Taiwan’s government implemented its plastic ban in 2002, making this year the 19th year since the policy was launched.
As such, we can gradually see, as the rules are getting stricter, the effects on behavior and people’s attitudes toward plastic products.
For example, some franchise stores such as Starbucks now use paper straws instead of the old plastic versions, and KFC uses parafilm to replace the need for plastic straws. Other stores charge for plastic bags when needed by shoppers etc.
As a result, more and more people are buying stainless steel or glass straws, reusable coffee sleeves and are bringing their own bags in order to reduce the use of plastic products.
In spite of all the efforts made above, however, according to data from Greenpeace, some non-reusable plastic products such as plastic bags, disposable tableware, and paper containers’ have seen levels of use increase by over 22.8% in the last ten years.
The use of disposable tableware and paper containers’ alone has increased 36% in the same timeframe.
So what is happening?
Why has Taiwan’s government implemented a plastic ban for almost two decades now, but we still cannot see positive overall results?
Simply put – the rules and policies are not strict enough.
For example, the government has regulated many places vis-a-vis charging for plastic bags or not providing plastic bags for customers, including convenience stores, clothes shops, fast food restaurants, etc.
In these places, we need to pay at least NT$1 or more for a bag.
On the other hand, some places are not included in the regulations, and ironically, these places are the main sources of the current wave of plastic waste.
Take night markets, for instance. Merchants provide free plastic bags or other plastic products like plastic straws for the convenience of both vendors and customers.
If vendors do not provide such products, they might lose their customers because of the inconvenience caused.
Delivery services are another example.
As Uber Eats, Food Panda and other services are increasing of late, these services and their clients – use a huge amount of disposable tableware and plastic bags in providing their delivery services, thereby only adding to the increase in a use of plastics.
Add to this the pandemic affecting the usage of using disposable tableware as well; people being afraid of the risk of sharing tableware with other customers that could be cause for transmission of a virus were it present.
Although these examples are happening as you read this piece, and according to the data studied, are some of the biggest sources consuming plastics at present, there are still no rules in place to counter each and every one of these sources of plastic use.
Another problem is that plastic bags are relatively cheap, thus charging for them – or not – is not an effective method in stopping the use of plastic bags.
Paper straws to are behind many problems.
For instance, users of paper straws complain that the paper will become soaked and soften when in the beverage for a while.
After hearing the advice from customers some stores are changing back to the plastic straws instead of the paper options available.
Yes, the government encourages people to bring their own reusable cups when buying beverages, and many will receive a discount if they do.
However, the benefits do not outweigh the costs as the discounts of around NT$ 2 to 5 are not significant enough to really force customers into a change in behaviour.
In time, thus, people lose their motivation to prepare reusable cups.
Compare this to Australia, where, if you use a reusable cup when buying a beverage, you can get an AU$1 discount (around NT$22).
Bear this in mind when considering that the average price for a beverage in a shop in Australia is 4-7 dollars.
Taiwan’s government should launch “effective”, not “token” bans and regulations in order to really help reduce plastic waste.
For example, the government can force a raise in the price of plastic bags, and also increase discounts when customers use their own reusable cups.
Expand the regulations to places currently ignoring or flaunting the rules that really “create” the plastic waste as well – including the popular night markets.
In southern Taiwan, Tainan’s local government is now cooperating with delivery platforms and the reusable container factories to reduce the generation of plastic waste. But this is a drop in the proverbial ocean.
More, on a wider scale needs to be done.
But most importantly, perhaps, public awareness is crucial.
If people are aware of the pollutants that plastic products introduce to the earth, and the oceans, and make a real effort to prepare their own shopping bags or reusable containers, our environment will become a lot nicer!
Think about that.