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East Asia EcoChallenge

During International Education Week 2019, 370 people participated in the East Asia EcoChallenge. Inspired by sustainability challenges and innovations across the diverse region of East Asia, participants attended events and committed to actions to learn about food, simplicity, energy, water, and waste.

Together, everyone had a big impact, saving 2,992 gallons of water, spending 11,833 minutes learning, keeping 701 plastic bottles and disposable cups out of the landfill, and spending 9,569 minutes learning. Altogether, our participants earned 43,308 points for completing daily actions and attending events, posted over 120 updates on the
Challenge feed, and formed 36 teams.

The East Asia EcoChallenge was a great opportunity for learning, engagement, and partnership. The Office for Sustainability is very grateful for the participation of so many people across campus and for the chance to collaborate with the Office of International Education.

Read through the East Asia EcoChallenge Summary

Get a full view of our impact and results in the East Asia EcoChallenge Summary.

Challenge Winners

1st Place: Jason Cope
Information Services
Prize: Tickets to YAMATO, The Drummers of Japan

2nd Place: Ahsan Ahmad
Information Services
Prize: "The Story of Tea"

3rd Place: Shana Sumpter
Information Services
Prize: ECOlunchbox steel bento box

Winning Team, Total Points: Information Services
Prize: "Last Days of the Mighty Mekong"

Winning Team, Per Capita: Planning & Budget
Prize: "Last Days of the Mighty Mekong"

Learn about East Asia

Read through each day's email to learn about sustainability and the environment in different locations throughout the region. 

Monday: Food

East Asia consists of China, Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Mongolia, and Taiwan, and is home to 1.6 billion people. Feeding such a large population is no small feat, and the groundwork for that accomplishment was laid decades ago during the Green Revolution. By the mid-1960's, growing populations, droughts, and food shortages were creating food insecurity in Asia. In order to address the issue, higher yield varieties of wheat and rice were developed, irrigation was improved, use of chemical fertilizers increased, and new policies were put into place. Ultimately, agricultural yields doubled between 1965 and 1990. 
Today, East Asia faces other challenges. Appetites are changing as household incomes increase. In 2015, seven times more of people's daily calories came from livestock products compared to the 1970's. Raising livestock uses more land, water, and energy than raising fruits and vegetables, and requires significant amounts of resources to grow feed crops. Fishery production, including aquaculture and wild-caught fish, in the region has also increased fivefold over the past 60 years, which puts wild fish populations under increasing stress. A variety of efforts exist to make food more sustainable in East Asia.

Organic & Environmentally Friendly Farming in China

Out of all the countries in the world in 2017, China had the third most agricultural land devoted to organic agriculture, a total of 3 million hectares. China first issued national organic standards in 2005. Since then, consumers have increasingly sought out organic food. Today, China grows and exports organic fruits, vegetables, cotton, tea, seafood, meat, and more. Beyond organic farming, China Agricultural University developed an integrated soil-crop system management (ISSM) program designed to increase crop yields while reducing fertilizer use and the environmental pollution fertilizers can cause. Between 2005 and 2015, ISSM-based management has been utilized across 37.7 million hectares of farmland by 20.9 million farmers. Less fertilizer used means less soil acidification, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Vegan and Vegetarian Options Abound in Taiwan

Around 13% of Taiwan's population is vegetarian or vegan, and there are over 600 vegetarian restaurants in the country. Since 2012, 2,328 schools have adopted Meat Free Mondays, serving meatless meals to students. Vegetarianism and veganism in Taiwan is not only driven by western trends, but also has deep roots in Buddhism. 

Mottainai: Reducing Food Waste in Japan

Japan wastes approximately 157 kg of food per person each year, compared to 278 kg per person each year in the US. Mottainai Action is reducing food waste by serving dishes in its restaurants made from seafood that would otherwise have been thrown out due to blemishes or irregularities. Mottainai is a concept similar to the sentiment "waste not, want not", but carries with it regret at not fully utilizing a resource. 

Get more information and read the full email here.

Tuesday: Simplicity

During the EcoChallenge, we are thinking of simplicity not just as a concept involving less physical clutter, but as an idea that encompasses minimizing mental clutter as well. Living simply can involve being more aware of ourselves and our surroundings, practicing gratitude, reducing screen time, and living in a way that's ultimately more fulfilling. Mindfulness is a popular practice to help people live with greater awareness. Read about its historical roots in Buddhist meditation below. 

Mindfulness Rooted in Buddhist Tradition 

Mindfulness is a practice of cultivating a non-judgmental awareness of emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surroundings in order to improve physical and mental health. The foundations of mindfulness movement that began to develop in the 1970's were Buddhist meditation. Although there are many different kinds of Buddhist meditation practices, meditation broadly serves to provide the practitioner insight into their own mind and assist in realizing the insights of the Buddha. Buddhism is practiced by around 470 million people worldwide, many of them in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. 

Expanding a Sharing Economy in South Korea

A sharing economy is a system in which goods or services are shared among people. Examples include Airbnb and Uber. In South Korea, the sharing economy is growing. Seoul's government announced the Sharing City Seoul initiative in 2012, a program aimed at promoting sharing, boosting civic engagement, and reducing waste. So far, 90 companies are part of the initiative, including businesses that facilitate parking lot sharing, clothing rental, room rentals, and more. 

Shinrin-yoku: Forest Bathing in Japan

Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, is a therapeutic practice developed in Japan during the 1980's based on the idea that spending time in nature is beneficial to human health. In fact, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, it has become an important aspect of preventative healthcare. Spending time in nature being mindful of your surroundings can improve your mood, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality. There are designated Forest Therapy Bases across the country.

Get more information and read the full email here.

Wednesday: Energy

Renewable energy consumption is growing in East Asia, however the region still relies heavily on fossil fuels. China is the world's largest producer and consumer of coal, while also producing more energy from renewable sources than any other country. About 17% of Japan's energy comes from renewable sources. In Taiwan, that number drops to 5%, and 4% in South Korea. The majority of East Asian countries do have renewable energy goals that set benchmarks for the coming decades. 

Increasing Renewable Energy in Mongolia

Mongolia aims to have renewable sources supply 20% of its energy by 2020 and 30% by 2030. The country receives 250 days of sunshine a year, making it an ideal place to use solar energy. Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, is home to 45% of the country's population and many people burn coal or wood to heat their homes, resulting in harmful air pollution. Not only will increasing the country's renewable energy benefit the environment, it will also mitigate health issues caused by air pollution. Recently, a 30 MW solar farm was completed and a 55 MW solar farm was commissioned. In addition to reducing air pollution, solar and wind also conserve water compared to coal-fired generators, which is vital in a country like Mongolia where water is a limited resource. 

Growth and Consequences of Renewable Energy in China

Six years ago, 7 out of the world's 10 most polluted cities were in China. Today, China is the world's largest energy consumer, and pollution is still a serious issue. However, renewable energy is growing across the country. At 1,398,207 GWh, China currently produces more energy from renewable sources than any other country, and 26.3% of the country's energy came from renewable sources in 2018. Although China is the world's largest producer of wind power, and it produces a significant amount of energy through solar panels, the majority of its renewable energy comes from hydroelectric sources. While hydropower reduces greenhouse gas emissions, the dams needed to generate it can pose issues for people and the environment. At least 15 million people in China have been displaced by dams and forced to resettle elsewhere. Dams can also alter entire ecosystems, interrupt fish migration, and negatively impact water quality. As China moves forward with more dams planned for the coming years, it will need to balance the benefits of clean energy with the social and environmental impact that hydropower can have. 

Learn more and read the full email here.

Thursday: Water

Many places in East Asia face a multitude of threats when it comes to water. Growing populations are putting increasing stress on limited resources. Pollution puts water quality at risk. Climate change is driving sea level rise that has the potential to displace millions of people across Asia. Lastly, as cities grow and climate change results in more frequent and intense storms, more people are vulnerable to the dangers of urban flooding. Read about some of the work being done to address these risks below. 

Embracing the Floodwaters: China's Sponge Cities

As urban areas develop, wetlands and other natural areas are paved over with concrete. During heavy rain events, the water cannot be absorbed back into the ground, but can instead cause dangerous urban flooding. In China, the Sponge City Initiative aims for 80% of urban areas to absorb and reuse at least 70% of rainwater by 2020. Permeable pavement for walkways and roads allows water to percolate back into the ground. Man-made lakes, ponds, and wetlands help with floodwater management. Rooftop gardens absorb rain and reduce stormwater runoff. These measures also improve access to green space for people living in sponge cities. The plans for these cities are ambitious, and the initiative could face challenges from lack of research and growing municipal debt. If the vision for these cities becomes a reality, they will be much more resilient places to live for millions of people. 

Restoring Oyster Reefs in Hong Kong

Oyster reefs improve water quality, provide wildlife habitat, and slow down storm surges. Just one oyster can filter up to 200 liters of water each day. Human activity has diminished many oyster reefs around the world, including around large cities like New York City and Hong Kong. The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Swire Institute of Marine Science and the University of Hong Kong, is working to restore oyster reefs around Hong Kong. 

Groundwater conservation in Kumamoto Japan

Kumamoto prefecture's residents rely primarily on groundwater for their water supply. However, urbanization and an increase in water consumption per person put the amount and quality of the groundwater at risk. In order to preserve this resource, Kumamoto implemented a program aimed at educating citizens, reducing water consumption, and incentivizing farmers to flood fields and recharge groundwater levels. Water use per person has decreased 10% since 2005 and groundwater recharge has exceeded water consumption.

Learn more and read the full email here.

Friday: Waste

Every day, we drop bottles, cans, and jars into recycling bins. Once the items leave our hand, we often forget about them. In reality, their journey has just begun. From our bins, these items get sorted at recycling facilities and the materials are sold to buyers who will break them down to be manufactured into something new. Until last year, many of these buyers were in China. However, due to contamination in imported recycling and plastic pollution around the country, China banned most plastic imports. 

The United States is not equipped to turn much of what we put in bins into material suitable for manufacturing, so many plastic exports went to Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia immediately following China's plastic ban. Unfortunately, many facilities in those countries were operating illegally or were not equipped to handle large volumes. Today, recycling systems around the world are faced with the need to adapt or fail. Recycling programs must find new buyers, reduce recycling contamination, and encourage less waste generation in the first place. Here at University of Richmond, we aim to divert 75% of our waste from the landfill by 2025, and we have worked hard to find a waste hauler that can find buyers for the recyclable materials we send them.

Keeping Food Waste out of the Landfill in South Korea

South Koreans historically wasted more food waste per capita than North Americans or Europeans. In order to reduce food waste, the South Korean government banned sending food waste to landfills in 2005. In 2013, a pay-as-you-waste policy was instituted, requiring people to purchase biodegradable bags for their food waste or to weigh their waste at electronic bins. Between 2013 and 2017, the amount of food waste in South Korea dropped 10%. Today, 95% of the country's food waste is recycled to become fertilizer, animal feed, or biofuel.

Reducing Pollution and Landfill Waste in Taiwan

In the 1980's, garbage was painfully visible in outdoor dumpsters around Taipei, Taiwan. Today, rather than throwing trash into a dumpster, residents bring their waste out to garbage and recycling trucks in government-sanctioned bags that they must purchase. The trucks play a song so the whole neighborhood can hear when they have arrived. Taiwan recycles 55% of its waste and incinerates another 44%, sending only 1% of its waste to the landfill. Incineration is controversial because it can cause pollution and health issues. Recently, Taiwan also instituted a plan to phase out all single-use plastic straws, bags, utensils, and cups by 2030. 

Learn more and read the full email here.