Jakarta Journo: Going Green, Step by Step
by: Armando Siahaan
When it comes to becoming more environmentally friendly, the jargon we often hear usually revolves around notions such as sustainable development, deforestation moratoriums or war on illegal logging. But the battle to save the environment should also take place on a more personal level.
I recently took a trip to Shanghai, China. For some, the nation evokes images of overpopulation, relentless industrial activity and skies hazy with pollution. Well, those impressions are not entirely untrue, but some of my experiences in the country showed me that the Chinese are in fact trying to be more environmentally friendly.
As Chinese food is known for its colorful combinations of oil, fat and spices, it was only natural that I had to make regular short trips to the toilet to unload the amount of pork and Tsingtao beer I imbibed during my trip.
One time, my stomach was truly on red alert. As I rushed into the toilet cubicle ready to drop the bomb, so to speak, I was extremely agitated to find out that there was no toilet paper. I eventually figured out that in some malls and other public buildings, you’re supposed to buy a pack of tissues outside the restroom. The same rule applies in some restaurants. The idea, I assumed, is to make people think twice before they waste tissue paper.
A similar incident occurred when I was shopping at a minimart, where I was lured to buy a selection of the various pork-flavored snacks on offer — something that I wouldn’t normally find in Indonesia. After I paid for the snacks, I patiently waited for the cashier to hand me a plastic bag. I had bought quite a lot of items, and unless I miraculously grew a few extra hands, I knew wouldn’t be able to carry them all. But she didn’t give me one.
Unable to speak Chinese, I pointed to the plastic bags behind the counter. As I was putting my purchases inside the bag, the lady pointed to the cash register, asking me to pay an additional 50 yuan. I wanted to protest her Uncle Scrooge-like policy, but the only Chinese phrase I have really mastered is wo ai ni (I love you), and I knew that wouldn’t get me far in this situation.
Initially, in both cases, the whole thing really ticked my nerve. But it was at moments like these that I experienced one of my rare “green” epiphanies. I remembered a similar awakening that occurred back in my homeland.
When my office was situated inside a mall, I always began my day by buying a piece of bread for breakfast.
At some point, I realized that I was going through cycles of illusory wealth, thinking that my wallet was thick because I had a lot of money, when in fact it was actually stuffed full of receipts from the bread store.
So every once in a while, I found I had to clean out my wallet, not only from those bread receipts, but from other ones recording various purchases I had made throughout the week.
Eventually, a number of questions popped into my mind. Is it really necessary for all these stores to automatically print out rolls and rolls of paper just for receipts? How many trees must we cut down in order to make sure that store customers get their receipts?
Some customers do need receipts for reasons such as reimbursement or personal accounting. But for some people, like me, all these receipts from relatively insignificant transactions simply belong in the trash can. Couldn’t stores make printing receipts for customers optional?
I can understand that the store itself may need to print out the receipt for accounting purposes. But this is an era when we’ve managed to solve long-distance communication challenges with the likes of e-mails, text messages and online chat. Couldn’t the modern Alexander Graham Bells of this increasingly digitally shaped world figure out an electronic system for all this?
With that in mind, those small, yet agitating, policies in Shanghai made sense. At the expense of the customers’ inconvenience, such policies could actually serve as ways to address the inconvenient truth that the gap between commercialism and environmentalism is still wide.
I recently came across a couple of interesting news items that also prompted my interest in supporting the pro-environment movement.
First, there was the news of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s announcement of a two-year moratorium on logging concessions, which certainly has its pros and cons. Then, there was also the news about a group of activists in the United States who dressed up as Mickey and Minnie Mouse to protest Disney’s alleged destruction of rainforest in Indonesia.
While these things are aimed at the policy makers, I believe it is also important that each of us does their bit to help the green movement. How about we start by getting rid of those receipts?
Armando Siahaan is a reporter at the Jakarta Globe and writes a weekly column about current events. Follow @jakartajourno on Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.