The Bulk House: Zero­ing in on Zero Waste

“Hu­man be­ings are the pro­duc­ers of waste and also the vic­tims of it.”

China Pictorial (English) - - NEWS - Text by Lilia

Lin­ing both sides of Gu­lou Av­enue in Bei­jing are var­i­ous bou­tique shops at­tract­ing tourists and lo­cal passersby alike. Among them, one small shop stands out, with a big green sign read­ing: “The Bulk House: Zero Waste, Pack­age Free, Re­us­able, Nat­u­ral.”

“What do you sell?” “Are all your prod­ucts made of re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als?” “What does ‘zero waste’ mean?” Th­ese are among the ques­tions that the shop­keep­ers hear most of­ten. The owner and founder of Bulk House, Yu Yuan, a mil­len­nial from Wuhan in cen­tral China, is al­ways happy to an­swer them as part of a mini “en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion cam­paign.”

“Zero waste is still a new and niche con­cept in the Chi­nese main­land,” Yu ad­mits. “I hope my ef­forts will help more peo­ple get to know and em­brace the idea.”

Achiev­ing Zero Waste

In early 2016, a hur­ried res­i­den­tial move made Yu re­al­ize the im­por­tance of re­duc­ing her pur­chas­ing. She be­gan to “do sub­trac­tion” in her daily life and pon­dered over the kind of life she re­ally wanted. Six months later, she chanced upon some TED talk videos fea­tur­ing Bea John­son, founder of Zero Waste Home, and was greatly im­pressed by, as well as at­tracted to, the life­style.

“Her fam­ily of four pro­duces just one glass jar of rub­bish in an en­tire year!” Yu ex­claims. “A brand­new life­style, zero waste saves time and money and makes the par­tic­i­pants hap­pier.”

Bea John­son’s story in­spired Yu to com­pletely aban­don her for­mer life­style of heavy con­sumerism. Soon, Yu and her Bri­tish boyfriend Joe Har­vey be­gan to try the zero-waste life­style and clas­sify their garbage. Over the next three months, the cou­ple man­aged to pro­duce only two small glass jars of house­hold waste.

“Only when you re­al­ize the

con­tents of your house­hold waste will you re­duce the pro­duc­tion of garbage from the source,” says Yu.

On De­cem­ber 21, 2017, at an in­vi­ta­tion from Yu, Bea John­son hosted her very first shar­ing work­shop in the Chi­nese main­land. “At first, I was afraid no one would come, but the tick­ets ended up sell­ing out quickly, and we fit 140 in a venue that seated only 100,” re­calls Yu. Con­jur­ing up the scene re­mains ex­cit­ing for her. “I was greatly en­cour­aged. I de­cided that if so many peo­ple care about en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, I have to keep go­ing. I knew I wanted to open a zero-waste shop to pass the idea on to more peo­ple.”

Ev­ery Ef­fort Counts

Though her store­front re­mains small, Bulk House at­tracts a large vol­ume of cus­tomers. Some have be­come reg­u­lars, in­clud­ing for­eign­ers, and oth­ers travel from other cities just to visit the shop.

The store’s shelves are filled with tooth­brushes made of horse­hair bris­tles and bam­boo, straws and other table­ware made of stain­less steel, hand­made soaps and es­sen­tial oil made of plants, preser­va­tive film made of beeswax, cloth bags and net

bags made of pure cot­ton, creative prod­ucts made of re­cy­cled items and more. All of th­ese goods are re­us­able and pol­lu­tion-free. Bulk House also sells un­packed sham­poo and wash­ing pow­ders made from Chi­nese hon­ey­lo­cust, which are sold by weight. Cus­tomers are en­cour­aged to bring their own con­tain­ers or bags.

Hang­ing next to the walls are unique and freshly ren­o­vated clothes, and an area is des­ig­nated for CD and DVD ex­change. At the en­trance is a re­cy­cling sta­tion where peo­ple can drop off un­needed items or take what­ever they need for free. Empty bot­tles and jars can also be sent to the shop for trans­port to re­cy­cling com­pa­nies.

The only food or bev­er­age served is Jane Goodall’s fair trade cof­fee. Fair trade means that work­ers are paid fair wages with­out ex­ploita­tion or op­pres­sion. Other hand­made goods in the shop are also cer­ti­fied fair trade. Yu hopes to help more peo­ple while con­tribut­ing to a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment.

In a cor­ner of the shop stands a glass cylin­der filled with plas­tic tape col­lected from pack­ag­ing ma­te­ri­als. “They have no re­cy­cling value and don’t biode­grade so we keep them in the cylin­der,” Yu ex­plains. “That is the real garbage.” To avoid con­tribut­ing more to the col­lec­tion, Yu uses biodegrad­able pa­per tape made from corn syrup that be­comes sticky when wet.

In the shop, the con­cept of zero waste can be seen in ev­ery de­tail.

“The pace of life is be­com­ing faster and faster nowa­days, and we need a pause to pon­der over the im­por­tance of the en­vi­ron­ment,” Yu says. “Emerg­ing prob­lems such as smog caused by gas emis­sions and plas­tic pol­lu­tion all make the sit­u­a­tion worse. We have to change.”

“We are not just con­sumers,” she adds. “We should con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety. Ev­ery penny we spend should fa­vor the so­cial and eco­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment rather than worsen the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion. I hope more peo­ple re­think the re­la­tion­ship be­tween hu­mans, so­ci­ety and na­ture. Hu­man be­ings are both the pro­duc­ers of waste and its vic­tims.” More Mo­ti­va­tion

Along­side run­ning the store, Yu and Har­vey reg­u­larly host sec­ond­hand flea mar­kets and meet­ings to share their ex­pe­ri­ence in en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. Lack­ing abun­dant fi­nan­cial re­sources, they per­form all the work by them­selves and con­sider it “worth it no mat­ter what it takes” be­cause they are do­ing what they truly want.

Fol­low­ing their lead, more peo­ple are try­ing to use less plas­tic and em­brace the zero-waste life­style.

“I hope to in­spire a wide range of op­tions and fos­ter greater con­ve­nience for cus­tomers,” Yu de­clares. She re­mains pos­i­tive about the fu­ture and plans to pro­vide more food prod­ucts and build a one- stop shop­ping plat­form. “We want to open more shops in other cities to help peo­ple un­der­stand the zero- waste life­style and pro­vide easy ac­cess for ad­vo­cates of en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion to try zero- waste prod­ucts.”

Al­though other coun­tries al­ready have a hand­ful of ze­rowaste shops, Yu wants to take her Bulk House abroad.

“Pub­lic aware­ness is cru­cial,” she con­cludes. “It arouses con­cern from peo­ple from all walks of life. I do what I can and hope ev­ery­one does what he or she can and mo­bi­lizes peo­ple around them. Many hands make light work. When we work to­gether, we can make the world a bet­ter place.”

The Bulk House is the first zero-waste shop in the Chi­nese main­land. All of its goods are re­us­able and degrad­able. cour­tesy of Yu Yuan

In the three months af­ter Yu and her boyfriend Joe Har­vey be­gan prac­tic­ing the zero-waste life­style, the cou­ple man­aged to limit their waste to only two small glass jars. The two jars are dis­played in the Bulk House to in­spire more peo­ple to join them. cour­tesy of Yu Yuan

A shop­per in the Bulk House. The shop sells var­i­ous goods for daily y use that are made of ma­te­ri­als eri­als such as stain­less steel, wood and or­ganic cot­ton. ton. by Lilia

Ex­cept for the IKEA shelves, all the fur­ni­ture in the shop was pur­chased from sec­ond-hand flea mar­kets or do­nated by friends. The con­cept of zero waste can be seen in ev­ery de­tail. cour­tesy of Yu Yuan

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