Sun, Jun 17, 2018 - Page 3 News List

FEATURE: Straw dilemma grips the nation

PROPOSED BAN:Many are worried about what to use when drinking bubble tea, but one future coffee shop owner said he does not want to be ‘an accomplice to pollution’

By Lin Chia-nan  /  Staff reporter

QC Mall founder Ocean Chu, right, shows his reusable straws to future coffee shop owner Hsu Cheng-hung in New Taipei City’s Jhonghe District on Thursday.

Photo: Lin Chia-nan, Taipei Times

Since the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) launched draft guidelines for a ban on single-use plastic straws earlier this month, the question on how to drink a cup of bubble tea without a plastic straw has perturbed many Taiwanese, including President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and other politicians.

Following the expansion of its regulations for plastic bags in January, the agency on June 8 announced that, starting in July next year, restaurants at government agencies, public and private schools, public hospitals, department stores and shopping malls, as well as fast food chains, would be banned from providing single-use plastic straws to customers dining in.

On Sunday last week, in response to media queries on about how people could drink a cup of bubble tea without a plastic straw, Department of Waste Management specialist Lee Yi-hua (李宜樺) said that people could use a spoon instead, sparking a debate that has continued to escalate.

I-Mei Foods Co general manager Kao Chih-ming (高志明) on Monday said that although the agency’s restrictions on plastic products follow with the global trend, it should consider “opening a window” for bubble tea, which is the nation’s signature drink, as its flavor would be changed if it is eaten with a spoon instead of a straw.

Public debate about the policy heated up to such a level that even Tsai, when presiding over a party meeting on Wednesday in her capacity as Democratic Progressive Party chairperson, asked what people should use when having bubble tea, if not plastic straws.

The proposed ban is part of the EPA’s broader strategy to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, tableware, takeout beverage cups and straws by 2030, EPA Deputy Minister Chan Shun-kuei (詹順貴) said, adding that it was launched in February and met little opposition at the time.

The plastic straws for takeout bubble tea are not included in the draft guidelines, he said, adding that the EPA would only begin to ask businesses to stop providing free plastic straws for takeout customers in 2025.

Lee’s response was not inappropriate, as he had fully explained the guidelines, Chan said, adding that CtiTV tried to mislead the public by quoting Lee out of context, and that other TV stations chose to follow suit.

Tsai’s concern was a misunderstanding that shows the ruling party’s anxiety about the year-end local elections, he added.

As the guidelines require a 60-day notification period, the agency would hold hearings to gather public opinion, probably in the middle of next month, Chan said.

Some have said that it is difficult to clean a stainless steel straw.

The EPA would deliberate with the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) to see if there is a need to set up guidelines for cleaning reusable tableware, Chan said.

The ministry has already established the Sanitation Standard for Food Utensils, Containers and Packages Act (食品器具容器包裝衛生標準) and the Guidelines for Cleaning Tableware (餐具清洗良好作業指引), which includes reusable straws, Food and Drug Administration section chief Lin Lan-yu (林蘭砡) said.

The act requires suppliers of containers and utensils to meet certain requirements for the maximum allowable levels of substances such as lead, arsenic, cadmium and acetic acid, she said, adding that restaurant owners should not provide customers with unclean or damaged utensils.

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