Saturday, November 20, 2010

Umbrella Bag Rant

Today's rant is about disposable umbrella covers, those long, skinny, single use, vinyl bags whose dispensers (pictured above) come trotting out at the slightest drizzle. While I appreciate Japanese fastidiousness when it comes to unwanted water, I can not applaud the overuse of vinyl bags or the accompanying tsukai suteru (use and lose) mentality. Reader, this wasteful and environmentally unfriendly situation warrants attention.

To Japan's credit, the eco-bag trend seems to be taking root. At least at the stores I frequent. And I sense an increase in public bathrooms equipped with those supersonic hand dryers that practically suck the water right off the skin. Surely this is better than paper towels, yes? Best of all are the washrooms that provide no hand drying mechanisms whatsoever. Though it is a bit of a bother to whip out a hankie or pocket towel with wet hands, one gets used to it (or in this case re-use to it since this practice has been around a long time). But when it comes to wet umbrellas and their bags, change is slow.

Let's backtrack for a moment. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, people in Japan love umbrellas. Myself included. I am certain that I carry an umbrella far more frequently here than I do in the US. This is partly because it rains more in Japan (I think). And when it does rain, I simply take an umbrella cover from the discard pile and re-use it, if I need to go inside a store, office or other public facility. Not ideal, but better than the alternatives. I am waiting for someone to design an appealing and reusable umbrella cover. The old lady version already exists but it is not a big seller. Why doesn't someone do for the umbrella bag what was done for the shopping bag?

Given my strong feelings on the subject, you can imagine my elation when a friend and I encountered this umbrella drying device at the entrance to a Ginza eat-and-drink building. It consists of felt panels arranged radially to wipe the umbrella's outer surface and a plastic box to catch the runoff. All it takes is one quick twist of the wrist ... no bags or electricity needed. Please note the conventional umbrella bag dispenser hovering in the background. Was this relative positioning intentional? We stood and watched for a few minutes -- almost no one chose the bag over the dryer.

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