In the opening months of this year, as coronavirus wreaked havoc on the global economy, environmentalists noticed an unexpected benefit of the pandemic. Amid national lockdowns and a sharp fall in demand for international travel, air pollution levels went into an unprecedented decline.
However, a World Economic Forum report published last month indicated that coronavirus’s effect on the environment has not been entirely positive. The report warned that an increase in demand for single-use plastics required for medical supplies, alongside reduced monitoring of waste disposal, “will have long-term impacts on the environment.”
Despite success in controlling the spread of coronavirus, Taiwan is not exempt from these emerging environmental challenges. It is against this background that volunteers will take to Taiwan’s beaches and forests tomorrow for the Taiwan National Clean Up Day.
Photo courtesy of Taiwan National Clean Up
This will be the fourth year of the nationwide event, which has now expanded to 22 locations including Penghu (澎湖) and Miaoli (苗栗) counties and Taitung County’s Dulan Village (都蘭). An expected 1,000 volunteers will take part collecting close to 10 tons of garbage.
Ryan Hevern, the American co-founder of the event, underscored the importance of this year’s clean-up and urged against equating the dip in tourism due to coronavirus, with a fall in the volume of garbage they expect to collect.
While admitting the organization anticipated finding less sky lanterns littering the forests near tourist hot-spots Shifen (十分) and Pingxi (平溪), Hevern emphasized that coronavirus would have “no effect whatsoever” on the amount of garbage they would find on Taiwan’s beaches.
A crucial reason behind this is the garbage’s wide range of sources, of which the local fishing industry is a major contributor. Beyond the expected plastic containers, previous volunteers combing the beaches have found rope, netting and even refrigerators.
Another key dimension is that a significant proportion of the garbage is international in origin. Plastic bottles brought by ocean currents to Taiwan’s beaches often come from places as far away as China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
For Philip Chang (張上緒), a volunteer who has joined every year, it is finding garbage like this that re-affirms the importance of the event. This year, he will help clean up Jinshan Beach (金山).
Chang says that when you begin finding garbage from other countries, you “realize the global nature of this problem.” In turn, this has an impact on the Taiwanese participants themselves, in cultivating a sense of “global citizenship.”
As the world transitions out of the coronavirus crisis, projects like National Clean Up Day will only increase in importance. They will be vital in drawing attention to and redressing the increased volume of plastic waste caused by the pandemic.
For Chang, raising awareness within communities is the crucial first step. Because once the problem is recognized, he continues, “you feel a sense of accountability toward solving it.”
For more details, go to Facebook page: Taiwan National Clean Up Day.
I sat down this week for a chat with Taiwan Internet stalwart T. H. Schee (徐子涵, @scheeinfo on Twitter). Schee’s career for the last two decades has been focused on Internet and public policy in Taiwan. At 24, in 2002, Schee became project manager at Yam.com for blogs. Since then he has been involved in the digital transformation of Taiwan, consulting for and participating on government, academic and private organizations and panels. He has built up a reputation for his work on the intersection of Internet and public policy. Schee was invited to a UN expert council in 2011 based
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