I bet you have no idea how much trash you will throw away every day, right?

Nei­ther did I and the other 200 or so stu­dents in my uni­ver­sity until we started record­ing our daily waste dis­posal, an act that wasn’t very pleas­ant to its daily prac­ti­tion­ers and an idea thought to be futile by experts in the field of envi­ron­men­tal science.

The method of record­ing could not be sim­pler and requires no more than an engine of natural curios­ity to start it up and a lit­tle more patience to keep on doing. While car­ry­ing out the trial run, I used pen and paper to write the results down. How­ever, in our efforts to make it as easy, time­sav­ing and environmentally-friendly as pos­si­ble, my research team designed an online waste record­ing form and shared it with other stu­dents through social media net­works. In the end, slightly more than 200 stu­dents joined this seem­ingly point­less activ­ity and their kind acts of click­ing or tap­ping on their smart gad­gets pro­vided pri­mary data for my research.

Guess how many plas­tic items 200 or so stu­dents used and dis­carded in one sin­gle day? 549.

Writ­ten as an equa­tion, it would look like this: 200 stu­dents x [convenient-thing fac­tor per day] = 549 plas­tic items. Although I don’t know how large is large enough for a num­ber like that to have sub­stan­tive mean­ing in life, I do know that if I count in the total num­ber of 1.35 bil­lion peo­ple as a mul­ti­plier, I will soon be sit­ting in a coun­try called People’s Repub­lic of Plas­tics.

After the com­ple­tion of the record­ing part, I sent out invi­ta­tions to stu­dent recorders through email for inter­view pur­poses. It turned out that hours of talk­ing and dis­cus­sion with peo­ple face-to-face was more ben­e­fi­cial and thought-provoking than inter­pret­ing the data. It was the reac­tions and changes hap­pen­ing in the inter­vie­wees dur­ing and after the record­ing that broad­ened my think­ing around envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion and the whole pic­ture of envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion in China.

Nearly all stu­dents inter­viewed reported that the self-imposed act of record­ing led them to become more con­scious of the var­i­ous things that they con­sume and throw away each day. Some even claimed that their level of anx­i­ety accu­mu­lated as the length of their record­ing form got longer. It was the sim­ple act of record­ing that sud­denly dawned on recorders that the waste we gen­er­ate each day actu­ally records our eco­nomic life, which, be it a bless­ing or a curse, might encom­pass and equal our whole life.

It’s too easy to blame gov­ern­ments for poorly thought-out poli­cies, or to push indus­try lead­ers to come up with tech­nol­ogy break­throughs, far eas­ier than to face the incon­ve­nient truth that our seem­ingly triv­ial daily con­sum­ing habit would accu­mu­late and ulti­mately con­tribute to an over­whelm­ingly large amount of waste. Think­ing from an unpleas­ant per­spec­tive, we are simul­ta­ne­ously liv­ing in and cre­at­ing a world of trash.

It is said that all social move­ments and changes start with a ris­ing sense of aware­ness. As a researcher, I was happy to hear inter­vie­wees talk­ing about their ris­ing con­scious­ness about waste man­age­ment, but stop­ping here would make this essay another kind of chicken-soup arti­cle that too eas­ily spreads an appeal­ing mes­sage based on unsci­en­tific research. Unfor­tu­nately, accord­ing to my inter­view results, it seemed that every­thing that starts with a con­scious­ness ends with it too.

There are three dimen­sions to assess the effi­cacy of my record­ing activ­ity as a student-initiated form of edu­ca­tion for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment: changes in atti­tude, aware­ness and actions. Because together we uncon­sciously cre­ated that large amount of trash, I hypoth­e­sized that a ris­ing envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness would next lead to a change in behav­ior among the group of recorders, and thus stir up pos­i­tive social change through gath­er­ing up our efforts as indi­vid­u­als. How­ever, to my sur­prise, few recorders have pushed for­ward and trans­formed their envi­ron­men­tal aware­ness into daily prac­tices in pur­suit of a greener lifestyle. “After record­ing my use of dis­pos­able chop­sticks for four days, I was think­ing that maybe I should buy myself a pair of reusable chop­sticks” said one stu­dent recorder who failed to put her words into actions ulti­mately. She was just think­ing about tak­ing action.

If you want to push fur­ther for rea­sons, they will tell you: “Per­sonal change is not as force­ful and effec­tive as sys­tem change, there­fore we are unwill­ing to change as indi­vid­u­als.” Some oth­ers believed in tech­no­log­i­cal fixes instead of per­sonal change to solve the envi­ron­men­tal prob­lem. For exam­ple, one inter­vie­wee claimed that it was too trou­ble­some to use a lunch-box because he’ll have to wash it after­wards. Instead, he would be more than will­ing to pay extra for biodegrad­able take-out boxes, which would save him the trou­ble and at the same time be more environmentally-friendly.

It even became amus­ing for me to hear inter­vie­wees talk­ing about their grow­ing aware­ness, while reject­ing any actual actions or even attempts to change their own lifestyle. It seemed to me that this emerg­ing con­scious­ness report­edly gained by every recorder some­how, mys­te­ri­ously, turned into a kind of col­lec­tive uncon­scious­ness that shunned any fur­ther actions. Aware­ness alone doesn’t carry us along the road to social change.

So the ques­tion becomes: what is lack­ing between the pres­ence of dis­course and the absence of actions?

Knowl­edge, thought by many, could bridge this gap and link words with actions. Nearly all inter­vie­wees reached a con­sen­sus on the impor­tance of higher edu­ca­tion. Some recorders claimed that they failed to have follow-up actions because they haven’t been informed or instructed about spe­cific, quan­ti­fied ways to tackle the envi­ron­men­tal prob­lem. This men­tal­ity per­fectly reflects the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of envi­ron­men­tal edu­ca­tion, or edu­ca­tion in gen­eral, in China: We have taught stu­dents knowl­edge from waste recy­cling to cli­mate change, but so exclu­sively from a top-down struc­ture that they grad­u­ally lose the pas­sion and curios­ity to reflect, intro­spect and ques­tion from a bottom-up fashion.

If there does exist edu­ca­tion for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment wor­thy of com­ment in China in the first place, then it is far from suf­fi­cient, biased and unfairly dis­trib­uted across the huge and var­ied land and across dif­fer­ent lev­els of edu­ca­tional insti­tu­tions. We have empha­sized too much the role of insti­tu­tions and sys­tems, and we over­looked the role of each indi­vid­ual. We have too much con­fi­dence in future tech­nolo­gies, which, we believe, would delete words like “restraint” and “pre­serve” from our per­sonal dic­tio­nar­ies. We, together with our media, have cul­ti­vated a col­lec­tive cul­ture in which every­one is con­cerned about the whole pic­ture and about the pub­lic affairs while in the mean­time every­one is unwill­ing to inter­con­nect their pri­vate life and per­sonal habits with the bet­ter­ment of the whole society.

It’s dead­line. ” one inter­vie­wee answered, “There should be some­thing like a dead­line that could finally moti­vate peo­ple to do and change things. ” But, is there a dead­line for human beings in terms of envi­ron­men­tal protection?








200人x1天=549 份塑料制品