Although her family is considered well-off, students like Bontso are encouraged to collect rubbish as part of an environmental awareness program at their school in Zadoi County in Qinghai Province in China’s northwest.
Since March last year, head teacher Monma Tsering has spent 10,000 yuan (about 1,449 U.S. dollars) buying school supplies for the program.
“I want our kids to be environmentally aware from a young age,” said Monma Tsering, who grew up near the Lancang River in the county, which is 1,000 kilometers from provincial capital Xining.
For two hours every week, students learn about their environment and how to protect it.
“I know about the habitats of protected species of snow leopards, blue sheep and white-lipped deer,” said Bontso.
The older generation are mostly herders with little formal education, but many of their children are high-school graduates, and some have university degrees. The school teaches children how to protect the environment so that they can pass this knowledge on to their parents and grandparents, said Monma Tsering.
For example, almost all households now separate different types of garbage, he said.
Twenty years ago, Zadoi residents produced very little garbage, most of which was bio-degradable. “We didn’t use plastic bottles for water or cooking oil. We ate yak meat and dried the bones for making fires,” said local resident Yonta, 53.
Located 4,000 meters above sea level, Zadoi is a known habitat for snow leopards and rare caterpillar fungus.
“Shops selling caterpillar fungus began to appear in the 1990s, and the garbage they caused became a problem,” said Yonta.
The county currently produces 25 to 50 tons of garbage daily. Garbage processors plan to install more facilities, including incinerators, to handle the waste.
“Recycling is very important. We used to put everything in landfills because it was difficult to sort. Now we process non-recyclables here, and send recyclables to Xining,” said Tsetentso, manager of a garbage processing company.
Yonta works for the local government, collecting garbage in the mountains and grasslands by motorcycle, earning around 1,800 yuan (about 260 U.S. dollars) per month.
When his wife goes into the township, she takes their garbage with her.
“The government is planning further classification, collection, storage and processing of garbage to improve efficiency,” said Kundawa, deputy head of the county government.
“Schools, communities, herders, garbage processors, and the government… everyone is taking action to protect our environment,” he added.