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Picking up trash along China's Yangtze River

Xinhua, December 5, 2016 Adjust font size:

Every morning at 7 a.m., Li Shuangxi and his wife can be seen bending over and getting up, and bending over again on the marshlands of the Yangtze River in central China's Yichang City.

The couple are not doing their morning exercise, however, as their rubber-gloved hands and the plastic bags slung over their arms indicate. They are litter picking along China's longest river.

Soon a dozen other people joined them. Bags of trash began to pile up by the roadside, waiting to be collected and sent to collecting stations. Less than an hour later the group have left, disappearing into the flow of morning commuters.

"We call ourselves 'ant-men'," said Li, a hairdresser. "All we do is pick up trash along the Yangtze for around half an hour every day."

Last November, Li read a story about a young foreigner who volunteered to clean up the rubbish in his local river every morning, he was greatly inspired.

"I was born and raised along the Yangtze. I have no problem getting up a little bit earlier to do something for my mother river every day," Li said.

He bought garbage bags and gloves right away and began his own endeavor the next day.

Yichang is located in the Three Gorges, one of the most splendid sections of the Yangtze. From a viewing point in the city's river park, Li could only see sand and mud. But when he approached the river, he could see all sorts of waste half-buried beneath the slush.

The couple collected about 50 kilograms of trash on their first day, another 100 kg on the second, and over 200 kg on the third day.

"The marshlands were like a garbage dump," Li said.

As collected garbage was getting too much to handle, he asked a friend to transport the bags to a nearby garbage station on a tricycle. The station refused to accept the garbage at first, asking for disposal fees. Li tried hard to persuade workers there to accept them for free.

Later he posted photographs and a description about what he was doing on his WeChat account. Some of his friends said he should just not bother as there was so much new trash every day. Some even asked if the whole endeavor was just a publicity stunt.

Thanks to the support of his wife and son, Li was not discouraged. After a month, about 100 people had joined him. He had "co-workers."

In October, Li established a volunteer group called "Three Gorges Ant-men," which now has over 300 registered members.

"Everyone is talking about protecting the environment, but hardly anyone does anything about it," said Chen Juan, an "ant-woman" who began collecting trash six months ago. Almost every weekend, she goes along to the river bank with her 5-year-old son in tow, and the two help to collect trash.

From a toddler barely out of nappies to a septuagenarian grandma, "ant-men" collected more than 200 tonnes of trash over the past year, according to Li.

"With less trash in sight, more newly-weds use the river as a backdrop for their wedding photos," Li said, laughing.

The Three Gorges' Ant-men have also won recognition from the city government, which now sends garbage trucks to the collection site and even offered an office, where donated gloves and garbage bags can be stored. Companies also chip in by organizing teams of employees to join the "ant-men".

"We plan to expand the initiative to other cities along the river," Li said. "Half an hour a day, keeps the trash away."