Can you imagine living one month without plastic? If not, you can now challenge yourself with the Plastic Four Campaign, a new campaign launched by Shanghai-based NGO Green Initiatives to abandon the consumption of four common plastics: plastic bags, disposable cups, straws and bottles.
Launched in July, the one-month campaign has been received positively, with nearly 5,000 views on WeChat and around 275 pledges in two weeks, which translates to an approximate reduction of 13,383 straws, 9,740 plastic bags, 2,956 plastic bottles and 11,458 plastic cups.
"To us, the high number of views and low number of pledges clearly highlights that people recognize the problem, are also interested in doing something about it, but eliminating it from their lives for a month seems challenging, possibly impossible, to most," Nitin Dani, director of Green Initiatives, told the Global Times.
Having run many similar campaigns, Dani found this one particularly challenging. "We are aware that most of the people, unfortunately, still find it difficult to replace plastic cups and bottles with reusable containers, as it has already become part of their daily routine to be served with branded plastic packaging," he said.
He added that, in many cases, people very often receive them without even asking for it, for instance plastic bottles at companies, or straws that come with a drink or a cocktail and disposable cups served in coffee shops.
In order to avoid plastics, customers have to emphasize to the waiter several times and in cases when environmental friendly solutions are not available, some resist but quite a few give up, said Dani.
Pledging and failing is fine
However, Dani believes that if the message of how big an impact every individual is able to make by changing these simple habits gets circulated, it may lead to a significant number of responses and greater awareness.
"Our focus is not on the final number of pledges we receive, but on encouraging people to try to be less dependent on such common plastics in their lives," said Dani. "To us, pledging and failing is okay. Not trying is not. The former shows that people truly care, and want to try. Only when you try do you realize the gravity of a problem."
The Plastic Four Campaign was inspired by the Plastic Free July global campaign that originated in Australia; there has been quite a challenge for Green Initiatives to localize it in China.
"While some behaviors are common across the globe now (single use takeaway cups) some challenges are more unique to a certain region," said Dani, who noticed that, in China, street snacks and small breakfast items served in single use, thin plastic bags are very popular as are food takeaway apps who deliver food in plastic waimai containers.
It is estimated that, if one order uses two plastic containers, food delivery platforms consume 40 million lunchboxes per day. Though many containers are made of degradable material, few are actually degraded due to the low recycling profits and poor classification professing.
From the top-down aspect, the Chinese government launched a ban on plastic bags in 2008, which prohibits supermarkets, shopping malls and retail markets from giving free plastic bags to customers.
No simple solution
Since the policy became active, China reported a two-thirds decrease in plastic bag use, amounting to 8.4 million tons of oil and 12 million tons of standard coal and 30 million tons of carbon dioxide emission reduction.
"We strongly support such actions from the Chinese government," said Dani. "China is not only on a great path of saving the environment, but also its natural resources, and both are significantly important for China's future development plans."
However, he believed that in addition to the price factor, what is missing in a big way is consumer awareness, alternatives to plastics, as well as encouragement to come up with new solutions.
For example, having early educational programs in schools and companies, and more smart government policies beyond supermarkets, such as online shopping or food takeaway systems, water filters and reusable cups in companies, and public water taps in tourist locations.
"There is no clear, simple or straightforward solution. Yet, we strongly believe that starting with better education and showing simple ways in how people can do better is just one small step in the right direction. This is exactly the goal of our action campaigns," said Dani.
Tips from Green Initiatives
The following are how Green Initiatives encourages campaign followers to reduce/avoid these plastics:
• Carry a cloth bag and buy fruits and vegetables from the local wet market instead of going to the supermarkets (since supermarkets veggies and fruits come heavily packaged).
• Instead of having to buy coffee in a disposable cup every day, bring a reusable coffee mug.
• Replace plastic bottles with a reusable bottle and carry and refill whenever we see a water dispenser.
• Avoid plastic straws by using our lips or reusable stainless steel straws and by telling restaurants and cafes in Chinese that "we don't need them!"
A recycling station for used plastic bottles in Huaibei, Anhui Province
Posters for the Plastic Four Campaign
Photos: CFP and courtesy of Green Initiatives