Education Campaign Reduces Plastic Pollution in Southwest China

man and boy, Sichuan, China

Man and boy in Sichuan village, China. (© Yang Nan)

The Haizishan region’s beauty stuns the senses. Composed of lush forest, steep snow-capped mountains, fields of flowers and luminous alpine lakes, it is an earthly Garden of Eden.

Located in the plateau area of southwest China, Haizishan is an undeveloped region and an important water source for both the Yangtze and Yellow rivers. These rivers provide essential ecosystem services to people nearby and downstream, and as such are the focus of a freshwater conservation program led by CI.

It takes us three days to reach the Haizishan region by car. Thanks to its remoteness and the rugged mountains acting as natural barriers, the region has been largely kept away from large-scale development seen in today’s fast-changing world.

The majority of residents here are devout Tibetan Buddhists. As such they respect all creatures and treat animals as their family members. For thousands of years, their reverence to nature has never changed. They believe the lakes and mountains to be sacred sites where gods and goddesses live, which should never be encroached upon.

However, largely due to a lack of understanding of how their actions affect the environment in the longer term, people here have contributed to much of the environmental degradation that has taken place in Haizishan.

wetland in Haizishan, China

Wetland in China’s Haizishan National Nature Reserve. Locals revere natural sites like this one, yet due to a lack of understanding of how their actions affect nature in the longer term, they have contributed to much of the environmental degradation that has taken place in the region. (© Yang Nan)

Take for example the introduction and use of plastics. Typically villagers have littered plastics all around their villages and meadows, without understanding that these materials will not decompose like the organic garbage they are more accustomed to in their traditional ways of life.

Such pollution has led to the untimely death of farm animals from eating the plastics. Their corpses often end up in the river, contaminating the water and heightening the risk of disease among people living downstream.

Climate change is also is having an impact. Dramatic variations in river flows and rainfall have altered the forest’s seasonal productivity and therefore the services that the local people depend upon from these systems. However, the concept of climate change is not well understood by the local people.

Given this lack of conservation education, our team has been working to acquaint the local residents with the effects of their behaviors on the environment, as well as teach efficient and scientific ways to avoid these behaviors. These actions include methods of garbage disposal and the practices of sustainable forest and meadow management. (Learn more in the locally produced video below.)

When CI first started working here, we would see beautiful villages and meadows side by side with garbage piled up around the rivers. After just two years, we have seen this pollution lessen. Our project now involves more than 5,000 villagers and 80 front-line staff who have set up 98,000 hectares (242,000 acres) of community-conserved areas.

On our last trip to the project site, we were very happy to see that now the garbage is collected and disposed of regularly, animal remains are buried deep underground and the rivers and meadows are cleaner. Perhaps most importantly, these behaviors are becoming commonplace.

I hope with additional educational efforts in the region, the number of people taking these actions will continue to grow, helping communities to preserve their precious homeland for future generations.

Wansu Xu is a freshwater conservation consultant for CI-China.

Comments

  1. dystrbDonna says

    Very interesting article and result driven! Would love to have just an excerpt of that training to develop communities in the City of Atlanta, GA and its surrounding metropolitan areas where this type of conservation is yet needed. Thanks!

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