Style points for being green?


Posting for an environmental blog can be an exercise in confronting your own hypocrisy. Case in point: My last blog post covered the evils of disposable chopsticks, but I use waribashi all the time. I do own a reusable set of bamboo utensils that come in a handy carrying case and include a pair of chopsticks, but I always seem to be leaving them at home.

They were once again laying uselessly in my kitchen as I hungrily roamed the streets of Japantown earlier this week. Unable to reconcile the prospect of another carry-out lunch tinged by guilt, I headed over to Ichiban Kan — home of the eco bag — to make sure my meal would not require waribashi.

The trip was a reminder of the economic challenge of embracing environmentalism. Ichiban Kan has a chopstick section with one blanket price for all manner of hashi. For $1.25, you can buy either 30 pairs of standard-issue waribashi, 15 pairs of disposable bamboo chopsticks, five pairs of disposable “premium” wood chopsticks, or one pair of reusable chopsticks made of yew (a kind of conifer). I went with the least cost-effective option for my immediate needs, but with this blog in mind, grabbed the five-pack as well.

Another chopstick choice. Photo by Alec Yoshio MacDonald

What interested me about the five-pack was the labeling — specifically, the mysterious “3.9 GREENSTYLE” stamp printed prominently near the top left corner. Was this number some sort of a sustainability rating, gauging the product in terms of ecological sensitivity? Back at the Nichi Bei office, conferring with resident Japanese expert Kiyoshi Shintani seemed to reveal a sneaky case of greenwashing. According to the fine katakana print, the 3.9 did not appear to serve as a rating but rather a pun: Ignore the decimal point and read the numbers in Japanese, and you get san kyu. Get it? Thank you. Yeah, thank you for wrecking the planet.

But hold on. After poking around the Interwebs, I ascertained that it’s not quite so clear cut. (Catch that? Two can play the pun game.) Turns out that the stamp signifies the “Use Wood Campaign” of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Accompanyied by the phrase “国産材、使って減らそうCO2” (Let’s reduce CO2 by using domestic timber), the campaign apparently answered the call of the Kyoto Protocol, in which Japan pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 6 percent from its 1990 levels. Cultivating domestic forestland to absorb carbon dioxide was supposed to account for 3.9 percent of that reduction, which explains the stamp, at least according to Daiwa Bussan and Hitachi, a pair of Japanese corporations (not preferred sources, I admit, but almighty Google seems to like them).

Now it doesn’t strike me as such a great idea to remove trees from a forest when you want that forest to absorb more carbon dioxide, and this practice of forest thinning appears to have critics on this side of the ocean. But maybe I need to defer to the Japanese government on this one. After all, it was in a sense their protocol. Our country didn’t even bother joining in on that particular party, so who am I to criticize? I should concentrate my energy on things I can control — like remembering not to leave my chopsticks at home.

2 responses to “Style points for being green?”

  1. Tomo Hirai Avatar
    Tomo Hirai

    I probably shouldn’t, but I will note that those chopsticks were carted all the way across the ocean as well. Their green harvesting techniques would do nothing if the ecological footprint in importing them is none-the-less damaging to the environment.

    I will stick with finger foods like sandwiches and burritos made only from locally grown producers…. or I’ll have corn on the cob for every meal of the day.

  2. KoreanHapa Avatar

    As someone who brings her lunch (and coffee and snacks) to work on a regular basis, I sympathize with the utensil conundrum. I used to have a special pair of “enviro” fork and spoon to bring on such occasions. But I always seemed to forget or realize they were dirty just as I was running out the door.

    Now, I just grab a regular metal fork, spoon or knife from my utensil drawer. I do the same my chopsticks. I wrap them up in a napkin and stick them in my lunch bag (a Lululemon shopping bag I got a birthday present in five years ago).

    The chopsticks make their way home eventually, and I don’t have to worry about remembering a special pair.

    But, as another commenter noted on your last post, it then becomes an issue of the paper napkins I use. I do compost them, but their production and one-use factor still make them seem somewhat of an “earth abuse.” Guess I should invest in cloth napkins, or maybe just use a dish towel. There’s always room to grow, isn’t there?

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