Greenpeace says little progress in addressing Taiwan plastic crisis

Plastic overuse remains unsolved issue as retail businesses dodge responsibility

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Downside of convenient life is thousands of tons of plastic waste

Downside of convenient life is thousands of tons of plastic waste (Taiwan News photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Greenpeace Taiwan released its latest evaluation on retailers and convenience store chains in Taiwan concerning their efforts to reduce single-use plastic waste, stating that no business could disclose its total plastic usage, while commitments to address the looming plastic crisis remain elusive.

According to the Ocean Conservancy, food wrappers have surpassed cigarette butts to become the most common item found during coastal cleanups. Although retailers have a strong influence on how customers consume, few choose eco-friendly approaches.

Judged by their overall policies, actions, innovative initiatives, and information transparency, none of the nine companies in the evaluation scored more than 30 points out of a total of 100. PX Mart ranked number one with 28.6 points; followed by Family Mart, 7-Eleven, Carrefour, Costco, and A-mart; the bottom three with scores lower than 10 points include Simple Mart Retail, RT-Mart, and Wellcome.

Only five companies were willing to partially reveal the amount of plastic usage for their private label products to Greenpeace during its evaluation research — more than 12,733 tons of plastic wrapping and containers for fresh food and 2.2 billion plastic items, such as plastic bags, utensils, cups, and straws were generated in Taiwan in 2019

However, according to Greenpeace's independent investigation, when including all brands sold across their stores, PX Mart and 7-Eleven generated over 38,158 tons of plastic waste in just Taipei and Kaohsiung. The self-disclosed data from these retailers serve merely for PR purposes and covers the truth of plastic overuse.

"Non-transparent information, loosely-defined targets, and ineffective actions are three major issues for these businesses in their attempts to reduce plastic waste," said Suzanne Lo (羅祖珍), a campaigner for Greenpeace Taiwan.

Take the loosely-defined targets, for example. Although Carrefour pledged to reduce the plastic packaging of private-label brands by five percent in 2020, it never shared the progress or even the final result to the public and did not clarify the benchmark for the reduction; besides, the retailers that made similar statements all focused on their private label products without tackling the items made by other food and beverage companies.

Lo pointed out that replacing plastic packaging with other innovative materials may seem feasible but will not truly contribute to the overall reduction. Alternative materials like polylactic acid can cause as much damage as traditional plastic without proper treatment during the recycling process.

"Despite their unambitious reduction goals, however, many retailers and convenience store chains have realized careless abuse on single-use plastic will introduce negative images for the brands," Lo added,

A previous study conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ found that, without system-wide changes, the annual flow of plastic into the ocean could triple by 2040. Since the retailers hold the final say as to what goes on sales racks, Lo believes they should shoulder the responsibility of preventing this disastrous prediction from turning into reality.