Thu, Jul 11, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Convenience comes with a price

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) on Tuesday launched a demonstration site for recycling single-use plastic wrapping at a Carrefour Taiwan store in Taipei as it works to get the nation’s hypermarkets involved in recycling plastic packaging as part of its efforts to develop a circular economy.

A single wholesale store can generate nearly 40kg of such wrappings daily, and most of it ends up in household garbage incinerators, EPA officials said.

The demonstration came almost two months after the Control Yuan criticized the agency for failing to do enough to reduce plastic pollution, with one member noting that plastic accounts for 66.3 percent of the garbage in the waters surrounding Taiwan.

The watchdog agency said the increase in the production and consumption of plastic bags over the past decade, and the lack of firms to handle the recycling of such bags, were proof that the EPA has been derelict in its duties.

The EPA has said it is trying to nurture a circular economy, whereby more plastic wrappings, bags and PET bottles are sent to reprocessing plants that can turn them into other plastic products or see them used in the production of alternative fuels.

However, it is not just hypermarkets, stores and restaurants that must do more to reduce their use of plastic: Every year more products are purchased online and shipped to consumers, which requires packaging and, quite often, excessive padding materials.

Taiwan has done a remarkable job over the past two decades in reducing its per capita generation of daily waste by about 20 percent and recycling about 55 percent of its municipal solid waste — the second-highest rate in the world.

However, the convenience of online shopping is threatening to undercut the gains made in encouraging consumers to use cloth or nylon shopping bags, reduce their use of single-use plastic items and separate their garbage.

Taiwan has only a few companies in the reprocessing business and there is not much of an incentive for more firms to enter the industry, given its high technical thresholds and low profit margins.

However, it does have a lot of companies that use injection-molding machines to produce water bottles, shampoo, soap or other cosmetic containers, or manufacture injection and blow-molding equipment, and they and the government should be thinking of a future where there is less demand for thermoset plastics, polystyrene foam and other such products, not only in Taiwan, but overseas, and more demand for environmentally friendly products.

Can such industries transition to a greener, cleaner future? What would be needed in terms of investment, training and legislation?

The EPA and other government agencies, industry and academia need to be thinking holistically about how to reduce consumption of plastic and other non-recyclable or degradable packaging, such as Tetra Pak. The efforts should include new product designs, not just setting timetables and goals that might not be practical or achievable.

Consumers also need to think holistically, not just about the amount of plastic they use, but what alternatives there are, and what makes the most sense for themselves and the environment.

There needs to be greater public awareness of the difference between recyclable, downcyclable, biodegradable and compostable products, especially items that have been contaminated by food or beverages.

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