Environmentalists and the Env-ironmental Protection Agency (EPA) were at odds yesterday over the upcoming ban on plastic bags and utensils.
While the EPA defended the policy, environmental activists argued at a public hearing that banning plastic would result in a new problem -- a paper problem.
According to the EPA, the new policy banning plastic shopping bags and disposable dining utensils from July would encourage more environmentally-friendly behavior from consumers and would not hurt the fortunes of the plastic industry.
Environmentalists, however, said that the last thing they want is to see paper become the replacement of choice for bags and utensils, as studies show that even more pollutants would be created -- not by their disposal but by their production. That combined with the additional waste paper should give EPA officials pause over the consequences of the new policy.
In February, the EPA announced that starting July 1, retailers at certain locations would be prohibited from offering customers free plastic shopping bags and disposable dining utensils.
The new regulations would affect publicly operated grocery stores and restaurants at government buildings, public and private educational establishments and military organizations.
Officials said yesterday that the second stage in carrying out the policy would begin Jan. 1 next year. Places affected will include department stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, fast food stores and those with shop fronts -- almost every type of retailer, barring street vendors.
Statistically, Taiwan consumes 65,000 tonnes of plastic annually for producing shopping bags and 59,000 tonnes for disposable dining utensils.
If the policy is carried out, EPA officials believe that consumers will consume 30.8 percent fewer shopping bags and 37.7 percent fewer disposable dining utensils by the end of 2003,
"One-and-a-half years after the policy's implementation, plastic manufacturers are expected to consume 36,000 tonnes less of the raw materials required to manufacture plastic, accounting for 3.5 percent of the existing [plastic production] market in Taiwan," Environmental Protection Administrator Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) said at a press conference yesterday.
Hau said that the idea behind the policy of banning plastic is to encourage people to abandon habits of using disposable products and condition industry into producing fewer plastic products.
According to the EPA, people tend to discard thin plastic bags and re-use thicker ones. For this reason, plastic bags with a thickness of less than 0.1mm will be totally eliminated. Bags with a thickness exceeding 0.1mm, however, will will remain available, but people will have to pay a fee at the checkout counter.
Chen Hsiung-wen (陳雄文), director-general of the EPA's Bureau of Solid Waste Management, said that store owners who violate the policy by offering free bags or selling the wrong thickness of bag would be fined a minimum of NT$60,000 and face a maximum penalty of NT$300,000, according to the Waste Disposal Act.
Considering the existing models of consumption in Taiwan, EPA officials said, plastic materials used for packing meat, fish, vegetable, medicine and other products directly from factories would be exempt from the ban.
At a public hearing held by the EPA yesterday, environmentalists criticized the agency for its reluctance to ban the use of paper products, which look destined to replace plastic products.