Friday, September 05, 2008

Waste Not, Want Not

Most things in China are very small. Tiny chairs, tiny tables, tiny garbage cans. Right now, I am confounded by these tiny garbage cans. As a family that usually puts out around four huge green cans and two recycling bins a week, having a teeny-tiny can with teeny-tiny bags is an adjustment for me.

What's the deal?

On the whole, China is very conservative when it comes to throwing things out. Little old ladies take your plastic bottles from you on the street. Men on bikes with cabs on the back carry recyclable boxes and other types of cardboard, presumably to some recycling stations. On two instances, I've seen people with make-shift shops on the side of the street fixing umbrellas. Working tediously to repair them, I am puzzled at their efforts since a new one costs less than three US bucks.

Finally, and probably most strange to me, is the lack of use of disposable products like plastic cups, cutlery, and if you can believe it, paper towels and napkins. It was very difficult to find actual rolls of paper towels at the supermarket. I'm the type who buys the 8-12 pack and finishes them in a week or two. This is a toughy for me. To fulfill this need, I had to go to the Western supermarket and spend around a dollar a roll on one that is not quite a quicker-picker upper (but comparable, thank goodness). Most restaurants (except the "nice" ones) don't give napkins at all, and toilet paper in a public toilet is almost non-existent. At BISS, since the kids have a water cooler instead of a water fountain, you might expect paper cups. Not at all. Try tin cups with handles that the kids put in a bin when they are done so they can be washed and reused the next day.

Right now, I'm trying to figure out if all the man/woman power needed for even tasks like cleaning the tin cups balances the "green" aspect of this type of conservation. What I have figured out, though, is China definitely has the man/woman power to achieve the tasks that would puzzle many Americans. And they do.



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