Picturing Tibetan plateau’s litter problem
Unlike most photographers who visit the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to capture the spectacular landscapes, Xue Bin uses his camera to document the area’s problem with waste.
In October, Xue submitted a photo essay chronicling his experiences to a competition organized by Bon Cloud, an online marketplace that aims to connect Chinese content producers with an international audience.
His submission, Measuring Waste on the Sacred Snow Mountain, topped the table of more than 151 entries in the first round of voting.
Born in China’s Hebei province, Xue became a backpacker in 2009 and fell in love with photography while traveling.
With practice and persistence, he was able to make his hobby a career — becoming a contract photographer for the Visual China Group, a member of the China Folklore Photographic Association and a landscape reviewer for Chinese National Geography.
In August, he began his latest project, trekking and hitchhiking his way through more than 2,000 kilometers of the Tibet autonomous region and ethnic Tibetan areas in Sichuan province.
Each time he found a pile of waste by the highway, Xue used a one-meterlong piece of string tied to a stick of wood to measure out a circle. He then categorized the garbage within that circle by type before photographing it.
The inspiration for this measuring method came from his friend Xu Ru, a seafarer and anthropologist, who recommended it while the pair were visiting Mount Khawa Karpo in Yunnan province.
By categorizing the waste, Xue said he is able to intuitively represent the scale of the problem in his pictures.
“As a photographer, I am obliged to show beautiful scenes to people, but I have the responsibility of showing them the reality as well,” he said.
“I hope this measuring method can provide data for ecologists and enterprises to better deal with environmental issues.”
At one pass with an elevation of 4,800 meters on Mount Yarla in Sichuan province, Xue found 86 pieces of garbage in just one of his two-meter-diameter circles. Among the refuse were 49 plastic bottles, 32 metal cans and five cardboard boxes.
During his journey, he used his method of survey at 40 sites. His photographs show that it not just road sides, but also the region’s villages and tourism hotspots that are troubled most by the problem of waste.
“I think waste not only harms the environment visually, it also brings potential harm to the health of people and animals, such as if cows die or become sick from eating waste, or if people are affected by eating their meat or drinking their milk,” he said.
“It is not just that I want to show the public that there is a waste problem, I want to try to find solutions to deal with it, too.”
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Xue Bin measures garbage near the Yardrok Yutso Lake in the Tibet autonomous region.