Today I have a runny nose. Actually my nose it out of control, I could say I have a marathon nose as evident by the Rudolfian coloring and the throngs of used tissues teetering precariously near the top of my trash can. The culprit of my booger bonanza today is not allergies or a cold but rather pollution. When I wake up in the morning I can often tell before I even open my eyes whether it’s a hazy day or a clear day. If I sneeze after one inhalation, I know the sky is gray with smog, and it’s going to be a rough day for my respiratory system. Today the air is soupy with pollution. I’ve written before about the extreme pollution in Shenzhen, and how shockingly it is considered good in China. (Beijing just had its second day in a row of hazardously high air pollution at over 800 micrograms per cubic meter.) However, as I was walking home from work today in the midst of the haze a red clad McDonald’s delivery boy reminded me of some small things China does which are actually environmentally friendly. Things I’d love to see back home.
First, almost all restaurant delivery here is done by bike. Delivery boys for Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and yes even McDonald’s bring meals to your home using nothing but the power of their legs. Okay, some fancier restaurants use electric bikes, but I’m yet to see any gas powered delivery vehicles. So while the food they bring may not be healthy, at least their delivery method is.
Second, China charges for plastic bags. I’ve heard of cities in America that voted against this measure and I wonder why. It seems like a simple way to encourage the use of reusable bags and a basic step towards combating one of the most common contaminants filling up our dumps. Sure there are ways to get around this rule. For example, at the supermarket you have to pay for the grocery bags at check-out but not the plastic produce bags in the fruit/vegetable section, so you’ll see crafty consumers taking extra produce bags and using them to bag all their groceries after check-out. Obviously this measure isn’t a foolproof solution, but I think it’s a wonderfully doable idea and one I’d like to see America copy.
Finally, a great many escalators in Shenzhen conserve energy by running slower when no one is using them. Once a commuter steps on board the escalator speeds up to its normal speed, but between uses it conserves energy by slowing down. If big differences are made by small changes, then this is definitely a moving step in the right direction.
These positive, environmentally friendly actions in China are perhaps driven by economical rather than environmental reasons but this is a case where I think the outcome is more important than the motive. And while I’m repulsed most days by the level of pollution that is considered normal in China, I am encouraged to see that even in the pits of this polluted country there are little things being done to improve its dire condition. Now if only these little things could turn into big, big things because holy crap is it smoggy today.