In the 1990s, in an effort to halt the spread of hepatitis, Taiwanese authorities encouraged the use of disposable dishes in the island’s public eateries. Taiwan is a culture in which people love to eat out. Research shows that approximately 17.7 million people (or 75-percent of Taiwan’s population) eat out every day. The combination of the government’s promotion of plastics use and a love of eating out has resulted in the generation of 59,000 tons of garbage from disposable tableware annually. In addition to this excessive use of plasticware, by 2000 Taiwanese consumers were using an estimated 105,000 tons of plastic bags per year. More than half were the type of shopping bag used in the nation’s markets, and this rate of usage worked out to approximately 2.5 bags per person each and every day.
Eventually the excessive use of plastics in Taiwan began to cause trouble for the environment. By 2000 the Taiwanese government was finding it difficult to recycle all of the used plastic bags and tableware its citizens were generating. In addition, the government’s Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) conducted research which demonstrated that the incineration of plastics was resulting in excessive heat in incinerators, and inappropriate operation of incinerators while burning plastics was generating dioxin emissions.
By 2002 the Taiwanese government was ready to take action, and it did so through the passage of legislation that banned the free distribution of disposable plastic bags and tableware throughout Taiwan. The first stage of this plan started in July of 2002 and focused on the distribution of plastics by government facilities, including state-owned companies, military bases, schools, public hospitals, and government-run stores and restaurants. The second stage, which commenced in January of 2003, applied to plastics distribution by supermarkets, department stores, fast food chains, restaurants, and convenience stores.
The Taiwanese government has been diligent in its efforts to ensure that the new policies would be accepted and adhered to. Since 2000 the government has hosted seminars to ensure that environmental protection groups, those in the plastics industry, and public servants understand the new policy. In 2002 the administration held four island-wide public forums and sponsored eight public hearings in order to exchange views with opponents of the new plastics ban. In addition, brochures and publications have been disbursed to educate the public about the policy, and some 1,375 promotional activities have been held.
Taiwan’s plastics ban is already showing positive results. A recent report by the EPA shows that by May 2003 (when compared to usage in March 2002), the number of people using their own bags when shopping had increased by over 60-percent; the EPA calculates that this amounts to an 80-percent reduction in the number of plastic shopping bags being used. In addition, the report states that the amount of plastic tableware in use had dropped by 96-percent.
The plastics ban is not supported by everyone in Taiwan. When stage two of the policy was implemented this past January, workers in the plastics industry held a demonstration to protest the ban’s negative effect on employment in their industry. The EPA is working with Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs in order to help find alternative business models for the plastics industry, and government is working on helping unemployed plastics workers find new jobs. In addition, restaurant owners have complained about the need to switch to paper products, whose prices have been rising following an increase in demand for these goods. Rather than address concerns about the cost of paper products, the Taiwanese government has indicated that it will focus next on reducing use of these products by enforcing paper-recycling regulations.
Contact Group: Environmental Protection Administration
Address: #41, Sec. 1, Chung-Hwa Road
Web site: http://cemnt.epa.gov.tw/eng/