Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation

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Dec 07th
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Yes, I Will Reuse

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Yes, I Will Reuse
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If each person were to use just one disposable paper meal container a day (many people use more), Taiwan's 23 million inhabitants would have to fell 7,935 big trees every day. In a year, that would leave 8,750 hectares (21,620 acres) of forest with nothing but stumps.

The college youths here urge you and me to join them in their effort to reduce the quantity of disposal tableware that people use and throw away every day. Their method: encourage consumers to carry their own reusable tableware to substitute for disposables. They have dubbed the reusable eating utensils "new-ware" and their endeavor "Project New-Ware."

Traditionally, food stalls and restaurants in Taiwan served their customers on their premises using reusable bowls, plates, chopsticks and spoons. But all this changed when disposable tableware--cheap, neat, and convenient--overtook the marketplace. Nowadays, many restaurant and food stall owners almost exclusively use disposable containers made of paper, plastic and Styrofoam. They use disposable boxes, cups, chopsticks, soup bowls, spoons, lids, straws, napkins, and plastic bags not only to package and deliver their carry-out orders, but even to serve their dine-in customers.

It all seems to make perfect business sense to food shop owners: no more fussing over washing, drying, and breaking the reusable variety. But if each person were to use just one disposable paper container a day (many people use more), Taiwan's 23 million inhabitants would have to fell 7,935 big trees every day. In a year, that would leave 8,750 hectares (21,620 acres) of forest with nothing but stumps. In a typical carry-out breakfast, a paper box containing the main dish, a cup, a lid and a straw for the drink, and a fork will all go into a plastic bag. And just imagine where all that single-use, non-food packaging goes after the meal!

It is little wonder that, if it were a giant garbage can, Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world, would be filled to the brim in a mere two and a half days! Now that's unarguably an alarming rate. Even worse is that Taiwan is hardly the sole perpetrator in this crime against Mother Earth. Many countries, or rather people, elsewhere are doing the very same thing, albeit at different but still harmful rates.

A year ago, students of Tzu Chi University in Hualien, Taiwan, launched the "New-Ware Project," which aims to reduce the use of disposable tableware. More and more local shop owners have recognized the proposal's merit and rallied around it. More than 80 businesses in Hualien have signed up. Likewise, more and more youths have joined in as recruiters; their ranks have grown from three about a year ago to more than 20 currently.

The beginning
The Tzu Chi Collegiate Association at Tzu Chi University held a meeting for its membership in November 2006 on the theme of environmental protection. Whether she had long thought about the matter or whether the idea just found her at the moment, Yan Cai-ru (顏采如), a sophomore at the Department of Public Health, blurted out, "Let's take concrete action to protect the Earth." Others echoed her thought enthusiastically.

Initially, they just urged fellow students to follow in the footsteps of all the Tzu Chi environmental protection volunteers, who mainly salvage recyclable materials out of garbage and whose contribution to reduce carbon emission is beyond reproach. However, deep down, the young people knew that recycling alone without conservation will not solve the eco-problems that are weighing down on the Earth. Instead of passive, post-consumer collecting and recycling, the youths wondered if they could do anything to reduce resource consumption. They wanted to move upstream in efforts to preserve the ecology.

So they brainstormed for ideas. Many did in fact surface: walk around the dorms and turn off unused lights, walk more instead of taking motorcycles, cars, or elevators. Then there was this idea to reduce the amount of disposable eating utensils with a simultaneous two-pronged approach: remind consumers to bring their own reusable tableware, and encourage restaurants and food stalls to give inducements to the customers who do so. These businesses give either a discount or an extra amount of food to complying customers.

Yang Wen-ting (楊雯婷) of the Department of Mass Media came up with this idea. Disposable tableware is so pervasive in Taiwan that it is not uncommon for a person to use and throw away in a day three large paper cups, their lids, and straws just for soft drinks. Wen-ting herself has a weakness for soft drinks, so she knows that disposable tableware can be a terrible waste and also a tremendous opportunity to make a dent in reducing consumption of resources.

These enthusiastic young people figured that it would be nice to reduce senseless consumption of disposables on the one hand, and give a tangible benefit to consumers as well as restaurant owners on the other. In Taiwan, custom-made beverage shops are widespread, making each drink to order. The students decided to approach the drink shops around their campus and convince them to give tangible benefits (a small discount in price or extra amount of food) to their customers who bring their own beverage containers. They called their movement "Project New-Ware."

A false start
"What are you talking about? Sorry, I don't follow you," said one restaurant owner. "It's not that I don't want to join. It's just that your proposal would be hard to carry out," said another. "Your idea sounds all good and well, but it's just that--it's so pie-in-the-sky--with no hope of success," fussed a third.

The initial response was, alas, far cooler than the young people had expected. Undaunted, they insisted that a negative answer from one business didn't mean that the next business would also say no. They decided to blanket all the eateries in the vicinity of the campus.

As more rejections piled in, they suspected that they knew why many restaurant owners rejected their idea out of hand. The proprietors might have thought that the young people were acting on a whim and that their novel idea was just a fad. After all, they were quite young in the eyes of the people they were trying to convince.

The students needed a way to be taken more seriously, to get their foot in the door. They decided to design a logo for Project New-Ware. They hoped that the emblem would serve to clearly mark a participating store, sway consumers to frequent such establishments, and disseminate the idea of "carry your own tableware" to passers-by.

Wu Yuan-ming (吳沅明) of the Tzu Chi University Department of Mass Media took on the job of designing the logo. He wanted to convey the notion that even mundane objects and ordinary people can play a part in helping the ailing Earth. The design he came up with depicts an earth held up in a rice bowl which is flanked by a cup and a spoon, implements that most people use every day.

Huang Pin-xuan (黃品璇) of the Tzu Chi University Department of Public Health was responsible for printing the logo. She found eight printers in Hualien from the phone book, and she rode her bike to each of them to shop for the best value. "Though riding the bike around was a bit tiring, I did learn how to deal with people. I saw that being courteous could get a better price."

A new start
The students split into small groups, and during their spare time between classes they began to call on restaurants, food stalls, and drink shops around their campus. Their visits were met with an assortment of receptions. Some proprietors were skeptical, others were marginally positive but non-committal, and still others were downright supportive. The college youth cheerfully adhered their logo stickers conspicuously on the front of participating businesses.
These restaurant owners showed their support in various ways. Some rewarded customers who came in the door with their own tableware with a discount on their purchase or an extra amount of food for free. Some put up their own storefront advertisements to display their alliance with Project New-Ware. Some even set aside sinks for customers to wash their dishes after a meal. One good-sized restaurant went so far as to update its menu to include an offer of NT$5 (20 U.S. cents) off to each customer who brought his/her own reusable chopsticks.

"We were about to replenish our dwindling menu stock when the college kids came to us. We immediately bought into their idea. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well and worth advertising so people will know about it. That was how the message got on our new menu," said the restaurant manager, Xie Shi-ting (謝詩婷). "We do take in five dollars less on each sale, but we also get more customers, including students from other schools, who would normally not have frequented our restaurant were it not for this program."

According to some participating restaurants, with customers bringing their own utensils, it has become easier for them to clean up. Restaurant owner Huang Mei-xian (黃美嫻) vouched for the program with numbers: "We used to go through two bags, or 4,800 pairs, of disposable chopsticks in a semester. Since we joined the program, we are down to less than one bag a semester."

An admirable goal
The young people work hard to spread the word on the program to people around them. They hope to steer more customers to the participating restaurants, thus sustaining the program. They are determined to keep on promoting this program until "The only place where one can see disposable tableware is in the museum." Their ultimate goal is to cut down on consumption of all resources.

To reach this admirable but lofty goal, they suggest some eco-friendly ways to go about everyday life, e.g., (1) carry your own eating utensils, (2) carry your own shopping bags, (3) use cloth handkerchiefs more and paper napkins less, (4) use more natural air circulation and less air conditioning, and (5) turn it off, be it a lamp, faucet, or air conditioning, after use. The students printed suggestions such as these on credit-card-sized "Yes, I Pledge" cards, which they urge people to sign and carry in their billfold as a reminder to "reduce, reuse, and recycle." So far, more than 1,000 people have signed and adopted the cards.

Government recognition
Jian Shan-qian (簡善謙), an employee at the Hualien County Environmental Protection Agency and a graduate of Tzu Chi University, remarked that efforts by the government to encourage people to bring their own tableware have been numerous but largely ineffective. The public sector's efforts, if coupled with those from the private sector, such as Tzu Chi University, will have a much better chance of reaching communities and becoming more organic.

Apparently, the novel movement by the students at Tzu Chi University has not gone unnoticed. The Hualien County EPA this year invited those Tzu Chi University students and three other groups to represent Hualien County in a nationwide appraisal in which Taiwan's central EPA evaluated all counties on their environmental protection efforts. The youths at Tzu Chi University got a chance to showcase Project New-Ware to the judges, who were so impressed that they pledged to propagate the project across Taiwan. Yan Cai-ru, an important student member of the project, said, "Dai Wen-jian (戴文堅), director-general of the Hualien County EPA, had indicated that our idea and movement would become a major activity of the agency."

In May 2007, the Hualien County EPA issued certificates of appreciation to the businesses that had signed up with Project New-Ware. It also signed an environment protection memorandum with Tzu Chi University with the hope of perpetuating the movement. "We are most appreciative of the students' efforts," Dai said. "They used what little time that they had outside of classes to undertake such a noble project, to lead the public in getting into the habit of carrying their own reusable tableware. We at the Hualien County EPA will join them shoulder to shoulder and bring this wonderful idea and movement to the world."

Going international
Taking this movement worldwide is not mere words. In December 2006, Tzu Chi Collegiate Association members from all over the world gathered in Hualien to commemorate Global Tzu Chi Youth Day. Students at Tzu Chi University took this opportunity to introduce Project New-Ware to TCCA members from other colleges. Almost instantaneously, the movement, or rather the seeds of it, went to many countries, such as Australia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Malaysia.

For example, Yan Zuo-hua (顏佐樺), a Tzu Chi University medical student from Malaysia, said that TCCA members at Malaysia University of Science and Technology had already signed up more than 40 restaurants. With a sizable supply of schools and students in central Malaysia, TCCA members there have decided that each school should recruit and stay in close contact with just ten shops. Therefore each place gets quality attention from the youth to foster the idea of reusable utensils for their customers. Twenty-one schools in central Malaysia had recruited 161 restaurants by the end of November 2007.

Never presume people won't join in
When the youths call on a prospective restaurant, food stall or shop, they do so without any presumptions, even though the owner might have previously declined to participate in Tzu Chi's other activities. The young people take every opportunity to promote their project.

The owner may say no to the idea and the invitation to join, but a customer may overhear the discussion and start buying from participating restaurants elsewhere. Furthermore, a proprietor may not participate at the moment, but he or she may very well do so in the future. Therefore, the young people just keep on calling. These full-hearted students hope that their little efforts, when put together, will have a profound impact on the world.


 

The Beauty of the Jing Si Abode

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Jing-Si Aphorism