This Couple Lives Trashless in a City Hampered by Trash

6 min read 

Carrie and Joe fell in love in the city of Beijing. Together, they decided to tackle the city’s trash problem head-on, starting by following a lifestyle that produces no waste themselves. Later, they founded THE BULK HOUSE, which is the first social enterprise in China that focuses on promoting zero waste.

1

Dry hot morning light beams through the dirt covered windows in my small apartment in downtown Beijing, distupting the stagnant air in the room. My eyes are still closed, but I could smell dust particles floating in the air.Traces of a quiet mood quickly fade as the noises of morning Beijing traffic creep through my close-shut windows. Reluctant to get out of bed, I rub my face with the back of my hand for a good 5 minutes, preparing myself for another day of hustling as a journalist in Beijing.

Beijing sunrise, Photo by Matthew Peng
Beijing sunrise, Photo by Matthew Peng

I skip breakfast as I’m always behind schedule. A sip of freshly-brewed black coffee in a plastic cup on the way to work would suit me fine. It’d wake me right up if I ask the barista to make it extra dark. A number of breakfast vendors pull their food carts along the sides of the street to catch the morning commuters. Workers flood through this very intersection of two busy main streets. Many would make a quick stop here to grab a bite to start their day. On the sides of the food carts are neatly piled-up plastic bags, cups, and boxes in different sizes. These street chefs can quickly pull one from the pile in a swift motion for any food you want to order in a hurry. My lunch, and sometimes dinner as well, are delivered to the office in carefully packed microwavable plastic containers.

I rarely want to walk in the heat to get food. Food delivery services are fast, cheap and they offer a variety of choices, so it seems like a rational choice for me to order food online on a daily basis. In fact, most of my daily essentials are ordered online.


From smartphone chargers, shampoo conditioners to even groceries, websites like JD.com or Tmall offer quick one-day delivery of most items my heart could possibly desire. When I come home at night, my goodies – tape-sealed and polyurethane foam-padded in cargo packages – are already waiting by my doorstep.

This is a regular day of my life in Beijing. If I count how much plastic I use per day, it’d easily fill up a carry-on size suite case. One could call me lazy and spoiled by modern convenience. Yet, I believe there are many people living like me in Beijing and across the rest of the world. After all, this is the societal norm. This is how an average human being is raised in our modern societies. This is the kind of lifestyle people are accustomed to.

2

Carrie and Joe are a lovely couple living in Beijing. Carrie came from a small village near the city of Wuhan and Joe grew up in suburban England. They live on a complete different rhythm than most – one that’d be best described as green, organic, and minimalistic.

Joe and Carrie, @Beijing 2018
Joe and Carrie, @Beijing 2018

When I was first invited to their home, I saw a half-filled jar that constitutes all their 2018 plastic waste (not in the picture below). Their apartment is minimalistic and clean. They don’t own anything beyond essentials. Even the essentials are bought second hand.

Jar for 3 months of trash @Beijing 2018
Jar for 3 months of trash @Beijing 2018
Plastic items inside the jar from @Beijing 2018
Plastic items inside the jar from @Beijing 2018

In the kitchen, all the produce are neatly stored in glass containers of various sizes. Groceries are bought from a nearby farmer’s market. Daily food waste is carefully collected and made into compost for planting and gardening. There are no fancy shampoo or lotion in the bathroom, but a simple cleaning mixture of water and vinegar. They are avid followers of Zero-Waste.

using cotton bag for groceries @Beijing 2018
using cotton bag for groceries @Beijing 2018
Kitchen shelf @Beijing 2018
Kitchen shelf @Beijing 2018

In a nutshell, Zero-Waste is a philosophy that encourages the re-design of resource life cycle to make sure anything and everything we use on a daily basis can be re-used or recycled, so that NO trash is produced and sent to landfills, incinerators, etc. Zero-Waste is often associated with minimalism as both encourage people to own less instead of more.

Bedroom @Beijing 2018
Bedroom @Beijing 2018

Intrigued by their lifestyle, a team of us from Pandaily decided to follow them around for a few days. We took notes on how they avoid wastes, their thoughts on society, and their dream to bring about a better future for all of us. Everything we saw we included in the short documentary above.

Joe and Carrie, @Beijing 2018
Joe and Carrie, @Beijing 2018

I will re-iterate a few very important points here however. What really struck me the most during our time with Carrie and Joe is that:
1) They are truly dedicated to zero-waste, despite the fact that running THE BULK HOUSE is costing their savings. And no, they are not profitable at the moment. If you’d like to support them whether as a customers or potential business partner, please do so.

THE BULK HOUSE cotton bag @bejing 2018
THE BULK HOUSE cotton bag @bejing 2018

2) Environmental protection is a collective effort. Individuals like Carrie and Joe make inspiring stories. To bring about positive changes on a societal scale, however, we really need better regulations, environmental laws, and education on environmental protection. Carrie and Joe bring up, many times, the importance of environmental education. In fact, they are very active in hosting workshops and events of various kinds themselves – composting, repairing, recycling, etc.

THE BULK HOUSE glass jars @bejing 2018
THE BULK HOUSE glass jars @bejing 2018

3) The city needs immigrants like Joe and Carrie. They come to Beijing perhaps with dreams of adventure and a better future. Yet, through discovering the world around them, they discover their passion and are able to turn this passion into something concrete whilst meaningful to all of us. Zero-Waste is a fairly new concept worldwide, and it’s definitely much needed here in Beijing. Despite the fact that Beijing is far from becoming an eco-conscious city, individual efforts from Joe and Carrie may seem insignificant but they truly give us hope. As Joe says in the video, “we believe people can change for the better… all of the world’s greatest things started with something small.”

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