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Boba and Plastic Waste: A Rising Trend at the Expense of the Environment

As the trend of tapioca, commonly known as bubble milk tea or boba, has hit its apex this year in Japan, numerous stands selling these Instagram-worthy drinks have increased dramatically. Most of these shops are take-out only: empty plastic cups, straws, and plastic bags are spilling out of Tokyo’s scarce trash bins. In areas such as Harajuku, Shinjuku, or Shibuya, seeing trash cans overfilled with plastic cups are a common sight. However, the stores are not held accountable for the accumulation of plastic waste that is filling Tokyo’s streets. Furthermore, stores are not pushing forward campaigns such as eco-friendly cups, straws, or bags and leaving it to the customers to make conscious choices in their own consumption. As a result, plastic waste will further increase without proper disposal.

In Taiwan, in order to combat the waste generated by bubble milk tea, the government has pledged to ban all plastic straws by 2020. The ban started on July 1, 2019, but plastic straws are still available for take-out cups. Many consumers have already started to use metal straws or other types of eco-friendly ways to reduce plastic waste, such as drink holder bags. Other shops, such as DaYung’s, otherwise known as Da Yuan Zi, offer discounts for customers who bring their own cups or use the store’s eco-friendly cup. Some other stores, such as Milk Shop, use paper cups. Since Taiwan began selling bubble tea in the 1980s, it must continue to lead the trend of reducing plastic waste caused by bubble tea around the world. Hopefully, other countries with high bubble tea consumption can also step up and fight against plastic waste. Besides governments, stores should also share the responsibility of encouraging customers to help reduce single-use plastic consumption.

Things are looking up despite reports of overfilled trash cans in Tokyo. In Harajuku, a specialized trash can was installed in this August just for bubble tea cups. It is a collaboration between Greenbird, a nonprofit organization, and Xie Xie Pearl, a bubble tea shop with branches from Hokkaido to Okinawa. The tapioca-shaped trash can is separated into two categories: leftover drinks and empty cups. Customers can divide their trash and dispose of their drinks without causing excess litter in the streets. This is a big step forward in making it easier for customers to dispose of their trash instead of disposing of it in vending machine bins or bathrooms. 

The bin is open from 1 pm to 6 pm every day except Tuesdays. It is in front of Subaco, close to the Meiji Jingumae station. While the bin is not open all the time, it is still an improvement by cleaning up the streets of Tokyo. It is also important and socially responsible to use reusable straws or bags. They can be found in department stores such as Tokyu Hands, or online.