Anna - The change starts with you
Anna makes it possible for more of us to consume consciously by being passionate about waste. She always willing to discuss the darker side of consumption and works to find practical solutions to reduce waste.
Where are you from and what brought you to China?
I'm from Bulgaria, I started studying in Qinhuangdao in 2012 as an exchange student. After that, I went back to Bulgaria to complete my degree and then came back to do my masters in Hangzhou. I graduated this past June, worked in Shanghai in for a while and then moved to Ninghai in September. From an environmental perspective, it's amazing to see the changes that have happened in China over the past few years. In 2012 they just started monitoring the air quality and people weren't talking about air pollution. Now, in Hangzhou, people check the air quality before going out and people are really concerned.
What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, it's about living with low carbon emissions in an economy functioning for all people. Many of the problems we see and discuss in terms of sustainability are interconnected. Our environmental problems are connected to poverty and income inequality. What I see now, working in solar energy, renewable energy is actually creating a new kind of economy. This new economy includes low-income communities and developing countries. The majority of people in the world are living in these countries and we have to take them into account. Slowly, step by step we're solving problems, and by solving one problem we could potentially solve other problems at the same time.
What are you passionate about?
Solar power, recycling, cleaning the oceans and the protection of wildlife.
How do you consume consciously?
I don't eat meat and only consume small amounts dairy. Many times I’ve told myself that I would like someone to start caring and then I realized that I'm somebody. I can start caring. I started reading about how much water it takes to produce a kilogram of meat. I thought transportation had the biggest carbon footprint, but I found out that it's actually agriculture. Removing meat from my diet is something I could do that would have an impact on the environment. It's the easiest change with the biggest impact.
I also bring my own plastic bags when I go shopping, I bring a big bag for groceries and try to use less plastic. At home, we used to accumulate a lot of plastic bags, and some would stay there for months because we wouldn't use them. My family and I decided that we should take bags with us when we go shopping. We made it part of our family culture.
What else could you do to consume more consciously?
I want to bike more rather than taking a taxi and take shorter showers. My biggest problem is buying less clothes and shoes. I've moved four times in the last six months and realized that I have so many clothes and shoes that I haven't even worn once. I always expect that there'll be an opportunity to wear them, but the opportunity never comes or when it does I still wear the same clothes because they’re comfortable. I realized that I like the process of buying clothes and shoes. Most of the time I don't even have to buy them when I shop online, I just like putting them in the cart and after a few days I'd be surprised that I wanted to buy it, I would have never worn it.
When did you become more conscious of your consumption? :
I was working in Hangzhou for an NGO and they invited John Francis, the author of Planet Walker, to talk about environmental protection. When he was young he saw an oil spill near his home and started questioning why we use so much oil. He decided not to use transportation that relies on oil. He walked everywhere for 22 years. That was his way of reducing his impact on the environment. After that, I started reading about the impact of meat on the environment, especially compared to transportation. I found that you could have a greater impact not eating meat rather than not using transportation. I made a connection with John Francis and thought about what I could do to reduce my impact. I still need to use trains and fly home because I of where I am in my life right now, but I can stop eating meat.
What’s the easiest part of consuming consciously?
The easiest part is to make the decision to consume consciously. I found out what I could do and what I would be willing to do and started.
What’s the hardest part of consuming consciously?
The hardest part is making it part of your life. Sticking to your decisions regardless of what other people say or think. It changes your life a bit because it changes the way people interact with you and your life is a result of the interactions you have with people. I never say 'let's go somewhere where they don't serve meat', I never make an issue out of it, but people still get annoyed. I try not to impact other people with this, but if someone wants to get annoyed, they will. Some people might make fun of you in the beginning, but then they might start doing the same thing. Changing what you do could have a positive and sometimes negative effect on the relationships in your life. You'll have an influence on other people whether you want to or not, positive or negative.
How would more people becoming conscious of their consumption change the world?
It would affect many areas. Especially in China it could have a huge impact, the more people change their consumption the bigger impact it will have. We don't have a formal recycling system in China, the only form of recycling is the informal collection of cardboard and plastic bottles. My dream would be for us to implement a more integrated system of recycling and strict measures to recycle waste. That would make a change in what's being dumped in the ocean and the waste that goes to landfills. Waste is something we have to deal with in China, not through incineration, but through sorting and recycling.
What are your top 3 practical changes?
Eat less meat, especially beef and pork
Use less plastic single-use items
Take a bag with you, it’ll be annoying at first, but you’ll get used to it.
What are the biggest challenges we face today in the waste and energy industries?
We don’t have an integrated system for waste sorting. Trying to implement the change from the bottom, from volunteers doesn’t work. People don’t care if there isn’t someone monitoring it.
If the whole world was listening, what would you say?
The change starts with you, don’t blame the government or the system, it’s not an excuse not to do your part. Do whatever you can and make it part of your life.
What do you do?
I'm working for a solar energy company.