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Shanghai sustainability pioneers share small ways to help save the planet right here in Shanghai

You and your crew don’t need to go and live in a forest to do your bit for the environment

Photograph: Alistairberg/Getty Creative via VCG
Have a pint-sized eco-warrior at home? Shanghai might not exactly scream ‘sustainability’ (waimai, anyone?), but that means there are all the more reasons to learn how to lessen our footprint. With Earth Day right around the corner (Thursday 22 April), we’ve talked to Shanghai’s sustainability pioneers about what we and our future eco-warriors can do to go greener. And you know what? It’s not as hard as you might think...

Hear it from the pros

Shanghai’s green-minded movers and shakers share family-friendly tips on everything from zero-waste swaps to sustainable shops

Sherry Poon
Photographs: courtesy Wobabybasics

Sherry Poon

Founder of community market Eco Design Fair
and sustainable childrenswear brand Wobabybasics

How does your family reduce waste at home?
We try to recycle and reuse everything that comes to our house, we use reusable shopping bags, we compost for kitchen waste, we bike everywhere, we eat mostly plant-based food, we buy bulk to get rid of unnecessary packing.

How do you approach big topics like environmental issues and global warming with kids? 
We’ve always been extremely open and honest, so we never shy away from any topics. We definitely try to use the right terminology. We don’t use any simpler words for what we we’re talking about – global warming is global warming; climate change is climate change.

Do you have any advice for other parents about approaching the subject?
Let the kids come up with the questions and try to ask them questions in return, like ‘What do you think?’ and ‘How do you feel about that?’. Especially with the younger ones, my husband and I try to use examples they can relate to, but I am always prepared to let it go and move on. Let it gel in their head a while, they might come up with questions later on.

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Can you share any podcast recommendations for kids to learn about sustainability?
There’re a few popular eco podcasts for young ones called Earth Rangers and Brains On. TED Talks Daily and Sustainababble are good podcasts for older kids.

What are some of your favourite eco-friendly shops and brands in Shanghai?
Our family’s favourite is Biofarm for organic produce, fruits and vegetables. Boomi for household essentials. Also, we’ve recently come to love Deja Vu on Anfu Lu for both clothing and secondhand books – they have a great English and Chinese kids’ section.

Any advice for little eco warriors who want to make a difference and add sustainable practices into their lifestyle?
Don’t try to do too much at once. Just find one passion and go with it.

What are your children’s little eco projects?
My youngest Aoran has got a little bit of a green thumb. Ever since he reached Year Two he’s been taking seeds from our kitchen waste, planting and growing them – some things obviously didn’t work out, but some have done extremely well. For example, we’ve got a pineapple plant that is five years old and a four-year-old dragon plant that’s just immense. Now we really don’t know what to do with them!

Photograph: courtesy Nanou


Founder of zero-waste homeware brand Baluchon

What’s one thing you and your family do regularly to reduce waste at home?
As a family of four, if we’re not careful, we can end up creating tons of waste. Even before Shanghai implemented the Waste Sorting Law in July 2019, we were composting on our small balcony and recycling all recyclable waste, calling the recycling guy to pick up waste at our door.

Going zero waste is a challenging goal for many families. What’s your advice?
For me, ‘zero waste’ is not the goal, less waste is. Thinking differently about the waste we create is key. [You have to realise that you are] the owner of each stream of waste you produce with your purchases. If you start to think this way, you will inevitably start to buy less, buy better quality items, make them last. It shouldn’t have to be difficult or feel like a sacrifice.

How do you approach big (and often scary!) topics like environmental issues with kids?
We actually haven’t mentioned the big picture yet, and that’s just fine. However, we teach our four-year-old daughter to respect things, to take care of her belongings, such as toys, books and clothes. And then [sustainable habits] just form naturally! [The big-picture conversation] will come at a time when they are old enough to understand it, but they will already have integrated sustainable habits by then.

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Photograph: Barefoot, courtesy Nanou

What are your favourite eco-friendly shops and brands in Shanghai?
Household cleaning products can be homemade if you are the DIY type (baking soda, lemon juice and white vinegar work wonders). At home, we use natural laundry detergent and dish soap from Soapnut Republic or refillable products from Eco & More. Feminine hygiene products from LUÜNA naturals. For personal hygiene products,like soap and body cream for the whole family, we use African-imported natural products like black soap and shea cocoa butter from DK Enterprises only.

What inspired you to create Baluchon?
My daughter’s first Christmas acted as a catalyst. I just could not accept creating that much packaging waste for a holiday, so I looked into an alternative solution and decided that cloth would be the way for us that year! From there, Baluchon was born without me realising that I was launching a company.

Eva Garcia Valero
Photographs: Eva Garcia Valero

Eva Garcia Valero

Communications Director at environmental solutions organisation Zero Waste Shanghai

What made you start reducing your waste at home with your kids?
I watched A Plastic Ocean with my daughter, Ambar, six years ago when she was five. As the movie finished, my daughter and I made a list of plastic things we would remove from our day-to-day life.

How do you make topics like environmental issues more digestible for your kids?
I feel that one of the best ways is to watch documentaries or films together with kids. Pick those that not only talk about a specific environmental issue, but at the same time give solutions and hope.

Also, it is important [for kids] to be in contact with nature. We were raised in the Mediterranean and beach life is really important for us, so every time we are on a beach we spend some time picking up all the plastic we find.

What are your top films or resources to help teach kids about sustainability?
National Geographic Kids has a section that explores fascinating facts about eco-friendly inventions and the importance of green living to protect our planet. Some of my favourite films and documentaries are Okja, My Octopus Teacher, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet, The True Cost and of course A Plastic Ocean.

Photographs: Eva Garcia Valero

What can parents do as a collective?
I encourage other parents to demand that educational institutions add sustainability into their curriculum. For example having specific school activities, lectures, workshops, community projects on environmental protection and collaborating with environmental startups.

What are your favourite eco-friendly shops and brands in Shanghai?
I recently discovered Klee Klee on Anfu Lu, a store with well-designed, sustainable clothes. The Naze Naze collection, made in collaboration with the Dulang ethnic minority in Yunnan, is an amazing project. I really recommend it for eco-fashion lovers!

Anything you want to say to all the young eco warriors out there?
I encourage them to keep speaking out, but at the same time, they should research and learn about the circular economy and how to make a real positive impact. Kids need to rethink how we create products. Young generations will be really valuable when they become part of any company. Their sustainable mindset will help companies to be bold and invest more in sustainable solutions.

Any plans this Earth Day?
Maybe it will be an excuse to travel outside Shanghai and spend the weekend close to the trees, hugging them and feeling the power of the nature.

Nitin Dani
Photograph: Linfeng Li, courtesy Green Initiatives

Nitin Dani

Founder and director of environmental organisation Green Initiatives and tech platform Seeds of Change

What’s one fun thing you and your family do regularly to reduce your waste at home? 
Apart from buying local, package-free shopping and composting, we turn juice fibre into patties. We slow-juice vegetables and fruits once a week, and then we reuse most parts of this mix, mainly the veg fibre to combine with spices, breadcrumbs and a binder (or egg) to make patties that we then freeze for whenever.

How easy is it to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle in Shanghai and why?
On a scale of one to ten, where ten is easy, I’d say we are around six to seven. Zero waste is an ideal scenario, but the fact is reducing any amount of waste is necessary. The low hanging fruit of waste reduction is actually not hard at all. Being especially mindful of packing waste and shopping for new stuff is important. Rather than trying to be perfect, we should be spending more time and energy trying to get the basics right.

Do you have any film or book recommendations for kids to learn more about sustainability?
Oh, a ton of them. I don’t know where to start. Demain, a French documentary, Home by Yann-Arthus Bertrand, Chasing Ice & Chasing Corals by Jeff Orlowski and an illustrated book called A Phenomenal Life by Misha Blaise.

Photograph: Suskita, courtesy Green Initiatives

Any advice for parents about approaching a big topic like environmental issues? 
The first thing always is to lead by example. Eco-friendly practices are not something we can simply assert
onto kids. It’s a gradual process of experiencing, practising and connecting with the planet. Going on more outdoor activities, reconnecting with plants and animals, respecting nature, eating healthy, wasting less at home, etc – these are all simple things that linger on in kids’ habits for a while. At least that’s how it happened in my house growing up.

What’s Green Initiatives’ take on saving the planet?
We strongly believe that living a conscious lifestyle is not just about saving the environment, but in reality, it also brings a lot of good health and happiness to the individuals practising it. The added bonus is that you also meet amazing and inspiring people doing similar stuff who have larger goals in life beyond themselves to help make the planet and society better for everyone.

Miguel Boy
Photograph: Kathryn Huang

Miguel Boy

Cofounder of sustainable e-commerce platform Boomi

What’s one thing you have done recently to reduce your waste at home?
Recently, my biggest interest has been food. I plan ahead of what I’ll cook before going to the market. I can’t believe how much I ended up throwing away in the past.

How can we teach people to care about the environment? 
What we suggest for people is to better understand the environment they are surrounded by. Ask yourself ‘Do I know the names of the trees that are literally outside my apartment?’ Often we spend hours talking about theoretical stuff like how the icebergs are melting, but if you cannot understand a small environment such as your own kitchen, then how can you create a commitment to icebergs? Sustainability doesn’t work if you haven’t created a personal connection to it.

What are some of your top film and book recommendations to teach kids more about sustainability?
Any films by David Attenborough are beautifully made. They are a must for any age. In terms of books, my suggestion is to choose stories and picture books about scientists, especially female scientists – there are a few about Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall. And check out Shark Lady and Hidden figures.

Photograph: Kathryn Huang

What are some of the biggest challenges for sustainable living in Shanghai?
I think the biggest challenge is waimai culture or, more broadly, delivery in general. At the Boomi office we have no waimai policy – that’s not to say we’re absolutely zero waste... We order pizza every now and then, but some people do it three times a day plus bubble tea and coffee. Can you reduce it to one?

Any advice for people who want to make a difference and add sustainable practices into their lifestyle?
Awareness is not enough. Turn it into action. Whatever you do is never too little and every action matters. The important thing is you do it and you start today.

Do you have any plans to mark Earth Day 2021?
What I always do with my family on Earth Day is that we join the Earth Hour – we turn off the lights and have a candle-lit dinner or games. No phones allowed. 

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