Case study: reaching a new audience "I'm not disposable" chopsticks

The billions of pairs of disposable chopsticks thrown away each year in China provided an accessible way in to environmental issues for a new audience.


Greenpeace is relatively new to China, a country where campaigning organisations are few and the challenges to campaigners significant.

China has a huge audience of Internet users, and awareness of environmental issues is growing.

economic progress means increasing disposable income for many Chinese, especially in the cities. eating out is a favourite way of enjoying that extra money, and disposable wooden chopsticks are very widely used: 80 billion pairs a year, the equivalent of 16 million trees. They're a very simple, very powerful symbol of the environmental impact of a consumer society.


Greenpeace needed to raise awareness of environmental issues, and the idea that people can take individual action to make a difference, as well as raise people's awareness of the organisation itself.


Online organising is a low-cost way of reaching such a large population, and is especially suitable in a context where community organising, such as setting up local activist groups, is very difficult.

The strategy was to target younger white-collar workers and college students, encouraging them to pledge to switch to re-usable chopsticks instead.

I'm Not Disposable - Stall image
High impact materials supported activist stalls and presentations.

Under-30s are the major consumers in Chinese society, as well as being keen internet users.

Climate change or deforestation are complex issues, and it's not easy to quickly get across how individuals can get involved or make a difference. The impact of disposable chopsticks is simple and accessible: something that people could see in their everyday lives. It made a great starting point to recruit supporters with a view to opening them to the idea that they can get involved in campaigns on wider environmental issues.

It aimed to:

  • be cool - talking in terms of a trendy lifestyle choice rather than an environmental issue,
  • provide a simple, personal action people could take,
  • work within the restrictions on operating in China, but push the boundaries of how campaigning could be done.

What was done

Strong visuals for posters, t-shirts etc, included the thumbprint tree. Stalls in big office buildings and student campuses offered people the chance to make a personal pledge to stop using disposables.

A simple website allowed people to sign up and get an 'ID card' to carry in their wallets to show their commitment to the campaign, or download an electronic version to display on blogs and websites.

Beautiful greenpeace-branded reusable chopsticks were available to buy, sold on at cost price. These were a best-seller in the run up to Christmas 2007. exchanging Christmas gifts is becoming increasingly popular in China, particularly among young urbanites - the target audience for this campaign.

I'm Not Disposable - Tree imageRestaurant-guide websites were encouraged to add tags showing whether restaurants used re-usable or disposable chopsticks. Within three months 3,000 restaurant reviews had been tagged.

Lobbying training for volunteers encouraged people to ask restaurants to switch to reusables, with a simple pack they could take to the restaurant owners. People linked up with other local activists online, and went to eat and lobby together.


• Restrictions on nGOs, which have to be registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and find a 'supervising entity' to report to. • Restrictions on running websites, particularly any 'Web 2.0' interactivity. • The 'Great Firewall of China' (Golden Shield) blocks negative news and certain information sources, including many political sites and anything to do with human rights, religion or sensitive issues such as Tibet.

Planning and funding

Fundraising in mainland China isn't possible at the moment, so more than 70 per cent of funding for Greenpeace China comes from individual donors in Hong Kong, mostly recruited through street fundraising. The rest of the money comes from charitable foundations working in China.


Over 20,000 people signed up, and the action gained a lot of profile in China. It also gained coverage around the world.

next steps will be encouraging people to 'change your lightbulb' to provide another simple action for recruits, while starting to talk about the wider climate change issues. Later this year we will be launching a campaign on forestry, asking people to think about paper usage, publications, etc.

Fish Yu is Public engagement campaigner for Greenpeace China.

by Fish Yu, Greenpeace China published Sep 15, 2008,
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