Zhang Xingjian is president of Rugao Green Science Popularization Association of Jiangsu Province, the most beautiful eco-volunteer of China in 2020, the “environmental Guardian” of Jiangsu Province, and a member of the visiting group of “creating a national civilized city of Rugao”. Since the establishment of Rugao Green Science Popularization Voluntary Service Association in June 2014, it has carried out green science popularization publicity with the main purpose of “serve the grassroots and benefit the public”. He and the association have successively won more than ten national, provincial and municipal awards such as "China Environmental Protection Federation honorary certificate", "excellent organization unit of environmental and health literacy monitoring of residents in Jiangsu Province", "advanced unit of community environmental protection publicity in Jiangsu Province in 2016", and "advanced individual of three years of scientific quality work of the whole people in Nantong City".
Host: Welcome Mr. Zhang to join us in Popular Eco-People. First of all, congratulations on being awarded most beautiful eco-volunteer in China, 2020. Can you share with us the original intention of conducting the environmental volunteer work?
Zhang Xingjian: In the course of my work, I often hear about cases of ecological damage caused by pollution, which affecting both physical and mental health. Here I would like to tell a story: Before 2014, there was an enterprise producing vacuum tubes for solar water heaters. The waste water generated during the production process was directly discharged into the river behind my house without treatment, causing the death of fish and shrimp in the river, and the clean river then became a sewage channel. In the context of economic development, the pollution accidents take economy growth as the compensation for the loss, but there are no measures for enterprises’ illegal behaviors and ecological damage. It touched my soul. How can we improve the environment quality and enhance the corporate environmental responsibility,? What can we do on our own? I began to think about these issues.
Host: Environmental protection has never been business for a certain individual. You started the Green Science Association in June 2014, and gradually expanded the scale over time. It must have been many difficulties along the way. How do you mobilize the general public to participate in environmental protection work? Could you please share it with us?
Zhang Xingjian: I personally applied to be a volunteer in Jiangsu Province in 2013, but at that time, the Rugao city lacked a non-governmental organization that was truly committed to environmental protection volunteer services. I have enlisted the support of two like-minded retired officials, Mr. Yang Guang and Mr, Xi Huiming. Relying on the platform of the Rugao Science Association and the Municipal Science for the Elderly Science and Technology Association, we jointly plan the establishment of a green science popularization mobile propaganda station, and carry out "green development action to build beautiful Rugao" science popularization activities. We were commonly known as the "Green Science Thrio". Within 2 years, we have held 112 environmental science publicity lectures in communities, schools, enterprises, construction sites, squares and other places. We have been unanimously praised by the public. From the trio team to the 56-member publicity group, the association was recognized and praised by the government. The Rugao Science and Technology Association approved the establishment of the Rugao Green Science Popularization Voluntary Service Association in January 2016. In March of the same year, the association obtained the registration certificate of social group by the Rugao Civil Affairs Bureau.
Host: The Green Science Popularization Association is the member of both Environment Protection Federation in Jiangsu and the Charity League in Rugao. As president of the association, you have put efforts into practice by leading volunteers to carry out various environmental protection public welfare activities, which have been recognized by the society. Besides, your association has won more than 10 national, provincial and municipal awards, including the certificate of All-China Environment Federation, the outstanding organization of environmental and health literacy monitoring in Jiangsu Province. The association can be seen as the protector of beautiful environment. Can you introduce the daily work of the association to us?
Zhang Xingjian: Our routine can be divided into three parts. Firstly, we learn and exchange experience from others externally, so as to improve our ability. From 2016 to the end of 2019, we had taken part in all kinds of training about ecological environment, legal affairs and organizational skills for 38 times, thereby increasing knowledge and broadening our horizon. The second is to enhance the internal management, such as establishing a publicity department to normalize our activities. We are also responsible for setting up services that the public can take part in, constructing grassroots communities and school service centers. We have built long-term cooperative relationship with15 communities and 8 schools. Thirdly, we have set up a professional team of river conservation and environmental supervision, with the spirit of “care for nature, benefit the next generation”. Besides, it is an indispensable to enhance the communication with the government. We have now largely synchronized our activities and campaigns. With our social influence, there will be more and more people participating in the environmental protection team.
Host: The association regards “serving the grassroots and benefiting the public” as the aim of green popular science propaganda, and puts various environmental actions into daily practice. As one of the key point of urban governance, garbage classification is closely related to our life. We know that you have been involved in garbage classification work for a long time, would you please share with us how you carry out this work in detail?
Zhang Xingjian: We have been involved in garbage classification for four years. Since presented my first initiative of "Everyone plays a role in garbage sorting" to the public in 2016, I have unremittingly provided plaza consulting services about "garbage classification" in regular activities of Annual Science Week, World Environment Day and Energy Saving Week. In the meantime, we invited specialists to give technical training about waste reduction across communities and schools. One of our future priorities is to organize public visits to waste treatment facilities (incineration) in order to gain a visual understanding of the hazards caused by waste. The second is to make efforts on "waste reduction", so as to reduce the amount of waste at source, utilize the stock and dispose of it harmlessly.
Host: In addition to the problem of urban waste, you also pay attention to environmental governance in countryside areas. Are there any priorities or difficulties in carrying out environmental protection work in rural area?
Zhang Xingjian: Domestic sewage treatment is a short board in the process of environmental management in rural areas. Compared to the perfect infrastructure facilities (sewage pipe network, sewage treatment capacity) in urban areas, there is a lack of treatment of domestic sewage in rural areas for a variety of reasons, such as the extent and volume of sewage and financial resources. People often pour the waste into rivers directly, which has caused river pollution, environmental damage and worsened living conditions.
Host: In addition, you are also the “Environmental Guardian” of Jiangsu Province, carrying out inspections of pollution source every day. But it is not an easy task which requires timely discovery, professional judgment and strong deterrent power. Can you share with us your experiences in inspections of pollution source?
Zhang Xingjian: Usually, there are four steps for on-site inspection: observing, hearing, smelling, and visiting. For observation, we need to look for signs of abnormality (such as the color of river, the color of smoke, and changes of the surrounding soil) and so on. Second, hearing refers to the sounds of the scene to identify whether there is any pollution suspects(such as the sound of water). For the third step smelling, we sense any pungent smells. The fourth step, visiting the community, involves close interaction with residents nearby. With these four approaches, we can accumulate and categorize data, grasp basic patterns, and eventually pinpoint the source of pollution.
Host: Do you have any other stories or experience to share with us?
Zhang Xingjian: Because of the “four-step” on patrol and regular implementation, We have a database of all the rivers in this city and pollution points. In the event of a sudden pollution incident, the pollution source inspection mechanism will be activated at once, using data to find the source of pollution timly, and provide valuable time for treatment. I would like to share a story here .
On the April 1st, 2019, the report came into Hongqi River that a large number of dead fish occurred in Rugao Economic and Technological Development Zone. The cause of fish death was unknown. The residents around the river were emotional and resentful. Immediately I led two volunteers Zhang Haifeng and Xu Jin to interview the residents on the scene to obtain the first-hand evidence including the discovery time, pollution level, losses and other primary source. Following the river, we examined the downside of Tongyang River and proceeded to the outlet of Hongqi River to carry out the investigation. Combining data from regular inspections, we focused on areas with suspected sources of pollution, including industrial enterprises, farms, and living communities. A total of 15 outlets were found to have sewage flowing into the river through the outlets. Through comparison and analysis, it was concluded that the relevant pollution source was not the real cause of the fish pollution.
The next day, we expanded the scope of investigation to the branches connected with the Hongqi River, to find the true source of the pollution. Two kilometers upstream, it was found that the Dongfeng River, which is connected to it, had been dammed and released the night before the incident. Was the pollution originated from the Dongfeng River? With such assumption in mind, we started to collect evidence about Dongfeng River pollution. The effort paid off eventually. At 1.50 km of the upper section of the Dongfeng River, there was an outfall with a small amount of industrial sewage remaining in the outlet pipe network. The water was white, turbid and smelly. And the surrounding area was an industrial park with various industrial enterprises.
Our preliminary judgment was that as a result of the Dongfeng River segmentation, some part of the dam construction raised the water level in the dam and flooded in the river. Some enterprises took the opportunity to secretly discharge industrial wastewater into the dam. During the process of dam building and water releasing, the construction unit did not take environmental pollution and ecological damage into account, lacking the feasibility of evaluation and preliminary scheme. As a result, dam building and water releasing in the midnight caused a large amount of sewage to flow into the Hongqi River, and then into the Tong Yang River. A great many fishes in the Hongqi River died because of the inhalation of polluted water.
Based on the two-day investigation, we formed a written report along with suggestions to government departments. The relevant departments have basically adopted our opinions and suggestions. It was later even approved and praised by Mr. He Yijun, mayor of Rugao city. In fact, such environmental pollution emergencies are not rare. Since 2019, we have assisted the government with 12 cases.
Host: Do you have any plans for the environmental protection in the future?
Zhang Xingjian: Our environmental protection work in the future will always adhere to the "five roles" . First, the demonstrator, takes the lead in practicing green lifestyle, and sets a good example for the people around with practical actions. Second, the observer, periodically observes and records the local environmental situation and changes, as well as offers suggestions for improving environmental quality and strengthening environmental regulation. Third, the supervisor, supervises the situation of pollution prevention of atmosphere, water and soil, as well as the implementation of the specific project ‘tackling key problems of pollution prevention and control’, also the environmental compliances and other situations of enterprises (parks), to provide clues to the problems, and make suggestions for environmental protection department. Forth, the propagator, actively organizes and participates in the environmental publicity, education and public welfare activities, so as to influence people around them to perceive and practice environmental protection. Fifth, the mediator, energetically participates in environmental protection round-table dialogue and other activities, and assists the government departments in effectively resolving the environmental conflicts and disputes. Innovate our working methods to serve more people.
Host: The dream of Popular Ecology has always been to share the stories or experience of the worldwide environmentalists with more people, so as to promote the formation of a better ecological civilization. Do you have any wishes for Popular Ecology?
Zhang Xingjian: To spread positive energy in society, I wish Popular Ecology become the mouthpiece of green campaigners , and make contributions to the ecological civilization construction together. For a beautiful China, I am an activist!
Host: Let's thank President Zhang again with warm applause for his wonderful sharing. I am Li Xiao, the host of Popular Eco-People. That is all for today. See you next time.