Wed, Nov 15, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Think before you take a straw

As far as online petitions on the National Development Council’s public platform go, there is one that makes a lot of sense in principle: Businesses should charge NT$1 for a plastic straw.

Not only are plastic straws not recyclable, they often come in plastic wrappers — and that wrapper, along with the drink (in a plastic cup), is often placed in a plastic bag. That is a whole lot of plastic, which is bad for the environment.

What makes the problem worse is that using straws seems to be the default: Staff at convenience stores and beverage shops give customers plastic-wrapped straws without asking, and customers often take them out of habit, without thinking whether they actually need them.

The worst-case scenario is when a customer gulps down their drink and throws away the straw unused, still in its wrapper.

According to the petition, which, as of press time last night, needs 4,284 more signatures before it warrants a response from the government, Taiwan uses 3 billion straws per year. Straws were the third-most common item found during the International Coastal Cleanup’s activities last year — beating plastic bags by a narrow margin.

The government is already planning to have businesses make plastic straws available only on request, starting next year. This is a good beginning, as it will give customers a chance to ponder whether they need it.

Think about it: Are straws really necessary? Can you not just drink from your disposable cup, which has not been touched by another’s mouth? Is it more of a habit or a necessity?

We are not dictating what is right or wrong, but it is something to think about.

The appearance of eco-friendly straws is good news, especially when they are marketed under the cause of saving sea turtles, which are often harmed by discarded straws in the ocean.

The main problem with the petition is the asking price — NT$1 will not deter anyone from buying a straw if it means convenience. Environmental consciousness might be on the rise, but people need more motivation than saving NT$1. It is the same issue with plastic bags.

The government is expanding the scope of businesses that must charge for plastic bags starting next year, with businesses responsible for determining the price. The problem with that is businesses will try to keep prices low to retain customers who might balk at the nominal additional cost, argue or threaten to take their business elsewhere.

The government needs to set the price so that it does not result in stores competing to offer the cheapest bags. It is also more authoritative — blame it on the government, the businesses can say, and nobody will argue.

Kenya has shown that it is really serious about its business, mandating a fine of US$19,000 to US$38,000 for businesses and people who use plastic bags. That should really scare people — and all for a worthy cause.

Still, people should really think about whether they need the threat of extreme measures before they start considering the environment. Are we that heartless?

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