The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) recently initiated an “only order what you can eat” policy to educate the public on limiting food waste. This is a praiseworthy initiative.
EPA data from last year show that the total volume of recycled food waste in Taiwan exceeded 590,000 tonnes. Filled in food waste recycling bins stacked on top of each other, they would be 13,500 times taller than Taipei 101.
Such a massive amount of food waste also increases the environmental cost. Ignoring the fact that about 2 billion people are still living in hunger, Taiwan’s food self-sufficiency rate is a mere 30 percent, which is low compared with other countries.
Furthermore, as farmland is declining due to the encroachment of factories and housing, Taiwan’s food self-sufficiency rate is expected to drop further. Under these circumstances, ensuring food safety has become a national security issue that must not be ignored.
In addition to moral persuasion, charging for food waste treatment is another strategy to reduce food waste. The waste treatment policy introduced more than 20 years ago divides garbage into three categories — recyclable resources, food waste and regular household waste.
With the exception of regular household waste that needs to be incinerated and requires a fee, there are no fees for recycling and treating recyclable resources such as containers and paper or food waste that can be used as fertilizer or pig feed.
During the two decades since the implementation of the policy, the public have been very good at following the regulations. In the past, food waste produced by restaurants was mostly collected by pig farmers.
After African swine fever broke out in China last year, Taiwan started to restrict the use of food waste as pig feed for disease prevention. Now, restaurant food waste has nowhere to go.
As a result of this ban, recycled kitchen waste can only be used as fertilizer. Although the production of green energy biogas through anaerobic digestion is an international trend, and is being pushed in several cities and counties in Taiwan, the biogas industry still has not taken off.
Now that food waste can no longer be used as pig feed, there must be a cost for composting or anaerobic digestion treatment.
Whether food waste recycling should continue to be free must be investigated, but one suggestion would be to establish a fee for food waste treatment just as there is for regular household waste.
Reducing waste at the source, treating it properly, and recycling and reusing it are the three major principles of waste treatment, and economic incentives are the most important policy tool.
Without the African swine fever outbreak, it would be reasonable not to charge for using food waste as pig feed because of its economic benefit. However, the times and environment have changed, and it is time to amend the policy.
Chen Wen-ching is a director of the Formosa Association of Resource Recycling.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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