Thu, Nov 08, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Reducing plastic is everyone’s job

In New Taipei City on Sunday, reusable cups were supplied during a running event. This was part of an initiative launched by Taipei and Greenpeace in May to reduce waste from the use of disposable plastic cups at marathons.

Organizers said that, had reusable cups not been made available, as many as 10,000 disposable ones would have been used.

It is estimated that 4 million disposable cups were discarded at running events across Taiwan last year. Even that is a mere drop in the ocean compared with how many disposable plastic items are routinely used in the country, from plastic bags and disposable cutlery to cups and straws to packaging for food and goods.

The Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) reported in September that 3 billion plastic straws are used in Taiwan every year.

Plastics are cheap to produce, light and multifunctional. However, if not recycled or properly disposed of, they present a serious environmental hazard.

Greenpeace said Sunday’s event showed that local governments care about sustainability and that the central government should follow suit.

The central government is making inroads into reducing the use of disposable plastics. The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) in February announced the phased rollout of a ban on disposable plastic straws, cups and utensils, culminating in a total ban by 2030. That still leaves more than a decade. People can do better.

A UN report on single-use plastics published this year said: “Ultimately, tackling one of the biggest environmental scourges of our time will require governments to regulate, businesses to innovate and individuals to act.”

People do not need to be told what to do by the government; surely they can use their common sense and stop using plastics unnecessarily.

Reduction of plastic bags, plastic cups and straws must be rolled out slowly, because of the inconvenience to businesses. If customers supplied their own reusable items then there would be no issue, and producers and researchers would respond by creating alternatives.

Following the initial phase of the ban on certain outlets supplying free plastic bags, the EPA found that about 70 percent of customers, when asked to pay a nominal fee of as little as NT$1 per bag, declined. This suggests that it was not important for them to use the free bag in the first place.

It is a reasonable assumption that most people use straws out of habit, not necessity. If they do need straws, there are alternatives to plastic, including glass, stainless steel, bamboo and food-grade silicone.

Asian University in Taichung has developed, in conjunction with biotechnology companies, a non-toxic, biodegradable plastic made from shells mixed with calcium carbonate and fruit enzymes, and a Taiwanese start-up named 100% Plants is producing biodegradable straws, plates, cups and cutlery from sugarcane byproducts.

Beverage companies, such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola, are also piloting bring-your-own-bottle schemes.

In addition to bans, charges at point of purchase and the provision of alternatives, public awareness campaigns by environmental groups and central and local governments are key to educating people about the need to change their plastic-use habits.

Cleanup campaigns and the disposable cup ban at marathons reinforce that message.

Together, these should promote a shift in people’s collective approach to plastic use. After all, if the change is to be long-lasting, people need to know why they are doing it, and it needs to be voluntary.

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