According to United Nations statistics, roughly eight million metric tons of plastic waste enter the world’s oceans every year. The UN estimates that, by weight, there will be as much plastic in the ocean as there is fish by 2025, which will ultimately impact food supplies and human diets. Lowering and limiting plastic use is hence necessary. To raise public awareness, the EPA brought in Hsin-Yao Huang, the 2017 Golden Horse Award winner for best new director, to shoot a short film on lowering plastic use.
The EPA calls on the public to support the policy of at-source reduction of plastic bags. Stores and shops can refrain from offering plastic bags, and consumers can carry out daily practices such as bringing their own shopping bags and reusing plastic bags. The EPA hopes that all residents will contribute to environmental protection by limiting the use of single-use plastic bags.
Expanding the targets and scope of plastic bag restrictions
In 2002, the EPA kicked off the first stage of the plastic restriction policy by limiting the use of plastic shopping bags and single-use plastic utensils. On 1 July 2006, cafeterias in government facilities and schools became the first targets to stop providing single-use utensils. Next, in March 2007, the Restrictions on the Use of Plastic Trays and Packing Boxes ( 限制塑膠類托盤及包裝盒使用 ) was announced to limit plastic trays and packing boxes for eggs, fresh produce, bread and pastries.
Minister Ying-Yuan Lee pointed out that, despite the public’s support of the plastic ban policy, plastic bag usage still needs to be reduced at source in a pain-free process. Thus, in order to encourage consumers to bring their own shopping bags, reuse plastic bags and reduce the use of single-use plastic shopping bags, in August 2017 the EPA announced the revised Targets, Implementation and Effective Date of Restricting the Use of Plastic Shopping Bags ( 購物用塑膠袋限制使用對象、實施方式及實施日期 ), which added seven more categories of targets.
The restriction on use of plastic bags now covers 14 categories. Previously, only seven categories were subject to these restrictions, namely, government facilities, private schools, department stores/ shopping malls, wholesale stores, supermarkets, chain convenience stores, and fast food chains. The new policy adds another seven categories: pharmacies/drugstores; medical equipment stores; retailers of household appliances and photographic, electronic, and communication equipment; bookstores and stationery stores; laundries; beverage shops; and bakeries.
The new categories add 80,000 businesses to the previous 20,000 already subject to the controls. With a total of 100,000 businesses now subject to the restrictions, it is expected that 1.5 billion fewer plastic bags will be used every year.
The EPA explained that, in consideration of food sanitation and safety, free plastic bags are allowed for packing bread or fresh produce. If the food itself is already packaged, additional plastic bags shall not be provided free of charge.
Ban on manufacture, import, and sales of cosmetics and personal care products containing plastic microbeads
In response to international concerns over ocean waste, the EPA aims to assist Taiwan’s personal care product industry to switch to environmentallyfriendly ingredients, and to import products free of microbeads. As a result, the Ban on Manufacturing, Import, and Sale of Cosmetics and Personal Care Products Containing Microbeads (限制含塑膠微粒之化粧品與個人清潔用品製造、輸入及販賣) was announced in August 2017. Six categories of products, namely, microbead-containing shampoo, facial cleansers and makeup removers, shower gels, soaps, body scrubs, and toothpastes, are banned from being manufactured or imported as of 1 January 2018. Sales of such products will be banned as of 1 July 2018. The ban applies to products containing microbeads smaller than 5 mm in diameter.
Sailing Toward a Plastic-Free Ocean
At the 2017 Environmental Protection Technology Exhibition, the EPA showcased its accomplishments on land-originated waste reduction as well as clean-ups of beach and ocean floor garbage. However, ocean wastes can reach all corners of the big blue, and it is difficult to trace their sources. With limited resources and manpower for marine environment protection, it is imperative to integrate resources from different fields and form a feasible plan to tackle marine waste. In July 2017, the EPA announced its initiative to establish the Marine Waste Management Platform along with eight civic environmental organizations. On this platform, all sectors can exchange ideas and opinions on marine waste, including land-originated, beach, ocean floor, and floating garbage, to jointly work toward the goal of plastic-free oceans.
Environmental damage caused by plastic waste can severely devastate marine ecosystems and threaten the survival of marine life, thus restricting use of plastics is a major global environmental issue. Plastics also pose a danger to human health if not properly disposed of. Other than expanding the plastic ban that has been running for 15 years, the EPA has prioritized “plastic-free oceans” as a major focus and will further push this policy with greater energy. Minister Lee called on the public to cooperate with the new policy and fully support it to quickly speed up its implementation, which will result in a reduction of plastic use, and ultimately a plasticfree environment.
- Environmental Protection Administration, R.O.C.(Taiwan)