SHIJIAZHUANG, June 13 (Xinhua) -- The steel factory Han Yunhong works in is an amusement park for her daughter.
The Delong steel company in Xingtai city is among dozens of steel plants in northern China's Hebei province, a major steel and coal producer in the country. Instead of producing smoke and thick dust, the factory, covering an area of over 120 hectares, is a national 3A tourist attraction with lush trees and clean air.
Visitors are taken on a tour, on which they could see more than 200 steel sculptures, in the shape of famous movie characters such as Optimus Prime and Megatron, all made by workers using steel parts in their spare time.
"My mom works in a scenic spot," Han's daughter says as she smiles widely.
Mei Yanbin, who also works at the factory, is called "Master Mei" for his skillful craftsmanship. The toy blocks and globes made by Mei and his colleagues using steel slags, steel plates, iron wire and screws in their spare time have become popular souvenirs among tourists.
The company even opened online reservations to visit the factory in the second half of 2018. Now more than 80,000 people have visited the plant. "The visitors include ordinary people, officials and workers from other steel companies," said Yang Shengmin, deputy director of the company's general office. "All of them felt the strong contrast between us and other steel plants."
"After being graded a national 3A tourist attraction, we were allowed to charge 70 yuan (about 10 U.S. dollars) as ticket fee," said Yang. "But we never did it. Meeting the standards for an industrial tourism site forces us to keep doing a better job in environmental protection."
"Steel plants in my imagination were covered in black smoke and thick dust, but this one has totally changed that idea," said Li Heyu, a visitor from Baoding city.
The workers, too, have seen how the factory has transformed over the years.
Liu Yunzhong has been working at Delong for almost two decades. "In the past, our shirt collars would turn black after taking a walk around the factory, and even our nails and skin would be stained by the end of the day. We would even have to wash our bodies with sandpapers once in a while," Liu said.
Hebei has been blamed for the prolonged heavy smog in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region over the past decade. Official data showed the four industries of steel, power, concrete and glass accounted for over 60 percent of the total industrial emissions in the province.
Knowing that the pattern of high-polluting manufacturing is unsustainable, Delong took the initiative in 2009 to cut its capacity by one million tonnes and invested heavily in pollution treatment.
"We threw in money at a pace of 1 million yuan a day and we did that for over 200 days in 2012," said Liu Guoqi, general manager of the company. "The environment of the plant soon began to improve, and now we have put in a total of 2 billion yuan in environmental protection projects."
The company also built five closed stockyards, and vehicles will be automatically washed when coming in and out.
"Our level of emissions is much lower than the strictest national standard," said Xiao Ran, director of the company's general office.
In 2013, the central government unveiled a five-year national clean air action plan, aiming to improve air quality through measures such as closing polluting factories, limiting car use and replacing coal with clean energy. Hebei alone has cut over 150 million tonnes of steel capacity since then.
More factories have followed suit. Since 2017, nearly 10 steel plants across the country have transformed from big polluters into national 3A scenic spots.
Delong wants to do more. The company has completed a total of 288 projects aiming to become a national 4A tourist attraction since the beginning of this year. "The appearance is also part of the company's assets," said Liu. "It is not easy for a steel company to be recognized by society. We hope we can help build an eco-city with green manufacturing by continually improving our ability in pollution treatment."