Goodbye to the Era of Plastic Tableware

Plastic Reduction from Farm to Dining Table
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2019 / August

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Phil Newell


I always assumed that pictures posted on social media of plastic garbage floating in the ocean represented rare cases. It was only when I personally went to the seacoast that I saw the plastic bottles and plastic bags spread everywhere, in quantities that grew more shocking with each visit.

It is only then that one wakes up to the fact that plastic pollution is such a serious issue in our lives.

 

 


In Hualien, where the morning sun first strikes Taiwan, there is no industrial pollution. This is why the government chose the county as the first place to promote toxin-free agriculture. The area of land with organic certification is the greatest anywhere on the island.

An earthly paradise

At the height of summer, with daytime temperatures soaring to 40℃, at seven or eight in the morning the day is just starting for office workers in the city. However, farmers who labor on the land have already completed a full cycle of arduous work.

“In this season, you can’t really stay in the fields past 10 a.m.,” says Eric Huang as he warmly welcomes us to his Jolly Buddha Organic Orchard in Hua­lien’s Rui­sui Township. ­Huang, who previously worked in a high-end boutique, resigned from his job six years ago and said goodbye to bustling Tai­pei, returning to his family home to practice agriculture together with his parents.

They have less than a hectare of land, and are surrounded by big farms on all sides. But what’s special about them is that while others are only now beginning to transition to organic farming, as early as 2010 ­Huang’s father, ­Huang Yong­jian, was already leading the way as the operator of Hua­lien’s first toxin-free demonstration farm, with guidance from the county government.

As we walk into the mixed farm and woodland, besides the large trees such as camphor and maple visible here and there, there are also fruit trees with guava, Valencia oranges, papaya, peaches, and dragonfruit. In addition, scattered everywhere are patches of vegetables like Chinese violets (Asystasia gangetica), perilla (Perilla frutescens), chayote stems (Sechium edule), taro (Colocasia esculenta), and bird’s-nest fern (Asplenium nidus). The cultivated area for any given item is small, and the whole farm appears varied and diverse, with remarkable vitality.

At this time, the two elders of the family are sitting outside the farmhouse under the shade of the trees, sorting through the vegetables they have just harvested. Meanwhile Eric ­Huang has taken up his sickle to cut some shell ginger leaves from a field embankment, which they intend to use as wrapping material for packaging their products.

They take up plants like giant elephant’s ear, banana leaves, shell ginger leaves, and lemongrass, gathered from all around, which they use to make up packets of vegetables to take to market to sell the next day, as a way to reduce their use of plastic packaging. In the bright sunshine, the handfuls of greenery are as dazzling as bouquets of flowers.

Plastic, plastic, everywhere!

On the consumer side, it was often mothers and grandmothers at home who first got involved in reducing the use of plastic.

It was in 1987, when plastic was not as ubiquitous as it is today, that Lin Kuei-yin foresaw the current situation and began taking her own shopping bag to market. Over 30 years ago, Lin’s initial reason for joining the environmental NGO Homemakers United Foundation (HUF), of which she later became president, was related to plastic reduction.

“Back then I saw Chen Lai-hung [HUF’s founding secretary-­general] on TV with her shopping bag initiative, and I thought to myself, isn’t that precisely what I’m worried about?” she recalls.

As people living in the real world, homemakers are not only in control of a family’s meals, but are often also responsible for shopping and taking out the trash. They have seen the transition from traditional to modern society, and as ways of life have changed, they have seen the volume of trash steadily increase. Thinking back to the past, didn’t grandma and great­grandma always go to the market to shop with baskets or cloth bags? They certainly never engaged in the wasteful behavior of using something once and then throwing it away.

Heirs to traditional virtues like hard work, thrift, and taking good care of household items, home­makers joined the HUF in large numbers. Building on the sense of solidarity within the organization, this group of no-nonsense women took to the streets to advocate for their positions, actively urging people to carry their own reusable eating utensils and shopping bags. They even assisted the government in promoting policies like recycling and the collection of garbage-bag fees.

However, even as disposable chopsticks and mela­mine plates were gradually disappearing from restaurant dining tables following debates about food safety, there continued to be a disastrous flood of plastic bags, plastic wrap, plastic boxes, and plastic trays.

In March of 2019, Greenpeace started an online petition calling on supermarkets to reduce plastic use. In just three short months, more than 80,000 people signed the petition. This enthusiastic response reflects rising en­viron­mental consciousness among citizens.

Cony Chang, energy campaigner for Greenpeace, citing the World Economic Forum report “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics,” says that in fact as much as 26% of the world’s plastics industry is devoted to plastic containers and packaging, 95% of which are single-use.

Although it is claimed that plastic waste is re­cyc­lable, only 14% of plastic packaging is actually recycled and reused. In fact, a full one-third ends up in the nat­ural en­viron­ment, which is where the increasingly severe problem of marine plastic pollution comes from.

Supermarkets: A crucial battleground

End-user retail consumer products account for the overwhelming majority of plastic trash. Bright and glittering plastic packaging that is thrown away after a single use is inseparable from today’s consumption-driven capitalist societies. How can we get people to change their behavior?

At the “Unpackaged.U” shop, located in the densely populated San­chong District of New Tai­pei City, Rex ­Huang is trying a different approach.

When you step into this shop of some 180 square meters floor area, selling more than 500 product categories, you find that it offers all the daily necessities of life: rice and other grains, oil, salt, soy sauce, vinegar, nuts, dried fruits, tea, and snacks.

At five in the afternoon, as evening approaches, people begin to flood into the quiet shop, with many young mothers showing up with their children. They have been familiar with this store’s purchasing system for a long time. They first take the containers which they have brought with them to the counter to be weighed, so that the weight can be deducted from their purchases. Then they begin shopping.

Whether or not suppliers provide large-sized packaging is an important factor for Rex Huang in making his purchasing decisions. Products that he buys frequently start at five kilograms, and they are placed into different types of containers for storage, depending on the nature of the individual foods. They are not repackaged, and consumers bring their own containers, buying as much or as little as they like.

But what if you forget to bring a container, or you just decide to go buy something on the spur of the moment? Don’t worry, the store also sells glass storage jars. No matter what, the goal is to reduce the amount of plastic used to the minimum.

The HUF, which has always been at the forefront of green lifestyles, is another example. Having developed early on, as early as 1993 they began collective purchasing activities. Starting with only a couple of hundred people, as of today they have built up a consumer co­oper­ative with more than 50 sales outlets and over 70,000 members, showing their determination to use consumer power to change the world for the better.

It is difficult to avoid using packaging materials for fresh foods. The co-op outlets tried out all kinds of experiments, from using paper to wrap vegetables in the early days to reusing returned packaging materials. However, as the volume of supplied products grew ever larger with the growth in membership, and because reuse of plastic bags and egg cartons raised concerns about cross-contamination, after operating for a while the system was brought to a halt.

“We all know that daily life inevitably involves using some plastics,” says Lin Kuei-yin. But despite this fact, they are still doing all they can.

They advocate choosing more costly paper boxes and trays instead of plastic ones. And they dispense with the plastic trays that are used just for aesthetic purposes for things like hot-pot meat slices and frozen dumplings. They also encourage co-op members to reuse the net bags used for carrying root vegetables, melons, and fruit. ­Finally, if there is really no choice but to use plastic, in principle they try to select the thinnest type that is practical.

Good habits plus a little creativity

It was by no means easy to go against the grain in society and start saying goodbye to plastics.

Starting this July, the government is expanding its plastic reduction policy. It has prohibited the provision of plastic straws to dine-in consumers at four major types of public venues, including government agencies and department stores. Even fast-food leader McDonald’s is responding positively, redesigning cup lids to facilitate consumers drinking directly from the cup in future.

We listen to HUF volunteers like Lin Kuei-yin, Hu Ya-mei, and Hsieh Bi-ru talking about what it was like for them when they started carrying around their own utensils and cups decades ago. In the early days no one understood these women, who proudly call themselves “fundamentalists,” and for a while even their own family members were unwilling to go out with them for a meal.

But they didn’t give up, because homemakers who live through the grind of daily life understand that small actions taken in the ordinary course of life are the real keys to changing society.

When you ask how they manage not to forget every­thing—shopping bag, eating utensils, thermos cup, and lunchbox—when they go out, these women, who are already grandmothers, laugh out loud as they reply: “It’s just like remembering to bring your reading glasses when you go out. When you’ve left 50 pairs of chopsticks at dining places, then you’ll remember!”

I remember a little shop that I have previously visited called Day’s and Co. in the Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park in Tainan. This shop, selling only a few items, which is operated by the illustrated book author Hsu Mei-yi, works hard to be a plastic-free store.

I especially remember the colored cotton bags that came in three different sizes and could be used for buying bread, rice, and vegetables. The round-cornered design was not only attractive, but made the bags easy to wash. There were also three sizes of square cloth handkerchiefs, which revealed inspired creativity: When you tied together the two rawhide lacings, they would become a mini carrying bag. With different ways of tying them up, they could become a cloth for wrapping boxed lunches or even a bag for carrying drinks cups.

Plastic reduction is perhaps not as difficult as people imagine. If we are willing to build good habits and be a little more creative in the way we manage our lives, that’s enough.

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告別,塑食年代

從產地到餐桌的減塑行動

文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧林旻萱

一直以為,社群媒體上廣傳的海漂塑膠垃圾的照片,只是極罕見的案例,直到親自站上海岸線,滿布的寶特瓶、塑膠袋,數量一次比一次還怵目驚心。

這才讓人警惕,原來,塑膠汙染的問題,離你我那麼近。

 

 


後山日先照的花蓮,由於沒有工業汙染,政府借力使力,最早開始推廣無毒農業,經有機認證的土地面積,高居全台之冠。

淨土在人間

體感溫度飆升到40℃的盛夏,清早,對於都市裡的上班族來說,一日才正展開,然而,對於必須在田裡勞作的莊稼人家,早已辛勤工作過了一輪。

「這個季節,超過十點鐘,就已經不適合在田裡啦。」來到花蓮瑞穗的彌勒果園,黃彥儒熱情地招呼著我們。曾經在精品店上班的他,六年前辭職,告別喧囂台北,回到老家與爸媽一同操持農務。

才九分六的果園,為毗鄰四周的大農戶所包圍,但特別的是,當鄰舍才正開始預備轉作有機,他的父親黃永兼在縣政府的輔導下,早在2010年已率先成為無毒農業的示範戶。

當我們走進採混林農業的農場,除了樟樹、楓樹等大樹交雜掩映,另有芭樂、晚崙西亞橙、木瓜、水蜜桃、火龍果等果樹,還有赤道櫻草、紫蘇、龍鬚菜、芋頭、山蘇等菜蔬散落各處,單一種類的栽種面積都不大,整座農場看上去紛呈多樣,格外有生機。

而此時,剛從田間回來的倆老,正在農舍旁的綠蔭下挑揀剛採收下來的葉菜,只見黃彥儒拾起鐮刀,割下田埂旁的月桃葉,預備當作待會分裝用的包材。

與母親總是鬥嘴當有趣的他,連包裝方式都能你一言、我一語地爭個不停,雖然常常意見相左,唯獨捨塑膠袋改用自然素材,倒是觀點一致。

只見他們就著四處撿拾來的姑婆芋、香蕉葉、月桃葉、香茅,將明日即將帶去市集上銷售的蔬菜逐一包裝,晴光下的一把把綠意,猶如花束一般的耀眼。

從生產端做起

當「少塑」、「減塑」的呼聲不斷變大,不只是消費者,就連上游的生產者,也有所感應。因著投入有機耕作,這些農友,對於環境友善更具意識,即起即行。

雖然想減塑,付諸行動卻不容易。塑膠,這個發明至今還不過才滿百年的產物,因著便利、便宜,早已與人們的食衣住行密不可分。

超市裡一袋袋、一盒盒光鮮亮麗、裝在透明塑膠包材裡的食材,消費者不假思索地拿起,放入購物籃中,買到了東西,也一併購入了大量的塑膠垃圾。近年開始有支持減塑的朋友,自備容器、購物袋,轉往傳統市場採購。

但採有機耕作、友善農法的農友,受限於法規,產品上必須貼有認證標章,加上為了食材保鮮,也為了銷售上的方便,終究少不了用到一次性包材。

反觀傳統市場裡裸賣的蔬菜,常見一條橡皮筋束起就直接販售,難怪曾聽有機農友私下表示:「有機雖然在生產的時候友善土地,但到了銷售的時候,反而比慣行農法更傷害環境。」

幸好,直接與消費者面對面的農夫市集,為這個問題找到解方。

來到花蓮的翌日,我們前往了在每個周六固定舉辦的花蓮好事集,這個花蓮最早發起的農夫市集,群聚著一群堅持友善土地的農夫。

市集上,不乏如同彌勒果園一樣,響應以天然包材作包裝的農友,即便想採裸賣,通過有機驗證者,只需出示驗證證書即可。市集運作了九年,長年下來也與消費者培養出了默契,多數民眾都曉得自備購物袋或重複使用的塑膠袋,即便忘了帶,直接手拿,或由農友提供重複再使用的袋子。

在這裡,生產到銷售的減塑運動,得以貫徹始終。

雖然跟隨處可見的塑膠包材相比,減少的數量猶如九牛一毛,但生活在這片得天獨厚的土地上,他們依舊保有這份不因善小而不為的堅持。

塑膠、塑膠,到處都是塑膠!

目光拉回到消費端,在減塑這條路,自發性開始的往往是家裡的婆婆媽媽。

1987年,在塑膠還不如今日普及的年代,林貴瑛就已預見現在的局面,開始帶著購物袋上市場。加入主婦聯盟環境保護基金會超過30年,曾擔任過董事長的她,入會的起因也與減塑相關。

「那時候,在電視上看到陳來紅(創會秘書長)拿著購物袋倡議,我心想,這不正是我在擔心的事嗎?」她回想著。

作為踏實的生活者,主婦除了掌管著一家子的三餐,常還得負責家用採購、倒垃圾,剛巧歷經了從傳統到現代社會的蛻變,隨著生活型態轉變,眼看垃圾量逐漸增加,想到過去,阿祖阿嬤還不就是提著菜籃、棉布袋上市場買菜,從沒有用過一次就丟的浪費行徑。

就這樣,傳承下勤儉、惜物等傳統美德的她們,紛紛入會,藉著組織互通聲氣,站上街頭倡議,這群「來真的」的女人除了積極向社會大眾推廣自備餐具、購物袋,甚至協助政府推動資源回收、垃圾隨袋徵收等政策。

然而,當免洗筷、美耐皿等一次性餐具,經過食安問題的辯論,逐漸從餐桌上退場,但塑膠袋、塑膠膜、塑膠盒、塑膠托盤等容器,仍舊氾濫成災。

直到今(2019)年3月,綠色和平環保組織在網路上發起要求超市減塑的連署,才短短三個月,人數就已超過八萬,熱烈的迴響反映了民眾高漲的環保意識。

綠色和平減塑專案主任張凱婷引述世界經濟論壇《新塑膠經濟:反思塑膠未來》的調查報告,原來,全球塑膠產業竟有26%都用在包裝上,而95%都是一次性使用。

即便號稱可回收,但居然只有14%被回收再利用,高達三分之一進入了自然環境,日趨嚴重的海洋塑膠垃圾問題,原來由此而來。

海洋塑膠汙染將是繼氣候變異以後重大的全球危機,刻不容緩的此時,除了民間響應減塑,更仰賴政府、企業界的總動員。

超市減塑大作戰

終端零售業的消費產品,佔了塑膠垃圾的絕大多數,光鮮亮麗、用過即丟的塑膠包裝,已是現下鼓勵消費的資本主義社會難以割捨的一部分,如何逆勢而為?

在人口稠密的三重開設裸賣商店Unpackaged.U商店的黃尚衍,嘗試了一條不一樣的路。

踏入50餘坪的偌大空間,涵蓋了500種以上的賣店,販售米榖雜糧、油鹽醬醋、堅果果乾、茶葉零食,足以滿足開門七件事。

排滿了一整面牆、盛裝著五穀雜糧的長型貯存罐,最是吸睛,除了白米、胚芽米之外,竟還有罕見的糯麥、扁豆、鷹嘴豆,透明的瓶瓶罐罐與五顏六色的產品,令人有說不出的熟悉,像極了已消逝的柑仔店,也像過去流行一時的小豆苗。

下午五點,向晚時分,寧靜的商店湧入人潮,不少年輕媽媽帶著孩子上門,她們早已熟稔這家店的消費規則,先將自備的容器拿到櫃台秤重,將容器重量扣除後,再開始選購。

廠商能否提供大包裝,是黃尚衍採購的重要準則,進貨動輒從五公斤起跳,再按照食品分類放入不同的保存容器,不再經過包裝,上門的消費者自備容器,要多少買多少。

黃尚衍說:「煮一頓飯的一杯米,20、30克,我們都賣。」忘記帶容器,或者臨時起意購買該怎麼辦呢?不要緊,店內也有販售玻璃罐,無論如何,就是將塑膠的使用量降到最低。

裸賣商品常被質疑的產品標示、保鮮等問題,他在進貨時便要求廠商一併提供SGS檢驗報告,每一項產品的品牌、產地、開封日期、保存期限及營養成分等,都在說明牌上標示得清清楚楚。黃尚衍又說,其實裸賣的商品都流動得很快,會過期的,反倒都是少數有包裝的商品。

始終走在前頭的主婦聯盟是另一例。由於發展得早,1993年便開始了共同購買行動,從剛開始一、兩百人的規模,到現今成立超過50家的取貨站所,有超過七萬名會員支持運作,充分展現出「用消費決定我們所想要的世界」的精神。

生鮮食材難以迴避的包材,合作社也經歷了各式各樣的實驗,從早期嘗試以紙包菜,或者將包材回收重複使用。然而,一來,供貨量隨著社員成長越來越龐大,二來,包材重複使用,難免有交叉汙染的食安疑慮,在運作一陣子以後只好宣告終止。

「我們都曉得,生活裡難免還是會有一些塑膠。」林貴瑛說,但即便如此,還是盡力為之。

寧願選擇成本較高的紙盒、紙盤取代塑膠;又好比火鍋肉片、冷凍包子,只是為了美觀而墊上塑膠托盤,那索性就此割捨;用來裝根莖瓜果類,可回收的網袋,鼓勵社員回收;最後萬萬不得以用上塑膠,原則上也是越薄越好。

好習慣,再加上一點創意

告別塑膠,意味著對抗時代潮流,起頭總是不容易。

7月開始,政府減塑政策再擴大,限制公部門、百貨公司等四大公共場所內用不得使用塑膠吸管,包含速食業龍頭的麥當勞也積極響應,重新設計杯蓋,以符合將來消費者以口就杯的習慣。

聽林貴瑛、胡雅美、謝璧如一群主婦聯盟志工,談起數十年前就開始自備餐具、杯子,自詡「基本教義派」的她們,早年因著無人理解,一度連家人都不願意跟她們一塊外出吃飯。

但她們不改初心,因為認真生活的主婦最明白,那些日常裡微小的行動,才是扭轉社會的關鍵。

突襲她們的包包,購物袋、餐具袋、保溫杯、便當盒一應俱全,問她們怎樣才不會忘記帶,早已晉升阿嬤的她們,大笑著紛紛表示:「就跟記得帶老花眼鏡出門一樣。要是掉過50雙筷子,就會記得了啦。」

我想起了過去曾造訪的,開在台南藍晒圖文創園區裡的日記商號。這間由圖文作家徐玫怡所經營,致力於推動plastic-free的小賣店,兜售的品項並不多。

記憶猶深的是三種不同尺寸的素色棉布袋,可以用來購買麵包、米穀、菜蔬,圓角的設計不僅可愛,也方便洗滌;另一款三種尺寸的方巾手帕,體現了靈光乍現的創意,綁上兩條皮繩,就成了迷你小提包,不同的打結方式,可當便當的包巾,甚至飲料杯的提袋。

減塑,也許不如想像裡困難,只需要好習慣,以及一點願意經營生活、巧手慧心的創意,就夠了。

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