Going green: How to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle in Beijing

We chat to six local experts about how to do your part in Beijing

Photo: Will Cornfield/Unsplash.com
In October last year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a landmark report on global warming. In it, over 90 climate scientists from 40 countries concluded that only 12 years (now 11) remain for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which the risk of severe droughts, floods, fires, famine and poverty radically increase. In other words, to avoid a global catastrophe, urgent, collective action is required to reduce global carbon emissions by as much as 40 percent by 2030, according to the report.

All in all, it's harrowing stuff set against a stark timeline – and one of the many wake-up calls the world's been given in recent years. But it's not all bad news. From Live With Less, to The Bulkhouse, to Vegans in Beijing, these local organisations are doing their part to help the planet. Ahead of Earth Day (April 22), we spoke to six local trailblazers for their top tips on living a more environmentally-friendly life in Beijing. The recurring theme? Every little bit helps, so start right here, right now.
Natalie Bennett

Natalie Bennett

Co-founder of Live With Less

If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t slept with a mosquito. Everyday we shape this world through our actions, from the choices we make about what we consume, to our broader influence in the different communities we participate in. Food, fashion, transport... Ask questions about what you consume. Where did it come from? How was it made? Where’s it going when I’m done? Identify one thing in your daily life that you could start to change in order to have a positive environmental impact. Keep it small, simple and convenient – think ordering less waimai, buying locally produced food (try Farm to Neighbors or Beijing Farmers Market), refusing plastic bags or passing on things you no longer use at Live With Less.

Our current lifestyles have developed over decades, so big changes come through small acts. Each time a small act becomes a habit, develop a new one. Share what you are doing (successes and failures) so others can join you, whether it's sharing the location of bulk grocery locations, contacts for amazing clothing repair people, or general tips and tricks. Act better each time you know more – and if you think it’s too little, just think of that mosquito.  

To find out more about Live With Less, follow their WeChat account (ID: Crossboundaries) or visit their website.

Erica Huang

Erica Huang

Founder of Farm to Neighbors

A great way to support local sustainable farmers and eco-friendly producers is by shopping at F2N (Farm to Neighbors) Market. We encourage you to bring your own bag when you come shop, and if you donate clean, used bags (paper, plastic or tote bags) to our Zero Waste Station at the market, we'll also reuse them. Old toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes and empty shampoo bottles can be recycled here as well. Many of our F2N Market vendors will also refill your own containers when you buy cleaning products, grains and oils.

Educate yourself about food – marketing is dumbing down consumers and there's so much about food production that needs to be known. Shoppers normally just receive what’s being given to us on food labels because we can’t communicate with the person that’s making it. If you have a question, you have no one to ask. This is the mission of Farm to Neighbors: if you don’t know, or you want to know, you can find the person who grows your veggies or makes your bread. If the vendor doesn’t happen to be there, we can give you their phone number or WeChat. It’s important to have a personal connection with the person making your food.

To find out more about Farm to Neighbors, check out their weekly market (every Saturday and Sunday from noon-6pm at The Grand Summit) or follow them on WeChat (ID: F2NMarket).

Jack Kleinman

Jack Kleinman

Lead Organiser of Vegans of Beijing

As an individual, the single best thing you can do right now to reduce your carbon footprint is to adopt a plant-based diet. Animal agriculture is a leading cause of global warming, air pollution, water pollution and deforestation, but luckily it’s never been easier to transition to a plant-based diet. You can start by eating plant-based at certain meals or a certain number of days per week, then you can begin replacing regular milk with plant milk, you can try experimenting with new recipes to replace your favourite meals, you can begin tasting delicious plant-based meat alternatives, and slowly but surely you’ll realise that the transition is easy.

It’s more fun to do this with friends, and people who are already vegan or vegetarian will be more than happy to provide you with tips and advice. Vegans of Beijing provides both online and offline resources for anyone interested in a plant-based lifestyle. You don’t have to do everything alone – we're more than happy to provide you with support. We hold roughly three official monthly events in addition to weekly meetups, and our outreach dinners and documentary screenings are a great place to meet like-minded people. Get involved!

To find out more about Vegans of Beijing, follow them on Instagram (@vegansofbeijing) or add Jack's WeChat (ID: jtklein71) to join their network of groups.

Daniel Lim

Daniel Lim

Founder of HomeGrown School

If you're someone who's purchased some green vegetables recently, this is probably what it went through to get to you: At some point, a natural habitat was cleared to make way for the farm. The farmer most likely decided to use quick-fix chemical fertilisers to replace macronutrients, which diminish soil quality before leaching into the groundwater. If the farm practises mono-culture farming (ie only grows one type of crop – in this case, green vegetables), the problem of disease is exacerbated. When your green vegetables are ready for harvest, they're put on a vehicle along with thousands of others and sent to wholesale, distribution and retail centres, releasing greenhouse gases and pollution. And for every green vegetable that makes it to the retail outlet, many more don't.

A disturbingly large amount of food loss and wastage occurs during the journey from farm to consumer, and discarded 'ugly', but perfectly edible, produce accounts for a significant portion of that wastage. Any remaining green vegetables are wrapped in plastic wrap to protect them from further damage. And if you bought them online in China, that means styrofoam, bubble wrap, cardboard and more plastic wrapping – all of which will end up in the trash as soon as you open your package.

The solution? Buying local produce, or better yet, growing and recycling a portion of your own food. A family easily produces up to 10kg of food waste per week – that adds up to half a tonne a year. My school's mission is to teach urban gardening as well as how to make your own indoor composting system. Anyone can do it, right here in Beijing.

To find out more about HomeGrown School, contact Daniel on WeChat (ID: dadan8) or sign up to one of his composting classes here.

Kerry Lim

Kerry Lim

Sustainability Manager at Gung Ho

It's important to eat more plant-based foods – and luckily it really isn’t that difficult, especially in China where veg options are abundant. What helps me when I'm tempted by animal-derived products? I think of the animal and the suffering it went through. But maybe this approach isn’t for everyone – In truth, it takes courage and compassion.

In terms of sourcing plant-based foods, I turn to apps like Happycow that list vegan-friendly restaurants around the world or the local WeChat mini-app 素食餐厅指南. Farm to Neighbors is a great place to find plant-based foods that also support local farmers and budding social entrepreneurs, while Vegans of Beijing is an awesome online community (English and Chinese-language) that will support you on your plant-based journey and will provide all sorts of tips and tricks.

I've also stopped buying new clothes and reverted to swapping events instead like Live With Less. If I find a piece that I like and is still in good condition, then I know that the quality will still be there after multiple washes. If there’s something specific that I need (rather than simply want or desire) and can’t find in thrift shops or events, I put my savings towards purchasing quality brands that I know offer durable products (hence the often more expensive price tag) and are genuinely committed to the environment (think guys like Patagonia).

To find out more about Gung Ho! Pizza, visit their website, check out one of their three Beijing restaurants (Sanlitun, Shuangjing and Xihongmen) or follow their WeChat account (ID: GungHo-Pizza).

Carrie Yu

Carrie Yu

Founder of The Bulk House

A major thing for people to be aware of is what's coming in and out of their lives. The six R's cover this really well:

Refuse what you don't need.
Reduce what you need.
Reuse what you have.
Repair what you can't reuse.
Recycle what you can't refuse, reduce, reuse or repair.
Rot what remains.

My second tip is to start working on the second R, reduce, at home. The less stuff you own the more aware you are of what you need and what you don’t need to live a really comfortable lifestyle. Get yourself a simple zero waste kit, including a tote bag, a few mesh bags, a few muslin bags and one or two containers. Write a shopping list before going out, and go to wet markets to shop. Ultimately, you'll save money, eat fresher, support the local community and finally, save the planet, by living with a lot less plastic.

To find out more about The Bulk House or to purchase their sustainable products, follow their WeChat account (ID: TheBulkHouse_China).

Do your part

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Vegetarianism has a longstanding history in certain parts of Chinese society, with roots tracing back to ancient Buddhism and Taoism. Check out this handy guide for our favourite veggie, vegan and veggie-friendly restaurants in the city for when you don't feel like cooking (just say no to waimai).

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Buy your own reusable goods from The Bulk House

It may seem slightly counterintuitive to suggest buying more to use less, but The Bulk House's handy, reusable items allow you to stop purchasing one-off items, saving money, and waste, in the long run. Find everything from shopping bags, lunch boxes to menstrual cups in this helpful guide. Goods can be purchased online through The Bulk House's WeChat account (ID: TheBulkHouse_China).

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Get outdoors at Beijing's top parks

As Kerry of Gung Ho points out, 'The closer you are to nature, the more you'll appreciate her beauty – you'll start to love her so much that you’ll do anything to protect her.' Get out of the house and remind yourself what makes this world beautiful at these stunning parks.

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Ditch Didi

With over 1,000km of bike lanes in the capital, there's arguably no better way to see the city. Avoid the congestion of Beijing traffic by hopping on your bike (or Mobike) and save Didi for longer commutes or carpooling.

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