Many parts of the 38-kilometre-long coastline between the city of Beihai and Stora Enso’s mill in Guangxi Province are regularly used for swimming, fishing, fish farming, and tourism. But near the Beihai Mill, outside a fishing village called Po Weidi, there is a stretch of beach that has been covered with so much trash that children have had trouble finding the sand under it.
“In Chinese cities, the focus is often on keeping the streets and tourist attractions clean. A remote beach’s waste problem is not a priority,” sighs Jackie Hong, Sustainability Specialist at Stora Enso’s Beihai Mill. “The people who live here get used to the waste and might not fully understand how wildlife is affected: seabirds eat plastic while horseshoe crabs and sea turtles get caught in discarded fishing nets.”
Stora Enso depends on the communities around its operations for both employees and raw materials, so the company is very motivated to ensure those communities thrive in every way. Local mill and forestry employees are Stora Enso’s best ambassadors as they understand the needs of their communities.
“As I live and work near this beach myself, I know locals have tried to clean the beach every now and then, but more waste would come in with the tide overnight,” says David Guo, Specialist in Community Engagement at Beihai Mill. “Waste in the water, for its part, is getting caught in the propellers of fishing boats and polluting the sea water used for fish farming, so it is a threat to local livelihoods. I wanted to see if my team at Beihai Mill could work together with other groups to make a change.”
To achieve other long-term benefits, the coastline protection project in Beihai is more than just cleaning events. Regular beach cleaners from nearby villages, recruited by BRC, allow for the project to focus more on environmental education at local schools, creating materials such as billboards, and other awareness and capacity building efforts. This type of work can support local livelihoods like fishing, making the entire community more resilient – a vital part of Stora Enso’s community investment work.
“Ideally, the project will inspire locals to keep cleaning the beach on their own after our project ends,” Guo hopes.
Cooperating with local stakeholders such as NGOs adds to any project, as they bring fresh views and specific talent to the table.
“We have already seen how the volunteers have gone from not knowing much about the topic to carrying out activities proactively,” says Zhao. “And we have only just begun.”
Visiting local schools to provide environmental education to children is an important part of the project.