Meet the Millionaire Who Picks Up Trash
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2017-12-27 02:20:16

Armed with a trash-picking claw and a loudspeaker, and donning an orange T-shirt with anti-littering slogans, Zhong Congrong prepares to scour the streets of his neighborhood at 8 o’clock in the morning. Known as “the millionaire trash collector,” the 51-year-old business owner — who has a hand in real estate, car dealerships, and material-processing companies — has been cleaning the streets every day for the past three years.

As he looks for empty bottles and plastic bags, his voice blares through the loudspeaker, imploring people to take action to protect the environment.

Zhong’s behavior has attracted considerable attention and controversy from the public, with people wondering whether he might be more self-promoting than altruistic. The businessman, however, insists that his motives are genuine, and that he shouldn’t be judged because of his wealth.

“Whether we throw away or pick up trash is unrelated to our academic degree, cultural background, age, or socio-economic status,” Zhong told Sixth Tone.

Every day for the last three years, millionaire Zhong Congrong has picked up trash in his neighborhood and spread the gospel of environmental awareness to the residents of Chongqing. By Liu Jingwen/Sixth Tone

In fact, the Chongqing entrepreneur’s one-man anti-littering campaign was inspired by a family trip to southern China’s Hainan province during Chinese New Year in 2015. There, he met a retired professor from Tsinghua University who had been picking up trash along the beach for four years. Zhong started replicating the practice around his home the day after he returned from vacation, and he even started promoting environmental awareness in neighborhood restaurants by night.

Zhong encourages his employees — who are subject to 10-yuan fines if they litter at work — to join his drive, too. But he knows that the problem can’t be solved overnight, and that broader measures must be implemented to achieve long-term success.

“China needs stricter regulations to deter would-be litterers,” Zhong said, suggesting a more systematic solution is needed. “Relying on self-discipline won’t be enough. Chinese people are afraid of ‘losing face.’ They care less about how much they’re fined and more about the shame that comes with it.”

At first, Zhong’s wife and children felt embarrassed by his eccentric behavior, which drew its fair share of negative attention from the media. For a while, they even refused to walk next to him in public. Later, however, their attitudes changed, as they realized that their neighborhood was indeed becoming cleaner, and Zhong was being praised by their neighbors. Now, Zhong’s wife has become an anti-littering campaigner herself — she’ll even tell people off if she catches them throwing trash on the ground.

“The environment remains dirty no matter how many trash collectors there are,” Zhong said. “The only [solution] is to remind people of the consequences of littering and hope that it might alter their behavior.”

Editor: Doris Wang.

(Header image: Millionaire entrepreneur Zhong Congrong speaks about the importance of protecting the environment at a hot pot restaurant in Chongqing, Oct. 11, 2017. Liu Jingwen/Sixth Tone)