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Beijing Turns Green Before the Olympics

New America Media, News feature, Jun Wang Posted: Jul 03, 2008

Editors note: From shopping to driving to eating, Beijing residents are rearranging their lives to help save the environment just in time for the Olympics Games this August. NAM Chinese media monitor Jun Wang reports from Beijing.

BEIJING These days Ms. Yuqing Li does not cook as much as she used to. Even in the early morning, it's too hot to be in the kitchen. Instead, she goes out to buy fried pancakes a traditional Beijing breakfast served by vendors from a farmers market next to her home at six in the morning.

Vendors in the farmers market arent allowed to sell fried food one of the governments new rules to improve air quality. Yet they continue to sell these foods in the early morning, before the authorities arrive. Like Li, many of Beijings residents must get up early to buy their breakfast.

Its all part of helping to make Beijings air cleaner before the Olympics begins on Aug. 8.

According to the local media outlet Qinghe Community Public Information Service, cooking fried foods using coal stoves is prohibited in the capital. Since most vendors still use coal stoves to cook, they have found a way to do business under the new restrictions cooking and selling their food in the early morning before the enforcement starts at 8:00 a.m.

The Beijing government has been promoting the use of public transportation as another way to improve the poor air quality, which is of greatest concern to foreign athletes. Two more subway lines have been added to the original two used in recent years. At least seven more subway lines are in construction. Some of them will be open just before the Beijing Olympics. By then, tourists will have the option of taking the metro from the Beijing International Airport directly downtown. On the ground, bus lines are being added, with many more buses running.

Since the government lowered the fare, locals are encouraged to take public transportation instead of driving. Some bus fares have been lowered by more than 50 percent. By using a Beijing public transportation card, a prepaid card launched last year, bus riders enjoy another 60 percent off. The cards can also be used for public transportation in the nearby city of Tianjin.

However, many Beijing residents doubt that the newly launched regulations to make the city cleaner will be enforced after the Olympics.

About 300,000 local vehicles that didnt pass the smog tests are known as yellow stickers, and have been prohibited from Beijings streets until Sept. 20. All vehicles coming to Beijing from out of town will also be turned back unless they obtain a green Olympic pass. According to the Ming Pao Daily, the number of vehicles has been reduced by 60 percent in the capital.

From July 20 to Sept. 20, all vehicles in Beijing will be allowed on the streets every other day, depending on the number on their license plates. This new rule is expected to further reduce the air pollution and alleviate traffic in the city.

China is following the lead of its capital city, slowly turning green before the Olympics.

On June 1, the Chinese State Council prohibited all stores and markets from offering plastic bags for free. According to the first China Supermarket Energy Savings Report released by the Chinese Retail Industry Association, the retail industry consumes 50 billion plastic bags per year that arent recycled.

Statistics from Chinas Plastics Processing Industry Association show that by the end of June the use of plastic bags had been reduced by 80 percent in department stores and supermarkets, and 50 percent in farmers markets across China. Two thirds of the plastic bag consumption has been cut down in China, from two to three billion a day to one billion per day. It is better than what was expected, said Jinshi Dong, vice president of the Plastics Processing Industry Association, according to Chinanews.com.

Dong pointed out that some plastic bag producers, stores and markets are waiting to see if the ban will be less restrictive in the future and they can go back to the good old days.

Ms. Li has no problem saying goodbye to plastic bags. She recalls using cloth totes and bamboo baskets for shopping when she was young. But the younger generations are more comfortable with plastic bags, she observes, since they dont have the habit of bringing their own containers for shopping.

The Guangming Daily, based in Beijing, reports that most people interviewed support the new regulation, though they acknowledge that it is an inconvenience.

Cuiwei department store in Beijing set up an exchange program to give a reusable tote to customers who bring in 50 plastic bags during the month of June. A supermarket chain, Chaoshifa, provides shopping baskets that customers can take home for 10 RMB (about $1.40).

To substitute for plastic bags, environmental experts are discussing whether old-fashioned bamboo baskets or paper bags are more environmental friendly while on TV, young people in China have made Zhouzhou, a puffy bunny promoting the no plastic bags policy a fashion icon. A big canvas tote with Zhouzhou and the motto More fun without plastics can be easily found at every one of Beijings fashion hubs.

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