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The Bitter Plastic Taste

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

Last March I went on a family trip to Okinawa, Japan. I did not want to be busy even on a trip meant to be peaceful, so I decided to leave right after choosing the hotel.

I went into the sea in front of the hotel or I wandered around a quiet rural neighborhood. Since there were not many restaurants in the surrounding area, nor there were cars around, we went to a supermarket or a convenience store nearby and explored the products there, buying things we were interested in or wanted to eat whenever we got hungry from playing. Since Japan is famous for sugar cane harvesting, adding desserts such as crackers, donuts, milk, and candies made our meal very plentiful.

As we consumed lazy meals saying, "Japan is known well for their convenience stores, no question about it!" salty food swelled and the trash bin in the hotel room puffed with plastics and packing materials. The amount of garbage we produced from just one meal was so embarrassing that made me question 'Did we eat that much?' I thought the trip would be eco-friendly and restful, but it became nonsense just from the first day. I blame, "It's because of the Japanese packaging culture!" but I had a bitter plastic taste while leaving the island with a feeling of guilt like a devious tourist.

Jeju Island, an island with more tourists than Hawaii or Okinawa, runs the first place in the global list of 1 person municipal waste production. As the garbage that was exported to the Philippine island returned, the visible effect of the problem was magnified. When China stopped importing wastes, South Korea's recycling collection companies refused to continue their job, causing the tumult of the last year's accumulation of recyclables in the apartment yard. Since then, the passing out the bans on the use of straws and single-use items in food and beverage stores, and mandatory sale of shopping/ plastic bags have accelerated.

Belgium is also prohibiting the use of disposable products in large and small festivals from next year. If people drink beer in a glass cup instead of a plastic cup in outdoor festival in Belgium, a country of beer, it will be much cooler and delicious. Isn't Belgium the country that has a different beautiful glass for each type of beer? Discomfort will be rewarded with environmental protection, beauty and taste. It is not that uncomfortable to bring personal cups to drink beer and beverages on the tap.

On April 22, New York formally banned the use of plastic bags, which had been consumed more than 20 billion sheets each year. Changing and regulating environmental awareness around the world is more dramatic these days.

Since our store banned straws in our stores and sold shopping bags, the workers rather than customers expressed discomfort. According to these workers, they felt that they can not fully serve the customers and in cases they asked for a straw, the explaining and persuading work felt stressful.

In a staff meeting, I explained the pain-giving scene of the taking a straw out of a Costa Rican sea turtle and declaimed the reason why we should decrease our single-use item use. However, it didn't seem to lack a strong sense of perception to change behavior.

If the worker asks the customer, 'The shopping bag is 500 won; do you need it?,' 80 ~ 90% refuses to use it. To customers who protest the inconvenience, I asked them to say, "If you give us a disposable product, we will pay you a fine." From this, they finally seem to feel somewhat relieved. I expect that visible costs and heavy penalties will play a positive role.

Researches to develop something to substitute plastics such as 100% bioplastic materials are in progress, but isn't the best way just to use less plastics if possible? It is much more eco-friendly to change your lifestyle to use less and make less.

Gelato's season is back. Instead of putting soft gelato in a disposable cup and spooning with a plastic spoon, put it in a cone and feel its softness and coolness with your lips. It is a useful tip that reduces waste and doubles its taste.

- Derived from an article by the CEO of Cacaoboom, a Belgian chocolate & gelato shop


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