Ohio Wesleyan University is working with the Luce Initiative on Asian Studies and the Environment (LIASE) in achieving their goal of bringing new lights from the Asian perspectives to bear on the intellectual and pragmatic approaches in the West in the overall context of sustainability. The topic for the 2015-2016 school year is waste, and will be focused on East Asian management strategy, especially on Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. A symposium collaborated with other colleges in Ohio was hold on November 13th, the fall semester of the 2015-2016 school year. Through a careful examination of the East Asian culture, sociology, economics, geography, natural sciences and engineering, we could import some new ideas about waste management to the US. My project first focuses on giving out a survey to the Asian student group to collect their opinion on waste. Then, through a careful analysis of those data, make a conclusion of what in particular caught the students’ attention about the difference in managing waste here in the US and in their home country. I also presented in the symposium to give out a presentation about my findings from the survey.
This survey aimed to send out to all OWU East Asian international students, who have exposed to both Asian and western cultures. I sent out the survey to the students through emails. There are a total of 32 international students from East Asia, 23 of them from Mainland China, 4 from Korea, 1 from Taiwan, and 3 from Japan. However, there are only 15 of them responded to the survey – 12 from Mainland China, 1 from Taiwan, and 1 from South Korea.
The goals of the survey are: 1) to develop a better understanding about Asian Perspectives on Waste; 2) to acknowledge any differences in how people related to waste between East Asian and Western perspectives; and 3) to take any useful approaches from East Asian countries and trying to implement on our campus.
There are seven open-ended survey questions, however, I could only get thoughtful insights from four of them. The survey questions I sent out include:
- Did you see any differences between the United States and your home country in how people relate to waste, or what counts as waste? (This could include energy waste, water waste, food waste, toxic waste, packaging, etc.)
- Do you know anyone who works in the waste management field? If so, what do they do?
- With regard to waste, what do you think your country is doing better compared to the US?
- Why do you think people in your country manage waste the way they do?
- How are sustainability policies in your own country different from those you have observed in the US?
- How do you think the culture of your country has influenced the way your country manage waste?
- Do you think there are any effective approaches to waste management in your country that we could implement on campus? What are they?
The only four useful responses are 1) Did you see any differences between the United States and your home country in how people relate to waste, or what counts as waste? (This could include energy waste, water waste, food waste, toxic waste, packaging, etc.). 2) Why do you think people in your country manage waste the way they do? 3) How are sustainability policies in your own country different from those you have observed in the US? And lastly, 4) How do you think the culture of your country has influenced the way your country manage waste? The other questions are excluded because there is either no useful responses or the answers seems repetitive.
Negative Observations in the U.S.:
Across all responses there are 5 students from Mainland China, 1 from South Korea, and 1 from Taiwan indicated that they observed some negative impacts in their time studying in America. Firstly, they claim that Americans create more water waste from their daily use, this includes their perceptions of Americans take longer showers, and also as they have a more environmental friendly behavior in the usage of water. For instance, some families in China save their water in containers for re-use. A second issue that they observe is they think there is less attention paid in saving energy in the U.S. They think that people here are more likely to left the lights on in the room, even if they are going to leave the room. A third issue addressed about waste here in the U.S. is that they think Americans throw more food than China, simply from observing and comparing the food served and threw here and in their own country. They have also claimed that Americans create more packaging waste because the canteen provided a huge amount of containers, including plates, that are used for only once. In their own country, it is more common for the school to provide recycled plates when eating inside the canteen, and students would be more likely to bring their own reusable containers if they want their food to go. And lastly, they have also observed that there are more signs, slogans or propaganda for saving and protecting the environment in China (e.g. parks, hotels, etc.) to warn people and rise awareness for people to save, and pay more attention on environmental problems.
Negative Observations in China:
Students have also observed some negative in behaviors in their own country, however, these are only from Chinese students. Four students from Mainland China think there is not much categorization of waste in their country, and even though there are, people do not care much about it. One of them think there are more toxic waste in China as there are severer air pollution in China, as well as severer water pollution to the rivers. Another student thinks that Chinese waste more food because of our tradition, and most people in China do not ask for to go box while eating in a restaurant. Two of them claim that there is not much categorization of waste in Mainland China, and even though there are, people do not care much about it. And they also indicated that there is not much help from the government to people suffering from hunger comparing to the U.S. Americans have different organizations, such as food bank, charity, and other types of individual organizations or government funding to supply for people suffering in hunger.
Both Mainland China and Taiwan imposed the policy on paid plastic bag in stores, because it once caused a severe pollution of plastic bags that flying all over the nation, and created a lot of inconvenience in people’s life. Korea and Taiwan also have stricter policies enforced on recycling: food waste need to be separate from other waste. The trashman in Taiwan usually check individuals’ categorization of waste, and fines are imposed South Korea for families who did not categorize their trash correctly.
The reasons they think about their own countries’ performance on waste various. A Chinese student think that the Chinese government impose stricter regulations when it is necessary, such as when they are competing for an international competition, Olympics, they will impose stricter laws about conserving the environment to make a better image for themselves. And both the students from South Korea and Taiwan claim that because their country is comparably small compared to other Asian countries, and also has high population rate, they needed to manage their use of resources well. And last, a lot of them think their country manages waste well because they would make money from it, in both the way to save money and not being punished by generating too much waste.
As addressed in Chai Jing’s documentary Under the Dome, some of the industries in China are emitting more waste than the amount the National Environmental Protection Administration allowed them to emit, and the government is turning a blind eye to it. Since the population is huge in China, and there is less education provided for people on protection of environment, people would cause more environmental issues. Also, after the Chinese economic reform, there is a trend in China that people from rural areas go to big cities to look for a better job, as they could get better jobs in cities to supply their family back home. These migrated workers are less educated, and are not aware of where their resources come from, therefore, it would be easily for them to waste more when they have access to more resources. And there is also a student from China addressed that because the lands are all belong to the government in the long run (after 70 years) in China, so people do not pay much attention about their environment. Since people do not feel they belong to their surroundings, they tend to pay less attention and not care much about their wastes and their harmful effect to the environment.
East Asian countries emphasize on the social hierarchy introduced by Confucius: respecting the elders (including listening to them, not making judgment of them, and follow their doctrines of living). Since the elder generations pay more attention on saving as they had poorer conditions than the modern generations, their education about saving to their next generations is still influencing some of the youth nowadays. However, another tradition that is deeply rooted in the Chinese culture referred to as “facework” – upraising one’s own sense of dignity or prestige in social contexts, brings crucial food waste problem in China. Chinese have a lot of traditional festivals like the spring festival, mid-autumn festival, etc. Since these cultures are valuable as we could see our relatives that we would not see very often, we tend to buy more food than the actual amount to show our generous. Also, when the guests finished their dishes the host will fill out their dishes again to make sure they have enough to eat, as well as show their generous to the guest, to gain their “facework” by demonstrating that they are wealthy and could treat their friends. Therefore, it is more common for people to leave the table with leftovers on their plates, to imply to the host that they are full enough and would not eat more.
There are also some misconceptions the students hold while taking this survey. One student from China claim that Chinese saves electricity because China have laws on the limited amount of energy that could be used by each household. However, this is incorrect as there is a limited amount people could use, but if people used exceed to the limited amount, they could still use the electricity, they just need to pay more for more electricity consumed. Another student think the paper used for writing/printing in America are not recycled paper because they look much cleaner and whiter than the paper used in China, and the paper used in China looks thinner and yellowish. However, this is not the case, because over half of the paper used today in the U.S. are coming from collection of used paper.
Overall, there are a lots of issues from different perspectives addressed by students in this survey. However, I felt a sense that not much of the student have adequate insights and has not paid much attention about their surrounds. Some of them even held false beliefs about the materials they are using, and did not have the motive to do more research about them and affirm their assumptions. A possible recommendation for the understanding of such environmental issue needs more education to the general population, and together with their involvement, we would be able to understand more insightful ideas about the waste issues between different cultures.
Since this survey is designed to send out and taken by students anonymously, it is inappropriate to provide contact information for everyone of them. But there are a few of them willing to share their thoughts and get into contact with me with follow up interviews:
Shaoyin Sun firstname.lastname@example.org
Shiyan Wu email@example.com
Ying He firstname.lastname@example.org
Yuxiao Tan email@example.com
Lizheyin Wu firstname.lastname@example.org
Chai J. 2015. Under the Dome. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X2uwlQGQM