My Semi-Eco, Shanghainese Lifestyle

Trying to be environmentally mindful in a city like Shanghai takes a great deal of blind faith. It takes blind faith because almost every “recycling” or “sustainable” facility doesn’t look like that at all. In a country where I don’t speak the language or know much about local sustainability, I simply trust and hope that a few of my recyclables end up somewhere other than a landfill.

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The air quality suffers in China, which means that my lungs suffer, too.

I lived in Davidson College’s Eco-House during my last academic year, so I had a relatively well-established routine in trying to be environmentally thoughtful. Of course, that routine was drastically changed when I arrived in Shanghai. In some ways, my carbon footprint has significantly increased, but in other ways, I have actually become more energy efficient while living in Shanghai.

Here’s an example of the advantages and disadvantages of an environmental lifestyle in Shanghai. In the United States, I carry around a CamelBak filled with tap water. In Shanghai, I carry around huge plastic bottles of mineralized water. The major downside is that I drink massive amounts of water, insane amounts of water according to my friends. I am always well-hydrated, so I amass piles of plastic bottles. I put them outside my apartment door with the rest of my trash, and I cross my fingers that the Tonghe employees throw them in with recycling. Or if walking on the street, I throw them into one of many old trash cans with two sections labeled “recycling” and “other waste.” I really do not know the ultimate outcome, though.

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Fingers crossed that these get recycled.

Luckily, I am more energy efficient in other ways. For example, I hang-dry my clothes. The washing machines are not equipped to dry clothes, so like all the other nearby apartments, I dry my clothes on the porch or in my room. It saves energy, but I never actually started hang-drying my clothes until coming to Shanghai.

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Hang-drying clothes is also a stylish way to decorate a dorm room.

Environmentalism is a complex topic for most developing countries, but especially for China. Shanghai had a global environmental spotlight for some time because Chongming Island was originally planned to be the world’s first purpose-built eco-city. As Chai Lu, Feng Ran, and I have researched throughout the semester, that eco-city has not come to fruition. Many of the environmental initiatives around Shanghai seem similar: they are great in theory but hardly executed in practice. Still, Chinese environmental efforts are definitely still active and on-going. My plastic water bottles might be plentiful, but I do believe that at least some of them are being recycled.

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