Internet wacky arrived in my inbox this week in the form of a 16-page PDF entitled “Scarychopstick” courtesy of Nichi Bei Weekly volunteer extraordinaire Amy Hanamoto. In both awkward English and Chinese (the quality of which I cannot speak for), this virtual pamphlet offered a cautionary tale about the horrors of disposable chopsticks. An excerpt:
“Possible consequences of using disposable chopstick … Suffer difficult breathing, vomit, diarrhoea etc. and loss of calcium due to sulfur.”
I don’t know where my calcium level is at right now, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never had an onset of those other afflictions as a result of eating with these utensils. Reputable sources, however, indicate that they do pose some risks. In any case, the larger point is so obvious that even a bizarre missive of mysterious cyber-origin can make it: Disposable chopsticks are bad. As the pamphlet advises, “Protect yourself, protect the tree.”
Let’s focus on that second part. According to The Japan Times, the Japanese government has estimated that its citizenry go through some 25 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks, or waribashi, each year — enough timber to build 17,000 houses. That’s a lot to be just tossing in the trash at the end of a meal.
In order to cut down on this waste, environmentally-minded folks have embraced what has been labeled the “my hashi” (my chopsticks) movement, carrying around their own reusable chopsticks. Although plenty of people in Japan have already been packing as a matter of longstanding habit, it’s always nice to see a more active and formal campaign gel around such behavior — helps get the stragglers in line. It’s gotten big enough to attract commercial interests; some noble-minded, and some with other things on their mind.
Of course Japan is just one country; when it comes to stemming the disposable chopstick tide, there’s all of Asia to consider, as well as the States. In fact, the waribashi question arises anywhere Asian cuisine is served — starting at your table.