The popular night market in Keelung is a must visit when you are in the area. But did you ever wonder how much waste you are producing in a single street food tour? With a few tricks you can avoid disposable plates, cutlery and bags. This is a guide to a plastic free and more sustainable night market visit.
Why we should reduce waste
You just wanted to order an orange juice. In just a second, the street vendor quickly reaches for the package and, before you can intervene, you end up with a plastic cup, tap and straw – everything nicely wrapped up in a plastic bag. After sipping your drink for ten minutes, the package is useless and you are going to throw everything into the bin.
Now imagine how much waste the Keelung Night Market is producing every day. On peak days, around 500 visitors rush over the street food market. If everybody gets a drink, there would be an amount of 500 plastic cups, straws and plastic bags – just for the beverage. The hungry crowd usually also adds a main dish using a disposable plate and cutlery and a side dish or desert using another plastic container and bag.
What happens to all the trash? Even though Taiwan is a country that makes a lot of effort in separating and recycling waste, the amount of plastic remains a problem. For instance, a lot of energy resources are used for the recycling process. During the procedure, carbon dioxide is emitted which is the main cause for global warming. Plus, about 50 per cent of the plastic material cannot be recycled worldwide and is getting burnt instead. This means even more emissions of pollutants.
Probably the most tragic consequence though is the plastic waste in our environment. By littering or carelessness, waste easily gets into our rivers, oceans and landscapes. Once stuck in the water or soil, plastic bags and cutlery need centuries to disintegrate. The trash especially endangers marine species such as seals, fish and birds.
You can make a difference
We can improve the situation if we avoid waste in the first place. For this reason, more and more people are trying to reduce plastic or even go zero waste – in order to live without any trash. The easiest step is to refuse single use plastics such as straws and plastic bags like they are used at night markets. A simple “no, thank you” can make a huge impact in the long run. But before you set off to get some tasty street food, get the right equipment first.
To not get disappointed in your plastic free night market stroll, you should prepare some items. Three things are important:
- First, take your own cutlery to avoid plastic spoons and chopsticks. You can ether buy a fancy set of bamboo or wooden cutlery or just take some spare chopsticks from home – both work perfectly fine.
- Next, you should bring an empty container. It can be a light silicone one which is handy for traveling, a glass container or a spare plastic box or tupperware.
- For the drinks: Take a light stainless steel mug or a hard plastic cup from home.
You can add a cloth napkin and a stainless steel or glass straw if you like. Put everything in a small bag or backpack and you’re ready to go.
Step by step: How to enjoy the night market plastic free
- Main dish: Get an order of fried noodles, the famous oyster omelet or some stinky tofu in your own container. Don’t forget to refuse the plastic chopsticks or spoon and enjoy the meal with you own cutlery.
- Side dish: The easiest thing to eat plastic free at the night market is to get food on a wooden stick. For instance, pick a tomato, corn or octopus stick. Just tell the street vendor that you eat it right away and don’t need an extra bag.
- Drink: Take your own cup to the juice stall to order a fresh drink without plastic. Similarly, you could also get some herbal tea or even a bubble tea in your own mug. You can drink it with your own stainless steel or glass straw, reuse a plastic straw or just eat the tapioca pearls with a spoon.
- Dessert: End your waste free street market haul with some sweets. For example, you could order a bread roll or a moon cake in a spare container or just on a clean napkin. Or how about an ice cream in your own cup?
Zero waste survival phrases
For foreigners without language skills it can be kind of tricky to order the meals without plastic bags, straws and containers. Here are some helpful sentences in Chinese:
- No bag, please. – 不用給袋子
- No straw, please. – 不用給吸管
- No chopsticks/spoon/fork, please. – 請不用給筷子/湯匙/叉子
- Could you put it in my container, please? – 可以請你放在我的容器裡嗎？
- Could you fill it in my mug, please? -可以請你放在我的杯子裡嗎？
- Could you put it on my napkin, please? -可以請你放在我的餐巾布上嗎？
- I would like to avoid some waste. – 我想避免浪費
- Thank you! – 谢谢
Take it easy and motivate others
Don’t worry if you don’t get it all right in the beginning. It can be frustrating when the street food vendor doesn’t understand you and just puts the plastic cutlery in your meal or wraps up your container in a plastic bag before you can say something.
Reducing waste is not about perfectionism – it’s about setting a signal and motivating others. Street vendors will notice and realize they don’t have to put their food in plastic all the time. Other night market visitors might see you and copy the idea. Friends and family get used to your new habit and might adopt it. Take it easy, bring a smile and you’ll get them on board.