Volunteer group helping to reduce trash along Yangtze River
Every morning at 7 am, Li Shuangxi and his wife can be seen bending over, standing up and bending over again on the marshlands of the Yangtze River in Yichang, Hubei province.
The couple are not doing their morning exercises. As their rubber-gloved hands and the plastic bags slung over their arms indicate, they are picking litter along China’s longest river.
They are joined by a dozen other people. Bags of trash begin to pile up by the roadside, waiting to be collected and sent to collecting stations. Less than an hour later the group leaves, disappearing into the flow of morning commuters.
“We call ourselves ‘ant-men’,” said Li, a hairdresser. “All we do is pick up trash along the Yangtze for about half an hour every day.”
In November last year, Li was inspired after reading a story about a young foreigner who volunteered to clean up the garbage in his local river every morning.
“I was born and raised along the Yangtze. I have no problem getting up a little bit earlier to do something for my mother river every day,” Li said.
He bought garbage bags and gloves, and began his ritual the day after reading the story.
Yichang is located in the Three Gorges, one of the most splendid sections of the Yangtze.
Li and his wife collected about 50 kilograms of trash on their first day, 100 kg on the second and more than 200 kg on the third day.
“The marshlands were like a garbage dump,” Li said.
As the amount of garbage they collected was becoming too much to handle, he asked a friend to transport the bags to a nearby garbage station on a tricycle. The station refused to accept the garbage at first, asking for disposal fees. Li tried hard to persuade workers there to accept them for free.
Later he posted photographs and a description about what he was doing on his WeChat account. Some of his friends said he should not bother as there was so much new trash every day. Some even questioned whether the whole endeavor was just a publicity stunt.
Thanks to the support of his wife and son, Li was not discouraged. After a month, about 100 people had joined him. He had “co-workers”.
In October, Li established a volunteer group called “Three Gorges Ant-men”, which now has more than 300 registered members.
The Three Gorges’ Ant-men have also won recognition from the city government, which now sends garbage trucks to the collection site and even offered the group an office, where donated gloves and garbage bags can be stored.