Volunteers clean up Du-Ku Highway after summer tourist season

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After two years of COVID lockdowns, tourists have been returning to some parts of the country this summer. However, due to the complicated epidemic prevention procedures for entering and leaving the country, international travel is still very restricted. With hundreds of millions of tourists choosing to travel domestically, Xinjiang has become China’s most popular tourist destination.

The average daily number of visitors to 5A-level national tourist attractions in Xinjiang increased from 19,000 in May, to 57,300 in June, and then to 110,000 in July. The total number of tourists is estimated to be four to five times greater than that.

While tourism brings huge economic benefits, it also brings serious problems, such as littering.

The Du-Ku Highway is a typical example. It runs from Dushanzi and ends in Kuqa, passing through scenic spots including Tangbra (known as “the Natural Gallery”), Nalati (“the Prairie in the Sky”), and Dalongchi (“the Mountain Pearl”).

“Once full of attractions, now full of garbage,” commented one recent visitor to the area.

There are parking lots every 10 kilometers for tourists to have a rest, enjoy the scenery and buy food. Unfortunately many visitors choose to leave behind their garbage.

“Used masks, fruit peel, empty cans, bottles, and food bags. There’s too much rubbish, especially in places where you can park,” said Wang Tao, a self-driving tourist from Beijing. He had visited the area prior to the pandemic and enjoyed his trip, but this time his experience was ruined by the trash.

However, Wang and many other tourists have not sat idly by. Instead, they became volunteers and cleaned up the area themselves. “Generally, we put the garbage we see into a large plastic bag and throw it into proper garbage bins. Sometimes, when there’s no garbage bin in the rest area, we will have to take them back to our hotel for disposal.”

Xinyuan County is one of the main towns along the Du-Ku Highway. Li Furong, director of the Culture and Tourism Bureau of Xinyuan County, told China Philanthropist Times: “The number of local sanitation workers is limited and we cannot clean up in time. The garbage truck removes 140 tons of garbage every day, but it is still not enough.”

On July 25, the Xinyuan County Party Committee held a meeting and decided to set up a special government group for sanitation work, and promised to allocate local funds, to add garbage collection points, and to increase the number of sanitation workers.

Li emphasized that to solve the problem, they must rely on tourists changing their attitudes toward the environment, otherwise, no matter how much human and material resources the government invests, it will not be enough.

He Jiaolong, deputy director of the Xinjiang Ili Prefecture Bureau of Culture and Tourism, pointed out that many sanitation staff work 20 hours a day. With such a large workload, recruitment is very difficult.

The possible role of NGOs

The current situation on the Du-Ku Highway is similar to that of the No. 318 Highway a decade ago. The garbage problem caused by a large number of tourists had a serious impact on the environment along the 2,140-km Sichuan-Tibet national road.

The China Foundation for Children’s Art and Culture (CFCAC), an NGO, stepped in with a special fund called the Beautiful Traveler Convention, aiming to advocate a “more civilized, green, healthy and happy travel concept”.

Over the past nine years, more than two million volunteers have joined the action, calling on more tourists to clean up their garbage and to comply with local regulations.

Fifty-two service stations have been established along the highway for garbage collection, and volunteers now distribute environmental posters, green bags, and other materials to tourists.

The volunteers are also responsible for sorting the collected garbage and transferring it to developed areas for processing and recycling.

According to Shi Ning, director of the special fund management committee, the garbage on No. 318 Highway has been reduced by 60 percent, according to their survey data.

He believes that the success can be completely replicated on the Du-Ku Highway.