Big ideas often develop from roots in small places. Shanghai's campaign to cut the city's carbon footprint is finding success on that bottom-up path.
In the Meilong Sancun community in Xuhui District, nearly 300 residents congregate on the last Thursday of every month to exchange bags of recyclable plastic for credits toward small gifts to reward them for their efforts.
The community is one of 11 that participated in the first two-year, low-carbon trial program in residential Shanghai.
The aim is to push a grass-roots eco lifestyle. As well as recycling, the program introduced low-energy consumption lighting, waste reduction, water conservation and charging poles for electric vehicles.
Shanghai's program is a response to a national campaign to improve living conditions across the country by encouraging greener lifestyles.
What authorities learn from trial programs, such as the one in Meilong Sancun, will later be applied on a broader scale.
The projects in Meilong Sancun and the 10 other residential communities began in 2014. After two years, they underwent a final assessment to see how well they measured up against the eco-goals.
It turns out that each community developed its own way of responding to the challenge.
Meilong Sancun pioneered the idea of a "Green Housewife" team, a volunteer group that assists in trash recycling and other environmentally friendly projects. Most of the team are retirees, like Gu Zhongmei, 61. In addition to recycling duties, her group also knits sweaters for children in remote, impoverished areas of China.
The yarn they use comes from donated clothing, which is cleaned and turned into yarn by a professional company. In the first half of this year, the Green Housewives have donated more than 1,500 sweaters to schools in Anhui, Guangxi, Guizhou and Tibet.
"I knit almost every day," Gu said, as she sat among five other women also busy with their needles.
The "Green Housewife" program is now trying to expand to more households and attract participation from male residents. The idea has been so popular that communities in other parts of Shanghai are adopting it.
Two other communities in the two-year trial program — Anshan Sicun and Yanji Qicun in Yangpu District — took more technical approaches to low-carbon goals.
Anshan Sicun set up a filtered rainwater system to provide water for gardens in the community. There's also a spray-cooling system on awnings that triggers when the temperature soars above 35 degrees Celsius.
The local neighborhood committee also installed heat-blocking film on windows to help to insulate buildings and reduce the workload of air conditioners in summertime.
For its part, Yanji Qicun introduced a machine to process kitchen waste, in cooperation with the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau and Shanghai Environmental Protection Industry Association.
About 80 percent of the up to 6 tons of garbage generated by the community's 2,000 households is kitchen waste, which can be turned into compost. The machine dries the wet garbage, reducing the amount of garbage going into landfills and providing a source of nutrients to gardens.
Because each household has only one trash bin and older residents have trouble sorting their own waste, the recycling company does it for them.
"We are an old residential community, and many elderly residents have difficulty in sorting garbage," said Wang Qianhai, an official with the Yanji subdistrict. "Besides, the apartments there are small and don't have space for multiple bins." Wang said local residents have welcomed the concepts of low-carbon living, but it will take years for such acorns to grow into mighty oaks.
Yanji Qicun conducts training sessions and displays outdoor posters to teach conservationist skills to residents. That education process extends down to day care, where children are taught about green activities during summer holidays.
Anshan Xincun, working with Liu Chunlai, a professor of landscape design at Tongji University, is encouraging residents to plant herb and flower gardens. About 1,000 people, many of them children, tend the plants and then distribute the harvest to families.