The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) on Tuesday called on Taiwanese companies to use more recycled plastics in their packaging.
The EPA proposed a target of 25 percent of plastic containers being made from recycled materials by 2025. That might seem like a lofty goal given that only about 9 percent of plastic produced worldwide is recycled and much of it cannot be recycled because of its type, quality, condition when reaching a recycling facility or the resources required to recycle it.
However, something must be done to reduce plastic production or the world’s marine ecosystems will be destroyed within a few decades. Greenpeace Taiwan project manager Suzanne Lo (羅祖珍) on Tuesday said that by 2050 nearly 30 million tonnes of plastic would be dumped into the ocean annually if production is not reduced.
A National Geographic report on July 5 last year said that since mass production of plastic began in the 1950s, 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced, of which 6.3 billion tonnes has become waste. What makes that number particularly daunting is that plastic can take more than 400 years to degrade naturally and when it enters the ocean — where it normally ends up — it breaks down into microplastics, which end up in the food chain and ultimately on the dinner table.
In Taiwan, an estimated 96 percent of people create three types of plastic waste per day, according to findings published by the Taiwan RE-THINK Environmental Education Association on Nov. 27 last year.
However, people cannot be expected to change their habits when they are surrounded by plastic packaging that is often the only viable option in their busy lives. Nor can companies arguably be expected to shoulder the blame when environmentally friendly alternatives are often cost-prohibitive.
Horng En Group president Hung Che-sheng (洪哲盛) on Tuesday told reporters that in Taiwan the production of recycled plastic materials far exceeds demand.
Taiwan Plastic Industry Association deputy secretary-general Huang Lie-chi (黃烈啟) said the government should provide more assistance to plastic recyclers.
Taiwan cannot solve the world’s plastic woes alone, but it can serve as a model and do its part.
However, eliminating plastic will require a three-pronged approach: legislation prohibiting the use of plastic (or just non-recyclable plastic) in packaging or the sale of items using prohibited plastics; subsidies for companies to help offset the cost of “green” packaging; and government funding of research into environmentally friendly packaging materials. Of course, this would mean that taxpayers would largely be funding the transition to less environmentally destructive packaging, but the issue could be put to a referendum following a public awareness campaign.
Plastic waste is of particular concern to Taiwan, as it is an island nation with precious few natural resources and limited land for burying waste.
Taiwan’s exemplary achievements in waste management have been the subject of numerous case studies. Its transition from being a “garbage island” prior to 1993 when only about 70 percent of its waste was collected to being a model recycler has been a source of pride, but plastic waste management remains a challenge, as in most countries.
Taiwan could consider working with Japan to tackle plastic waste, as both are island nations with good recycling track records. The issue could even be made into an economic venture, if the two could cooperate on research on packaging materials and recycling methods.
The government has shown its resolve in reducing food-related waste with last year’s plastic straw ban and its legislation prohibiting stores from providing free plastic bags. A ban on non-recyclable plastic packaging is the natural next step.
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