Saturday, April 01, 2006

Time to Go green at the dining table( "Today" letter)



Today, Yiwen expressed shock on knowing that i use a reusable plastic container for takeaways in Shanghai and that i do bring around a pair of Chopsticks in my bag so that i will not use the disposable wooden chopsticks in the eateries.

To be honest, back in Singapore, i often do takeaway back home from a neighbourhood store and the only "green" thing is that i don't take plastic bags while doing that. However, the real fact is that i could have brought along a container and minimise the impact on the environment.

The only obstacle towards such move is the weird looks that people give you if you should take out your own chopsticks in a dinner setting. However, honestly, (i have been too busy to write about it, though i heard it on BBC)the technologies to save the planet is present - we just need to use it.

I am glad that this trip to Shanghai has certainly resolved my "greeness" in certain areas. Perhaps the best thing i can find to encourage myself in spite of the social awkwardness is this:

" My life is my message. " Ghandi.

Read the article below and if you are one of those mentioned, let us all do what is within our means to reduce our impact.

On other issues but similar in requiring a personal effort - it is so hard to live a right and proper life, we just hope that our constant tries can move us in the right direction. Maybe more on that another time.

Tazzy Marcus

Time to Go green at the dining table
Goh Boon Choo

WHO would have thought that the humble chopsticks would be in the news? China has announced that from April 1, a tax of 5 per cent will be imposed on wooden chopsticks in a bid to "curb the plundering of timber resources and efforts to protect the environment".

Astoundingly, "the production of disposable chopsticks used up 1.3 million cubic metres of timber each year, depleting the country's forests". China apparently throws away 45 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks every year, which requires 25 million full-grown trees. In addition, it also exports chopsticks--15 billion pairs annually to Japan and South Korea alone. Japan uses between 23 billion and 25 billion pairs of chopsticks yearly. No wonder the forests of the world are being exploited to the point of no return.

Singapore has its share of avowed chopstick wielders and, judging by the lunchtime scenes, one wonders how large our contribution is to the depletion of Indonesia's rainforests.

One commonly observes, for instance, people requesting for ta pau (takeaways), only to sit down in front of the stall and tuck in. Others are less circumspect, taking disposable eating utensils to eat their food with later on regular plates. Perhaps these people do so for hygiene reasons.

But if so, then the onus must surely rest with the stall operator to ensure that the utensils he provides are clean. Then again, some foodstalls offer only disposable eating utensils--perhaps for the convenience factor and to save on the utilities bill.

Our eating habits are a symptom of the lackadaisical green movement in Singapore.

For example, Housing and Development Board residents are encouraged to leave recyclable items outside their doors for collection every fortnight. But some Singaporeans are not even aware that this is a scheme covering the entire island. Many recycle only newspapers and find it too much of a hassle to separate other recyclable items when discarding things. For example, empty drink cans or plastic containers obviously need to be rinsed if they are to be recycled, considering the two-week collection interval. Also, some of the newspapers meant for recycling end up being "plundered" by the karung guni men instead.

But back to the topic of environmental concerns in our eateries: A fast food chain boasts that it is the first food service company to pass the ISO 14001 certification here. The standard focuses on integrating environment protection into a business' operational processes. The standard has not been brandished by other chains or eateries, so that it may be a testament to this particular chain's commitment to care for the environment.

Still, I have observed that employees in its outlets continue to throw all manner of customer leftovers--including the drink cans, plastic and paper containers--into the same bins, just like other fast food chains and eateries. One would think that the separation of the recyclables from the trash would be an integral part of being environmentally conscious. In the end, certification becomes like an accessory if the purpose of the certification is only treated as another marketing advantage in a competitive environment.

Singaporeans love our fads and fashions. It is certainly "cool" to be seen as environmentally conscious, so we may see more food service companies jumping on the ISO 14001 certification bandwagon.

It is up to the discerning customer to judge if he is patronising a truly environmentally conscious eatery.

Food is a major part of our expenditure, and Singaporeans love our ta pau dinners. Perhaps it is time the green movement move onto our dining table. And we can start by being more circumspect in asking for takeaways and decline using disposable chopsticks.

This is contributed by a reader interested in environmental and animal issues
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