Keeping Our Planet Green
While the number of issues facing our planet today are great, nothing compares to the threat of global climate change and environmental degradation. We believe this to be the single most important problem of this generation, something that must be remedied with haste. For without a suitable home to live, humans are destined for a bleak future and extinction looms as a very real threat. The key to this problem, as many others in life, is finding balance: an equilibrium between necessary consumption and environmental responsibility.
Since the dawn of our species, we’ve grown in abilities, honing-in skills and developing certain tastes which remain integral aspects of our collective identity. Without sacrificing these core tenets, it is imperative that we build a future that is sustainable yet imbued with meaning, culturally or otherwise. For this future to become a reality, a transition must be made in all aspects of life towards renewability and permanence - in short, products which last and minimize the impact on our planet as a whole.
The incessant treadmill of production/consumption has caused countless negative side effects, yet we still have time to reverse the trend. By focusing on products which are ethically sourced, properly designed, and focused on diminishing the need for disposable alternatives, a brighter future can and will be achieved. Although this is but one aspect of a much larger trend, each step in the right direction counts, allowing each successive move forward to come with greater ease than the ones before.
When speaking about the problem of unnecessary consumption, the topic of disposable goods (single use products) remains at the forefront of dialogue. More than 60% of the United States population uses one or more of these products on a daily basis: disposable utensils, straws, plates, to-go containers, and excessive packaging make up a massive percentage of waste produced in the US and worldwide. Legislators have already begun to pass laws regulating the production of these products. For example, many states have outright banned or begun to regulate the use of plastic grocery bags. Additionally, Seattle and other cities around the US have implemented legislation outlawing plastic utensils and straws. These are positive steps, but more needs to be done. Since becoming one of the predominate materials used in manufacturing, plastic has gone on to wreak havoc upon the the environment. Today, the oceans of earth, and the animals that live within, have become inundated with plastic waste, leading to serious implications.
While many of these products have gotten attention in the media or otherwise, some have fallen under the radar. Of specific import, and the particular focus of our efforts, is the production and consumption of disposable chopsticks: wooden/bamboo implements which have become ubiquitous aspects of restaurants worldwide. Chances are that each time you order Asian cuisine, whether in the restaurant or for takeout, the meal is accompanied by one of these products.
But what exactly is the issue with disposable chopsticks? After all, they aren’t made from plastic and use only natural materials. As it turns out, disposable chopsticks have resounding impacts upon not only the natural world, but human health as well.
When it comes to environmental impact, the influence of disposable chopstick production is staggering. In China alone, 45 billion pairs are produced each year, many of them slated for export to other countries. Since the majority of these single-use varieties are made from wood, more than 20 million fully-grown trees are cut down each year to meet the demand. And although rhetoric surrounding their production states that only scrap, recycled wood is used in production, these myths are wholly unfounded and false. In fact, since most of the old growth in East Asia has disappeared, wood is increasingly being imported from Indonesia, Burma, and other southern nations, irreparably damaging delicate ecosystems. As production continues to grow thanks to increasing demand, the balance is increasingly thrown out of equilibrium, resulting in non-sustainable production which will end in the total destruction of natural environs.
Although these environmental impacts usually take time to impact humans directly, there is a much more prevalent threat embodied within their usage: methods employed within the production of disposable chopsticks focus little on health effects incurred upon consumers. In reality, there exist many negative impacts.
Because of the demand for a uniform product, chemicals are used to bleach and preserve the integrity of these single-use chopsticks. The biggest culprit is sulfur dioxide, a toxic preservative that is also a byproduct of fossil-fuel consumption. And though this chemical is used widely in winemaking and fruit preservation, because chopsticks are not regulated as an edible object, tight restrictions do not apply to their manufacturing, allowing for greater levels of chemicals to remain latent within. During the process of eating, especially hot foods, much of these toxins are able to be released into your body. Over time, this can have detrimental effects upon one’s health and well-being, with side effects including serious respiratory issues. If the external impact of disposable chopsticks on the environment is not enough to sway public opinion, surely the direct effects upon the body will. It has become apparent that a change must be made, but what strategies are to be employed to facilitate such?
Strategies for Change
At this current stage, there exists shockingly little information regarding the subject of disposable chopsticks. Moving forward, our best tool is that of education, informing the public as to the serious nature of this issue and its potential reverberating effects for generations to come. For without understanding, little will change. Through providing clear and concise explanations as to the impacts of using such products, minds can hopefully be swayed in the right direction.
Second to that of education must be the implementation and offering of alternative methods, namely reusable and environmentally friendly options. We do not wish to see a world without chopsticks: they are extremely important societal implements that have become solidified as cultural facets. In such, we must develop a product which can fill the void left by the massive market for disposable chopsticks.
While it is true that many restaurants offer reusable options, additionally being used within private homes, the prevalence of such products lacks widespread attention, as indicated by the increasing popularity of disposable alternatives. By offering cheap, durable, and attractive permanent replacements, usage of disposable chopsticks will undoubtedly decrease. Coupled with a campaign of education, this seems like our best shot for influencing the public and, with luck, governing bodies into making drastic policy changes to facilitate such overhauls. Though this is an uphill battle at this point, it one that must be fought, no matter the cost. We have but one chance to secure the fate of future generations, and rallying around the issue of disposable chopsticks is a surefire way to increase our chances of survival.