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Students and the environment

When you think about China and the environment you probably think of pollution, smog-filled cities, and urbanites wearing masks.

But there are so many other, more visible, forms of pollution. When I arrived in China ten years ago, many large supermarkets were charging for plastic bags long before my local supermarket back home. Today there are few people bringing their own bags, though. It’s not just grocery shopping. Every day, China’s three most popular food delivery companies use:

• 65 million food containers
• 20 million pairs of chopsticks
• 20 million plastic bags[1]

In a university district like the one where I work and you’ll see many of these containers in the streets or bins. Hundreds of thousands of students eat take-away meals several times a day. Many have them delivered to their dorms. Of course, all that packaging adds up. Then there are the truckloads of goods delivered to dorms across the district from various online shopping companies. So every morning mountains of packaging from takeaways and deliveries the night before fill the bins and often overflow into the streets.

Asking the right question

Do students see the environment as an issue? Yes. One perk of being an English teacher is having the freedom to discuss a variety of topics in class. The environment is one I often choose. Students don’t always see how they are contributing to the problems, or how they can be part of the solution. In one class, I had a list of activities that I asked students to classify as good or bad for the environment. One was “buying imported fruit and vegetables”.

One student said this was bad for the environment because of added fuel and packaging. Another suggested it was good. As it was grown on foreign soil, they suggested, it would spare local soil from erosion and chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

If I push students to think of ways they can improve the environment they may suggest “picking up litter”. But it’s much rarer to hear suggestions about how to reduce waste in the first place. One student commented that one of the biggest lessons she learned from me, seeing me take my bread home from the bakery in a re-useable bag. Though, if that was her biggest lesson, I’m not sure what that says about my English teaching!

[1] Source: (accessed 13 March 2018).

Will you pray for China?  

Pray that the church might lead by example in being good stewards not only of money, but of the earth.

Pray for the next generation of Chinese. Pray that they might have influential role models who would not only challenge them to live more eco-friendly lifestyles, but to care for creation worldwide.

Pray that these issues would also be on the hearts of leading business leaders, as well as municipal, provincial and national leaders.

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