To pay for hygiene while eating out in a restaurant is like paying an additional security fee to a bank when depositing money in it.
Regrettably in restaurants in China this happens every day as they insist on providing one-use and fee-paid tableware to customers as long as they do not object to it.
By charging for tableware that is supposed to be provided for free, restaurants are actually forcing patrons into unfair deals.
Worse, in a populated country where eating out has become almost a daily habit for many, the amount of disposable chopsticks is colossal, posing an increasing threat to our environment.
Thanks to continuous initiatives taken by industry regulators and NGOs to protect the interests of consumers, we may see a change in this undesirable practice.
With a regulation on standardizing the service of the catering industry taking effect this December, disposable cutlery is expected to disappear from the market before year's end.
The All-China Association of Consumers on Friday urged all restaurants to stop providing one-use tableware. It pointed out that such a practice violates the law.
The country's laws on food hygiene and protection of consumers' rights and interests stipulate that all restaurants are obliged to provide sanitized cutlery and bear relevant sanitation costs. The laws ban restaurants from transferring costs to customers.
Hence, the practice is not only breaking the law but also puts into question the credibility of the catering industry.
In addition to the illegal money making in the name of hygiene, the rampant use of disposable cutlery has also caused concerns about environmental protection.
While a pair of one-use chopsticks may be popular with restaurants and consumers, the country produces and discards more than 45 billion pairs of wooden chopsticks every year.
This means a cost to the environment of about 25 million mature trees.
The government in April imposed a 5 percent tax on chopstick makers over concerns of deforestation.
Former premier Zhu Rongji once said that in a populous country like China, any matter could be big when multiplied by the size of the population and anything could be trivial when divided by the population.
The use of disposable chopsticks could serve as a case in point.
If everyone plays his or her part in environment protection, the effort will finally pay off.
(China Daily September 3, 2007)