Differences in principles and values are a given. Therefore, if we can respect such differences, we can surely unite. Looking forward, together.
If everyone could live as they are and be themselves, the world would be a more interesting place. Refine your identity.
What each one of us can do is small. But if we all do what we can, we can surmount even the greatest obstacles. For the earth, for our friends, and above all, for ourselves.
“Hello!” beams Mona Neuhauss, who appeared at the location with a smile that blew away any pre-interview nerves. As an environmental activist, she is the founder of “No Plastic Japan,” a brand and project that provides stainless-steel straws as an alternative to plastic straws. She is also a spokesperson for Totoya, which opened Japan’s first zero-waste supermarket in Kyoto, and a radio host. We sat down over a coffee to talk about how she continues to raise awareness and provide opportunities to turn around the situation in Japan, which is considered to have a low level of environmental awareness compared to other developed countries.
Mona started “No Plastic Japan” after moving from England to Japan. She was alarmed at the amount of single-use items abundant in daily life, something she hadn’t noticed when she was just visiting Japan.
“When I moved to Japan seven years ago, I wondered why I was producing considerably more trash than I used to, when living in England. I also thought that the amount of convenience store lunch containers, cutlery and shopping bags that my colleagues were throwing away each day were super wasteful.
I recalled a cafe in Bali that used bamboo straws for drinks, and I thought that this could be one way to shift away our “single-use mindset” in Japan. I decided for stainless-steel, as this can be cleaned more thoroughly and is made of the same material as other cutlery.”
5 years have passed since she started “No Plastic Japan” straws, which were originally sold mainly to individual customers, but are now used in restaurants and stores across Japan, as well as being sold as sundry goods in various shops. Bricolage bread & co., which was also the location of this interview, has also introduced Mona’s stainless-steel straws for their beverages.
“Rather than me pushing them through social media ads for the sake of selling, I think that restaurants carrying these straws and having their customers actually experience sipping from them will lead to more effective exposure to alternatives to single-use. Even if a straw really is such a small item. That is why I now put more weight on the number of stores that carry the product as the key to spreading the word, rather than how many straws have been sold in total. It’s a positive thing that I’ve lost count.”
Mona is not only involved in the activities of “No Plastic Japan,” but also works as a spokesperson for “Totoya,” Japan’s first zero-waste supermarket, which opened in Kyoto and also has a branch in Daikanyama, Tokyo.
“At Totoya, food is not individually packaged, so if you shopped only here, you could genuinely pursue a zero-waste lifestyle. However, the reality is that for many people their day-to-day lives are far from zero-waste, and that there is a hurdle to the word “eco” and “sustainable”. So at our Daikanyama store we are provide products in returnable (deposit-based) containers to make it even more convenient. Through trial and error, we’ve come to realize that, for now, we need to meet the realities of our systems halfway.”
These experiences and learnings at Totoya were accompanied by changes in her own circumstances, spurring changes in her thinking as an individual.
“I used to assert my opinion in a rather black-and-white manner, and I used to think, “This is definitely better for the environment, right?” But as I became a mother (of two), I cannot devote the same amount of time to keeping things as zero-waste at home as before. Not everyone can show up for our environment and/or society in the same way, and that is okay – that’s what I came to realise going through personal changes and also business changes at Totoya. I’ve gained new insight into the different aspects of the issues.”
She also says that her foray into radio through “STEP ONE” on J-WAVE (where she has been a host for the past three years) has also caused a mind shift, especially in terms of the way she communicates.
“Before I started radio, I was mostly working with environmental activists and people of similar beliefs, to share and tackle various societal issues. I was eager to bring this insight straight to radio, but as time went on, I came to think that “heavy” and important news topics are not necessarily more impactful and leading to action, and that even more “soft” topics can be thought-provoking. I’m still trying to find the answer to what the role of media is to better our society”.
Mona learns through trial and error, such as through her activities in public relations at No Plastic Japan, at Totoya, and now as a radio host. She does this in the hope of having a positive impact on those around her, and that each and every individual can help to tackle social issues. She also talked about her future aspirations.
“With everything that I have learned at Totoya and in my role at radio, as well as becoming a mother, I think I have become more flat. More well-rounded. While accepting the fact that raising children has left me with with significantly less time for environmental activism, I have also begun to change the way I spread the word. I will continue to do what I can each day. I believe that if everyone thinks about social issues and takes the steps they can, we can make the big ripples necessary for a better world.”
Small insights toward the environment and society, and actions that are triggered by them will gradually become a major force. When it comes to keeping up positive actions toward this end, we could all take a leaf out of Mona’s book and take one more step outside, in our own unique way.
Born between German and Japanese parents, she spent most of her life in London. A mother of two, she wears various hats including being the founder of “No Plastic Japan,” spokesperson for Totoya, and host of J-WAVE’s “STEP ONE” show.