It is widely known that the high-tech, petrochemical, electroplating and dyeing and finishing industries use large amounts of energy and water while creating heavy pollution.
When planning where to locate these industries’ factories, it would be better to place similar companies in one area to create a demand for specialized environmental protection companies to safely dispose of their waste.
However, if a particular company in one of these industries handles their own waste disposal, they will skimp on costs. Often the result is that they will secretly dispose of waste while environmental protection officials are off duty.
This allows them to cut costs of labor, infrastructure, water and electricity.
This scenario is nothing new to Taiwan.
As an example, a large hog farm used a wastewater treatment plant to dispose of excrement in a method aligned with environmental protection standards.
However, while the farm appeared to meet these standards, it was secretly disposing of the excrement improperly to save money, water and electricity.
Local residents protested when the company’s activities were discovered.
Apart from issuing fines, which do nothing to address the root cause of this problem, the government has stated that it lacks adequate personnel to manage the issue properly.
The government instead addressed the issue by resorting to moral tactics, such as asking the business community whether they have a conscience.
This points to one of the causes of incidents such as the recent wastewater pollution caused by Advanced Semiconductor Engineering Inc (ASE).
The ASE event gained so much attention because the public had assumed that world-famous semiconductor companies such as ASE operate according to environmental protection laws.
However, because of the information appearing in our newspapers, the public has discovered that big companies such as these are major violators of the laws regulating waste disposal.
Before the ASE incident, environmental protection bureaus fined other well-known electronics companies in several areas for their illegal waste disposal.
A sober look at the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) role in the ASE incident reveals that although it appears to be strict, the administration is actually weak in its regulation.
The EPA must carry out full health checks on any company with a record of violating these laws, otherwise the health and quality of life of local residents could be greatly impacted.
If the EPA continues to neglect handling the most basic pollution problems, we cannot expect anything from it once it becomes the environmental resources ministry.
If the ASE incident causes companies to direct their business elsewher, Taiwan could lose its reputation as an electronics industry leader.
In 2002, companies around the world using integrated circuits agreed to use the Green Partner certification as a response to rising environmental awareness.
If cases such as ASE’s environmental pollution are handled inappropriately, companies in need of integrated circuits will redirect their business to other parts of the world.
Yang Ping-shih is a professor at National Taiwan University’s College of Bio-Resources and Agriculture.
Translated by Drew Cameron