Wed, Dec 19, 2018 - Page 2 News List

Plastic straws contributing more to marine debris as bags decline: group

ONE STEP AT A TIME:The EPA is to introduce bans on single-use tableware, plastic straws and other items in three phases, starting with a ‘restriction’ on their use

By Hsiao Yu-hsin and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

The Society of Wilderness displays a Christmas tree made of more than 10,000 waste straws collected from local beaches during a news conference in Taipei on Monday held to remind the public not to create marine waste.

Photo: Hsiao Yu-hsin, Taipei Times

While the amount of plastic bags found in local waters has significantly decreased, plastic straws are becoming a greater contributor to marine debris, the Taipei-based Society of Wilderness environmental group said on Monday.

Since 2004, the group has participated in the International Coastal Cleanup, with cleanups taking place nationwide in September each year, society executive director Liu Yueh-mei (劉月梅) said.

This year, plastic bottles (46,976), bottle caps (43,733) and plastic straws (36,660) were the most common types of marine debris volunteers found, she said.

They also collected 16,364 plastic bags, which made up 5.7 percent of all items collected, Liu said, adding that this percentage has drastically fallen over the past decade.

In 2008, plastic bags made up 27.5 percent of marine debris collected at the nationwide cleanups, she said.

This year saw the least amount of plastic bags in the event’s 14-year history, group member Hu Chieh-shen (胡介申) said.

Hu said that he believes the trend could be attributed to the introduction of a government policy in 2002 requiring supermarkets, convenience stores and other major establishments to charge customers for plastic bags.

The trend became even more obvious after the government expanded the policy to include seven additional retail categories this year, he added.

Meanwhile, plastic straws are making up a greater proportion of marine debris each year, Hu said, adding that this year there were 12.8 plastic straws for every 100 items.

Liu said she believes that if the number of plastic straws circulating in the nation was similarly reduced at source, they would show up in smaller numbers in the ocean.

The society’s findings serve as a huge encouragement for the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), Department of Waste Management Director-General Lai Ying-ying (賴瑩瑩) said.

They also show the public that government restrictions aimed at reducing the amount of plastic are effective at limiting the use of plastics, she said.

After it established a platform to manage marine debris with local environmental groups last year, the agency has made the reduction of marine debris most commonly found at beach cleanups a long-term goal, she added.

The agency’s bans on single-use tableware, plastic straws and other items would be carried out in three phases, Lai said.

Before 2020, there would be a “restriction” on the use of such items, while an “expanded restriction” would be implemented after 2020, she said, but did not provide a clear timetable for when the complete bans would be issued.

The society said that it has used more than 10,000 plastic straws collected in the beach cleanups to build a Christmas tree it is calling yedanshu (噎誕樹) — replacing the Chinese character ye (耶) in Christmas tree (yedanshu, 耶誕樹) with ye (噎, choke).

An excessive amount of marine debris “chokes” the ocean, it said, adding that it hopes to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the environment as people celebrate Christmas.

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