don’t always need them) or blowing our nose (which, again, we don’t use every day as we don’t always need them).



We still buy toilet paper (we haven’t moved to that level of zero waste yet, even as someone who gets called “extreme” from time-to-time in regards to zero waste, that is still a little too extreme for me. Although depending on the country, it's not considered extreme at all).

But, with a lot less single-use paper in our lives, we save money and we save a lot of trees every week. To help with any extra thoughts you might have on this, as I have been asked this before, you might be thinking: “But, what about the water and energy use to wash these reusable cloths?”

Well, we only put on 1 or at max 2 loads of clothes washing per week. 1 other load of washing we do every 10 days to 2 weeks is washing our towels and that includes:

- our bath/shower towels (we only have 1 each)
- hand towel (we have 1 – which is in the kitchen, there isn’t a hand towel in the bathroom, we use our own bath/shower towel to dry our hands)
- tea towels (for drying things in the kitchen, we use about 2 or 3 every 10 days or so).
These other few cloths that we have for cleaning are so small that they can also fit in with those other towels and so no extra wash or water needs to be done. Also, if they can fit in along with our clothes and just towels and clothes in 1 wash, then we’d do that.

Along with loads of other examples, this is how we reduced things and waste in our home. We almost always just have 1 of everything as well and then we have less things to think about.

Cutting my already long story a little shorter…

Because we reduced so many possessions (but, remembering we only reduced the ones we didn’t need. Minimalism is not about owning almost nothing, it is about only owning what you need and use) and reduced almost all single-use items from our home we now have very little waste.

Glass containers/jars are rarely recycled in Beijing, so we reuse glass jars and when we have too many, we give them to friends or others through our zero waste community or need glass jars. We use glass jars to store things like rice, dried beans, spices, etc. We don’t take the glass with us when shopping to get filled as they would be too heavy and so that’s inconvenient. Instead we fill organic cotton muslin bags with rice/beans/nuts etc at the markets. We go to normal markets, not supermarkets (ads everything at supermarkets is wrapped in plastic).

All food scraps (carrot peeler, egg shells, banana skin, etc) goes into a bowl that we keep in our freezer and once a week that goes into our compost bin.

Carboard boxes we reuse them in our company to send out our zero waste products.

We still recycle things, but we are also working to have less recycling.

Metal/wood: both pretty rare to have in recycling form, but if we do, they go to the recycling guy in our community.

Paper (as in A4 paper): reused, recycled or composted (3 simple options there).

2) Are the results good or not? Did others cooperate your method and project?

The results are great, life is much easier this way. We changed our way of living slowly over a year from the summer of 2016 to August 2017 and that’s when we started our 2 jars of waste for 3 months (start of August 2017 to the end of October 2017) and from there we have continued on making zero waste easier and easier for us.

We have played a part (as we are sure it was only us that influenced our followers, I’m sure they learnt from other people as well) at helping thousands of people reduce their waste. 

Of course, it is going to take time to get millions of people in China involved and we realise to make any difference on the environment, we need 10’s of millions and then 100’s of millions of people involved. That means showing the benefits to different people. For some it is saving time, for others saving money, for others a more relaxed and less cluttered home, for parents and families it is a healthier living environment and for some brilliant people it is because they just care about the environment enough to start making changes in their lives.

3) Will you be able to help us to clean our community? If yes, how?

If community means your school, then certainly I can certainly design new systems within your school to reduce waste. I look to only produce systems that will make things better for the students, teachers and other staff at the school. The systems should also keep the parents happy. Making things better will mean different things for different people and the best way to create systems is to tick as many boxes for as many people as possible. 

That could be giving the cleaners an easier job as they have less bins to empty each day.
Saving the school money as they spend less money on single-use items.
Educating and empowering students to create their own projects to ensure the systems continue on and are improved each school term. 

Some examples to reduce waste in your school would include:

a) No food-waste in regards to edible food (clean-plate policy)
b) Non edible food waste --> on-site compost bins 
c) Reducing unnecessary printing and unnecessary use of paper --> for paper that is used --> reused as scrap paper --> all reused scrap paper recycled
d) Cardboard boxes that can be reused --> reused
e) Cardboard boxes that can't be reused --> recycled
f) Removal of all plastic bottles in the school --> reusing/refilling throughout the school (1 factor to hurdle here is... I am aware food and beverage contracts with 3rd parties could get in the way here, but that's okay, 3rd parties can be educated as well during the sustainable consulting).
g) and an awful lot more.

4) What advise would you give us for environmental protection?

Start with 1 small, very specific thing, for example: removing plastic water bottles and replacing them with each student having a reusable bottle + water stations around the school.

First before implementing the system, track the schools current plastic water bottle usage. See how much is being recycled, see how much is being sent to landfill. Write these numbers down, you can use these numbers later to show others the difference you have made.
Put a poster above every water station with an interesting environmental fact.
It might be that the school needs to charge for the water, if so, there is a system that can also be put in place there. 
Remove the sale of water in single-use plastic bottles from the school. 

Once you have your 1 small, very specific thing running well, move onto the next thing. That could be reduce food waste in your cafeteria. A really easy way to do this is have 1 bin just for food, but the bin on some large weighing scales (like the ones you have  and record on a board for the whole school to see the weight in food waste created each day from uneaten food. Then work to bring that weight down.

I hope the answers to these questions are helpful. Any questions you may have, please ask them in the comments below and I will answer as soon as I can. 
Thanks for reading.
Apologies for typos and grammatical errors, life is short.
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Joe Harvey

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