Day 12 — Ditching Plastic Lids & Straws for My Iced Coffee (And Other Small Sustainable Routines), One 🐢 at a Time.
Hi, I’m Yuri and I’m the Manager of Global Talent Marketing at HENNGE. My team and I manage HENNGE’s Global Internship Program. Don’t be fooled by the name; I’m from Indonesia and have lived in Japan for almost five years now.
One of my biggest fears, other than snakes and deep water, is leaving an uninhabitable planet for future generations to live in.
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ve likely experienced sorting your trash into at least five different bins: Burnable (燃えるゴミ), Plastic/Non-burnable (プラスチック/燃えないゴミ), PET Bottle (ペットボトル), Cans (カン), and Bottles (ビン). If you live here, well then, you’re in for a treat. I know this is very mendokusai or troublesome for foreigners, but I’ve never complained because it makes me feel civilized and soothes my mild OCD.
“Such an eco-friendly country!” I told myself at first; however, I soon realized its ugly habit: single-use plastics and completely unnecessary waste.
Having lived here for almost five years, I’ve developed routine habits down to the minute. I take the 9:16 AM train to work. I drop by the 7-Eleven in my building and get my iced-coffee and salmon onigiri. Three times a week, I get my lunch from 7-Eleven. Around 4 PM, someone will brew coffee on the 4F and I’ll get a cup. For dinner, if I don’t have time to cook or shop for groceries, I’ll get pre-made food from the supermarket.
Now, let me tell you how much plastic and avoidable waste that is.
For breakfast, one convenience store’s (kombini) plastic consists of one plastic straw and one plastic lid. For lunch, that’s two plastic bags since cold items and hot items are separated. So, if I get a salad, a soup, and pasta, that equals 1 plastic spoon, 1 plastic fork, and 1 set of disposable chopsticks. One paper cup for my afternoon coffee, and at least another for the water. And at last, one or more plastic for my dinner. Don’t let me start with the weekends and impromptu (grocery) shopping.
Did I mention how all fresh groceries are individually wrapped by the cashiers before they’re all put into a bigger plastic bag(s)?
If I had to define Japan in one single word, I would go with convenient. Everything here is convenient, but having to carry your own reusable bag, straws, and travel utensils are not — especially when you have to wash them after every use. Too much hassle.
Usually once a month, I have one or two overseas business trips. As I visit other (particularly developed) countries, I’ve come to many realizations. Not only about Japan’s habit in general, but my habit.
I realized the amount of single-use plastic waste being generated just from my daily routines, was insane and completely unnecessary. That is the most important phrase here: completely unnecessary. Now I’m not telling you to be a vegan (I can’t even give up beef) or that you should stop flying (It’s obviously completely impractical to row a boat across the ocean for a single business trip), but it’s just the little things that matter.
We can yap and yap and blame it on the country. Or, here’s a crazy idea, we can start making a small change from ourselves.
So here’s how I’ve changed mine.
No. Single-use. Plastic. Period.
I feel like this goes without saying. There are tons of reusable shopping bags out there. Thanks to my forgetfulness, I have several from different stores (I’m so scatterbrained, Yurified™ became a word), but my favorites are the foldable ones, like this one (I’m sadly not sponsored).
In Japan, it is so easy to get one of those small bags to carry your bento. If you eat kombini food for lunch like me, get one. It’s even more comfortable to carry than the plastic bags anyway.
Lose the plastic straws, and the lids too.
I started by refusing plastic straws first and then the plastic bags used to carry my iced coffee because obviously, 🌊&🐢. Then I realized I didn’t really need the lid as I could just walk, take the elevator, and start my day. Now as they know my face and my habits, they’ve stopped offering these things to me.
If you can use your own tumbler, that’d be even better. My 7-Eleven still asks me to use their plastic cup so it’s sadly not an option.
We use way too many paper cups, I could probably change the expression to “Paper cups are the limit” instead (get it?)… Not to mention, the paper cups are tiny, and I am sure there are people that use a new paper cup every time they get a drink of water.
Did you know it takes over 3.8 million trees per year to make chopsticks and that Japan goes through 24 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks (waribashi) a year? That’s 185 pairs per person!
I have one tumbler for water and one cup for my afternoon coffee. It’s a bigger size for the water anyway, and the mug can hold the coffee. I also have travel utensils that feel nicer than disposable ones and takes only 10 seconds to wash.
On drying my hands…
Our office, just like most places in Japan, is using hand dryers instead of paper towels. Outside the office, I carry a handkerchief with me in case I have to use the paper towel.
Here is how to dry your hands with only one paper towel according to Joe Smith:
“Shake your hands 12 times to get the excess water off. Fold the paper in half for better absorption. Use one side to dry one hand and the flip side for the other.”
“Is it necessary?”
This is probably the one question you should always ask yourself. “Do I need to use this lid/straw?”, “Do I need this plastic bag for one onigiri that I’ll eat in 10 seconds anyway?”, “Can I just carry it in my hands?” If your answer is “No, No, and Yes”, then ditch them.
It is truly as simple as “no plastic, please”.
There are many more examples I can think of. Though I haven’t stopped eating meat completely, I rarely cook meat at home anymore. I take shorter showers, I try to pay more attention to the products I buy and I opt for naked products (like Lush) as much as I can, I walk and use stairs instead of cars/trains or elevator, and other small sustainable options.
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
— Adapted from ‘The Star Thrower’ by Loren C. Eiseley (Source)
I am far from perfect. I still use disposable chopsticks sometimes, or plastic straws for my boba whenever I forget my travel utensils or use plastic bags if I urgently need to buy something that doesn’t fit in my purse. But I keep trying.
Because we only have one Earth so I won’t give up. And neither should you :)
This article is part of the HENNGE Advent Calendar 2019. An Advent calendar is a special calendar used for counting down the days till Christmas. HENNGE Advent Calendar 2019 presents one article by one HENNGE member per day for 25 days until Christmas, 2019