Taiwan wages war on single-use plastics

More restrictions and commitments imposed to free Taiwan from plastic waste pollution

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Waste reduction plays a crucial role in getting rid of marine debris.   

Waste reduction plays a crucial role in getting rid of marine debris.    (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan aims to cut its decades-long dependency on plastic by following the European Union (EU) and its European Green Deal (EGD), a circular economy strategy to realize sustainable development.

The EU adopts reusable materials for all packaging, while attempting to establish before 2030 new business models based on rental systems. These goals are not only part of the EU's growth strategy, they deserve more attention in Taiwan, where resources and land are much scarcer.

"We hope these regulations can change the ways merchants run their businesses as well as people's dependency on single-use plastic," the Director-General of the Department of Waste Management, Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), Lai Ying-ying (賴瑩瑩) said, commenting on the road map for banning single-use plastic, announced in 2018.

Since July 2019, Taiwan has banned plastic straws at all fast-food restaurants and department stores. This year, the ban will extend to all types of restaurants with a prohibition on the use of single-use utensils for customers dining on the premises.

In addition, starting 2020, all stores providing invoices will be required to charge customers for plastic bags, before single-use plastic is entirely banned in 2030. However, this zero-plastic crusade misses one essential element: the possibility of using more reusable materials that package products, such as bottles, cans, and food containers.

For this, Lai said commitments from manufacturers are essential because the government cannot force all enterprises to use reusable materials, given the technical constraints of the domestic recycling industry. "Not every recycling operator has the protocols and facilities for examining the quality of the recycled materials, and there are no existing standards to make sure these materials are safe to use."

Lai pointed out that most recycled materials used in packaging have no direct contact with food and beverages under current regulations. "We ought to make new laws and correct people's false perceptions that recycled materials are not clean before moving forward," she added.

To build a circular economy from the ground up, the EPA has matched up with companies like Unilever to work with local recycling operators and container manufacturers and produce the first detergent made of 100-percent recycled plastic bottles. Meanwhile, in 2019 Taiwan stationery brand SKB introduced its first pen body made of recycled plastic bottles.

The rental systems announced as part of the EGD are also being realized by a Taiwanese startup, Goodtogo. It provides cup rental services to shopping streets or large events where single-use plastic dominates.

Since it could well take 10 more years for the authorities to completely stop the use of single-use plastics, public commitments play a crucial role in cutting down waste at source.

According to the EPA, Taiwanese used 15.2 billion plastic bags in 2018, with just 1 percent recycled, while more than 4.5 billion plastic bottles were thrown away in 2019.


Pen, sunglasses, and flip-flops made of recycled materials. (Taiwan News, Chris Chang photo)