TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Greenpeace Taiwan is petitioning 7-Eleven to pare back its reliance on single-use plastic, as the country's leading convenience store chain runs its empire by producing thousands of tons of plastic waste annually.
With 5,828 stores in Taiwan alone, 7-Eleven dwarfs its competitors. Since the company opened its first location in the nation more than 40 years ago, it has redefined the meaning of convenience and shaped how people consume.
Serving as much more than a place for refreshments, 7-Eleven attracts customers with a dazzling variety of services within walking distance of home — but its successful business model has also been disastrous for the environment.
According to its public data, 7-Eleven Taiwan used 8,398 tons of plastic in the sale of private-label food and beverage brands in 2019, including recyclable plastic, single-use plastic, and degradable plastic. The convenience store chain has promised to reduce its plastic use by 10 percent by 2030 compared to 2019, which means that 10 years from now, it still expects to create more than 7,500 tons of plastic waste per year.
Bread, bento, rice balls, and fried chicken — almost every food product comes in a plastic container or plastic packaging at 7-Eleven, whether it needs it or not, so that the retailer can sell as much as possible at the lowest cost.
In its 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, the company claims to have recycled over 676 tons of plastic from 5,010 stores nationwide. Meanwhile, its unrecyclable waste totaled 42,253 tons.
According to a report released by Greenpeace Taiwan last year, 7-Eleven lacks a holistic plan to wean itself off plastic and focuses only on reducing the weight of plastic packaging. This approach contributes little to scaling back plastic use.
The Greenpeace report evaluated nine leading retailers and convenience store chains in Taiwan on their overall policies, actions, and information transparency when it comes to plastic reduction. 7-Eleven scored 15 out of 100 points and ranked fourth, trailing PX Mart, Family Mart, and Costco.
“We expect 7-Eleven to take more responsibility as a leading convenience store chain,” said Suzanne Lo (羅祖珍), a campaigner for Greenpeace Taiwan. She stated that she believes more monetary incentives for customers to bring their own bags and containers should be introduced at all retailers and convenience stores.
Although bio-based and biodegradable options sound promising, innovative packaging can cause as much damage as traditional plastic does without proper treatment during the recycling process.
For instance, one of the alternative materials that 7-Eleven pledges to use more of, polylactic acid, requires an environment with a temperature of over 70 degrees Celsius, high humidity, and abundant anaerobic bacteria in order to degrade. Taiwan currently lacks the system needed to maximize the benefits of materials made from polylactic acid.
The country's dependence on plastic will not end overnight. Still, businesses can start by removing unnecessary packaging, such as plastic used to wrap vegetables and fruit in supermarkets, Lo remarked. In addition, the cup-renting system that convenience stores rolled out on the Pingtung County island of Xiao Liuqiu could be expanded to the entire nation.
By embracing the refill-and-return model and taking on the task of processing and recycling each single-use piece of plastic they sell, businesses in Taiwan can enter a greener cycle rather than profiting from the plastic menace.