The days where convenience stores offer complimentary disposable chopsticks with lunchboxes will soon be over, as the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday began negotiations with major convenience store chains and asked them to help reduce waste resulting from single-use products.
In a budget review session at the Legislative Yuan, EPA Minister Steven Shen (沈世宏) told reporters that the administration would meet convenience store business chiefs in the middle of next month to discuss areas where wasteful practices could be prevented, “including … disposable chopsticks and the usage of disposable coffee cups.”
More than 5 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks, mostly made of wood or bamboo, are used annually in Taiwan, the equivalent of an alarmingly large number of trees, Shen said.
However, these resources could be saved if people started taking their own chopsticks with them when eating out, he said.
Starting as early as next month, the administration will request that convenience stores remove supplies of disposable utensils from countertops and place them behind counters, Shen said, adding that stores would be encouraged to put up banners that say: “We do not voluntarily provide single-use utensils.”
“The administration will start [slashing the nation’s usage of disposable chopsticks] with convenience stores because they are prevalent across the country,” Shen said.
Further reduction efforts would soon follow, Shen said, adding that the next targets would be bubble tea shops that dispense an equally startling number of disposable cups annually.
Although some details remain to be fleshed out, in future drink stands may be required to offer either a rebate as an incentive for customers to bring back used cups, or discounts for customers who bring their own, Shen said.
Asked about the administration’s latest policy, Environmental Quality Protection Foundation chairman Liou Ming-lone (劉銘龍) said that with their strong social penetration, convenience store owners should shoulder the responsibility of educating the public on the harm caused by disposable utensils.
Conservation Mothers Foundation chairwoman Julia Chou (周春娣) agreed, saying that much could be achieved with the new measure as, “convenience stores are probably among the most environmentally unfriendly enterprises in Taiwan.”
Citing the results of field research conducted by the foundation, Chou said: “Convenience store clerks very often just give customers a pile of napkins, chopsticks and straws when they purchase food, which goes against conservation efforts.”