Feature: China's first "zero waste store" closes physical outlet to reach wider audience

Source: Xinhua| 2019-03-19 17:24:38|Editor: Yang Yi
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Customers choose products at the Bulk House, a zero waste and package free store, in Beijing, capital of China, March 16, 2019. The Bulk House, a pioneer social enterprise promoting a zero-waste lifestyle in the Chinese mainland, will close its physical store located in downtown Beijing on Wednesday, March 20. (Xinhua/Tang Yi)

by Xinhua writer Luan Xiang

BEIJING, March 19 (Xinhua) -- The Bulk House, a pioneer social enterprise promoting a zero-waste lifestyle in the Chinese mainland, will close its physical store located in downtown Beijing on Wednesday, March 20.

But it won't disappear: it will switch to a more flexible and innovative business model to engage a wider audience and be more actively present in places and occasions, said Joe Harvey, co-founder and manager of the store championing a lifestyle that is "zero waste, package free, reusable, and natural."

"The closing of The Bulk House is, in a way, to reduce the waste of resources of operating a physical place and it will give us more time to do more," he explained to Xinhua.

The Chinese mainland's first zero-waste store will move its presence from the artsy and trendy Drum Tower area to online channels, pop-up stores, lectures and workshops, he said.

Since The Bulk House opened its doors in early 2018, it has inspired more and more people - local residents and travelers from inside China and abroad - to take up the challenge of reducing the amount of waste that we produce in our daily life.

"For over a year, I have witnessed with surprise that so many people have joined us to become zero-wasters, to live a green, eco-friendly life and to share their experience with more people around them," Harvey told Xinhua at the store's closing party on Saturday.

He said he felt proud to be part of and witness first-hand the zero waste movement that has been growing rapidly in China.

"I've had more support in China than back home in the U.K.," he said, pointing to his vintage training shoes. "My mates back home would tease me for wearing the same pair of sneakers, but here my Chinese friends think I look cool."

Harvey and his Chinese partner, Yu Yuan (or Carrie Yu) have been practicing and promoting a zero-waste lifestyle not only in their shop but also in their own lives.

Yu has been a zero-waster since 2016, inspired by Bea Johnson, "mother of zero waste lifestyle movement," a French woman living in the United States whose family embraced a sustainable lifestyle that produced a mason jar of garbage in six years.

"Every individual can contribute to saving the world from its plastic crisis and we don't need to wear tights and a cape to do so," she said, adding that starting from the details in our everyday life, each person can make a difference.

Yu and Harvey live by the six Rs of sustainability - Refuse the use of single-use, non-degradable materials such as plastic, reduce unnecessary consumption/purchase of resources, reuse materials instead of throwing them away, repair the broken or replenish what's exhausted, recycle the recyclable and be creative to recycle the non-recyclable, and rot and compost the organic such as kitchen waste.

At The Bulk House, people can bring in containers for refills of eco-friendly shampoos and detergents, or donate and trade things they no longer use. Stainless steel straws, bamboo toothbrushes and a cotton mesh drying agent can be used to replace single-use items.

There are also shopping bags made with recycled packaging waste, and beauty products that leave no impact on the environment when washed off and flushed into the waterways.

Though Bea Johnson is a major source of inspiration, many zero-waste ideas have roots in Chinese traditions.

"The Chinese nation has always valued frugality and thriftiness. Many people who come to our store tell us that it brings back fond memories of the good old times when extravagance would be scornfully rejected," Harvey said.

However, in recent years, with the industries of "fast fashion," online shopping and food delivery services booming in pursuit of convenience and profits, greater quantities of low-end disposable products that soon end up in the trash bins have worsened the situation of a "trash crisis" and plastic pollution is posing a more and more critical challenge for mankind.

Facing this crisis, China has taken firm steps to tackle the waste problem. In February 2019, the southern island province of Hainan announced a total plastic ban, committing to end the production, sales and use of single-use, non-degradable plastic by the end of 2025.

Shanghai Municipal People's Congress - the eastern metropolis' legislation - approved a bill to legalize garbage sorting, pledging to establish a comprehensive system of waste treatment.

"Based on our experience, it is much easier to reduce the amount of waste produced from the source, meaning if we could use less disposable materials and avoid waste, we would produce less garbage and lighten the pressure on urban waste treatment," said Yu.

Not long ago, a zero-waster in the eastern province of Shandong who purchased items from The Bulk House's online shop brought back all the carton boxes that he had received in earlier purchases on a work trip to Beijing. Yu and Harvey were touched, they told Xinhua.

"In our future online operations, we will make sure that all our packaging is made of 100 percent degradable and recycled materials and work to create a circular way to reuse the packaging materials," Yu said.

Besides the previously mentioned six Rs, raising awareness of a products' environmental impacts should be placed as a priority during the design process, pointed out Dr. Mao Da, an expert in environmental history at Beijing Normal University.

"The key to mitigating the waste crisis is to redesign the products and make them eco-friendly from the very beginning," he noted.

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