Donald Trump. Fake news. Justin Timberlake’s Man of the Woods. Single-use plastics.
Just a few of 2018’s biggest villains.
You can never be too sure in this dark, unpredictable age we live in – serpent lord Trump might just never die, blasting out JT’s troubling fifth album
across his intergalactic empire for all eternity – but it’s likely that only our mountains and ocean islands of plastic waste will still be hanging around, plaguing the earth in centuries to come.
All joking aside, recent years have seemingly seen an encouraging shift
in attitudes towards plastic waste, with global media coverage increasingly highlighting the extent of the problem and fuelling a social-media outcry. January 1 also marked the beginning of China’s new era of refusing international plastics
, dramatically ending a policy that, at its worst, saw the nation import almost half of the world’s plastic waste.
Here in Beijing, one local brand, The Bulk House
(emphatically stylised as THE BULK HOUSE), has been fighting the anti-plastic fight for just over a year now, promoting zero-waste and minimalist lifestyle through its WeChat channel and a series of events, as well as selling a range of carefully sourced and own-brand products – reusable bags, biodegradable toothbrushes, sponges, eco-friendly soaps, metal straws and much more.
Founded by Wuhan native Carrie Yu and run with her British boyfriend Joe Harvey, the brand started to make a name for itself at local events and markets before opening up a small post at the 258 Maizidian Electronics Market, which – as is now Beijing tradition – was closed indefinitely earlier this year, leaving the Bulk Housers homeless for a short period.
But as is also Beijing tradition, the team have bounced straight back, moving to a new, bigger-and-better digs
on the prime strip of Gulou Dong Dajie – a spot which has been in a softer stage of opening since March, and which they now confirm to be Mainland China's first zero-waste store. Naturally, the décor is a Marie Kondo-pleaser, with sparsely clad white walls and simple fixtures all allowing the products to take centre stage, while – true to the cause – almost all the fittings in the store itself are second-hand themselves, including the racking, flooring and even an old PLA bullet-storage trunk.
You might rush to thoughts of tree-hugging earth mothers on hearing the term 'zero-waste'. When we stopped by recently, though, we instead met Carrie and Joe, who confound such stereotypes and the misconceptions surrounding such a lifestyle. ‘There are many involved in zero waste who try to be seen to be as this perfectly green god or goddess, who’s vegan and goes to yoga every morning, afternoon and evening,' Joe laments, before telling us reassuringly that the two of them 'went for a McDonald's the other day'.
Just a few of the products available in-store.
Indeed, from packaging-free fast food to steering away from fast fashion, he talks us through a whole host of ways that us non-green, non-vegan-deities can make a difference, explaining the small, and actually very simple changes and preparations that everyone can make to reduce their waste output. 'Rather than these bloggers and people already actively involved in reducing, the movement needs to be made more about the normal person, who’s creating loads of waste,' Joe says. 'If we can target them, then it will make much more of a difference.
'Many people who try zero-waste get so caught up, worrying so much about it that they don’t live a convenient life. They can’t keep it up and are less likely to influence their friends to do it. But it doesn't have to be about living zero-waste 24/7 – if you slip up, and drink from a plastic water bottle for example, but have made an effort elsewhere, don't let it ruin your day, move on – you’ve still made a much bigger difference than the majority.' Time for us all to get started, then, on the team's driving principles, the six Rs – Refusing, Reducing, Reusing, Repairing, Recycling and Rotting.
Joe Harvey and Carrie Yu. Image: Yuli/The Bulk House
As for the duo themselves, with the new store opening, a growing programme of excellent events (they brought zero-waste superstar Bea Johnson to China
for an event earlier this year), and moves into waste-busting collaborations with some of the city's finest F&B outlets in the works, The Bulk House looks to be gathering some serious steam. Here's hoping it's the start of something bigger in our plastic-happy city.