In the past two decades, this 41-year-old man has been collecting some thousands of kilograms of plastic trash off the coast of Sanya in Hainan, the southernmost island province of China.
In the early 2000s, Li moved to Hainan from a small village in the nation's northeastern part, merely to fulfill his childhood dream of living near the ocean. However, his expectations were met with disappointment.
“I was distraught when I first saw the large amount of garbage in the sea, a huge contrast to the image of a clean ocean I was carrying in my heart.” said Li. “All I wanted to do was to recreate that image.”
There, an ambitious project to clean up the ocean garbage and the trash along the coastline emerged just two days after his arrival. In his everyday life, Li has always been committed to living as environmentally friendly as possible. Since then, it has become his daily routine to dive deep into the ocean to collect trash.
Plastic pollution around the globe
Plastic pollution has become a global challenge beyond China that is posing a threat not only to the marine environment but to human beings as well.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, and up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are utilized in the world each year. The immense number of plastic products has led to vast amounts of waste, approximately 300 million tons each year.
An astonishing amount of 8 million tons of plastic waste ends up in the world's oceans each year, mostly carried by the rivers from the deep inland. Also, about half of them derive from the mismanagement of plastic waste by several Asian countries, including China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Thailand, according to the UN Environment.
The plastic waste then decomposes and forms tiny particles that are consumed by farm animals and fish, eventually finding their way onto our plates. Polluted tap water and diseases like malaria are some of the consequences.
Green and sustainable development
China is among the first countries to take measures and limit the use of plastic bags. In 2008, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) introduced a policy to ban the production and sale of plastic bags that are less than 0.025 millimeters thick. Also, customers have to pay extra for previously-free plastic bags.
More recently, China decided to ban imports of plastic waste from Western countries. From 1992 to 2016, China has imported more than 106 million metric tons of plastic waste, accounting for 45.1 percent of global imports. UN Environment points out that China's decision will serve as a trigger-point to develop sustainable plastic waste management practices and boost recycling rates in waste exporting countries.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia last year where he stressed the importance of green and sustainable development.
Xi said, with the future in mind, we, as a whole, ought to respect, accommodate and protect nature and pursue green, low-carbon and sustainable development.
It's not an easy task, but everyone can contribute. Like Li Bo, every bit of effort counts and matters.
“We should be self-disciplined and not litter everywhere so that our ecosystem and marine environment can get better. After all, we human beings are the ultimate beneficiaries,” said Li.