Free Taiwan from Free Plastic Bags

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Taiwan's greatest treasures are the kindness of its people and the beauty of its nature. Taiwan is truly a beautiful island and it is here where my deep love for the natural world has been awakened. Never before I've been so close to such a great variety of breathtaking animal and plant species. After studying and living here for nearly 4 years I have realized that Taiwanese are some of the kindest and friendliest people I have ever met. Thanks to them it really feels like home in Taiwan!

But there is one thing that worries me greatly, and I would like to share it with you. Taiwanese pollute the environment with immense amounts of single-use plastic bags, which are given away in literally each and every street shop, dining place and veggie market. It is estimated that the inhabitants of this beautiful island consume around 18 billion plastic bags per year, which is nearly 4 times the consumption in the EU countries, and over 4 times more than that in Australia. Isn't this striking to know that an average Taiwanese uses 782 plastic bags per year? Why is it so?

In Taiwan people are used to living VERY convenient lives. Consumption of everything is accelerated by the market forces and “smart” marketing techniques to the highest possible degree. You are not buying just the things. You want a plastic bag, a box, a plastic bottle or a cup? Well, we'll get you one! More often than not they are for free!

It is very interesting and sobering to see how ordinary consumers behave when shopping in Taiwan. Most of the time they do not hesitate to ask for a plastic bag to carry the food, drinks, or other products. Actually, rather than saying that they “do not hesitate” it is perhaps more accurate to say that they do not really think about it. For both, the sellers and the buyers, it goes without saying that a plastic bag must be used. As such, it is an automatized habitual behavior.

Since my first days here I keep noticing that whenever I DO NOT ask for a plastic bag, a seller's hand with a free bag is anyway automatically (and perhaps subconsciously) extended in my direction so that I can pack my things... conveniently. When I make it clear that I do not need a bag, my statement is met with evident astonishment! Why? Because the sellers are not used to facing such a situation... This habit of the sellers has been obviously established in a day-to-day practice of dealing with buyers who almost NEVER bring their own re-usable bags.

However, this thoughtless habitual behavior puts the natural environment at enormous risk. Plastic bags are blown by the wind, rained into storm drains, washed into rivers, and eventually make their way to the ocean. Due to sunlight exposure, oxidation, and the physical action of waves and currents, plastics that reach the ocean gradually break down into ever-smaller pieces, called micro-plastics. Since plastic is made of petroleum as well as numerous other toxic chemicals and metals, it does not degrade for hundreds of years. The chemicals contained in micro-plastics may penetrate into the bodies of marine animals after being ingested by them. There they may concentrate and climb the food chain, ultimately into humans. According to the UN Environment Program, at least 267 marine species worldwide become entangled with, or ingest, marine debris, and most of it is of plastic origin. Plastic ingestion causes death also to big animals such as whales whose stomachs reveal huge amounts of plastic debris upon opening. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of seabirds die of dehydration or starvation when their stomachs fill with plastic. Seabirds confuse plastic with food and feed it to their chicks. Scientists say that the planet is slowly being covered in plastic. Taiwan is certainly one of the biggest culprits to be blamed for this, considering its per capita consumption of plastic bags.

Because plastic debris can travel far from its point of departure, the alarmingly high consumption of plastic bags in Taiwan obviously affects not only the local but also the global environment. About the global character of plastic pollution reminds us also the recent report of UNEP on marine plastic debris and micro-plastics which states: “There is a moral argument that we should not allow the ocean to become further polluted with plastic waste, and that marine littering should be considered a ‘common concern of humankind.”

Even though in recent years Taiwan made significant progress with respect to waste management, it is still not enough. The existing laws regulating the production and distribution of plastic bags do not protect the environment sufficiently, neither do recycling procedures. One needs to remember that an unknown portion of the plastic produced each year escapes into the environment – instead of being landfilled, incinerated, or recycled. And this is particularly true when it comes to plastic bags, which due to their lightness are especially difficult to collect and handle. It is so much wiser to cut down the unnecessary consumption of plastic bags, instead of designing more and more advanced technologies to deal with the consequent waste.

Given the above, we respectfully urge you to adopt a nationwide fee of minimum 5 Taiwanese dollars on all carryout bags, plastic and paper!

It is time for the Taiwanese President to take firm action to end this upsetting over-consumption of plastic bags. In doing so you will clearly show your leadership in protecting the well-being of the natural environment and thus that of humans, whose health and happiness so evidently depend on the quality of the ecosystems. The ban will also demonstrate Taiwan's global commitment to preserve our planet for generations to come.

We strongly believe that people who are truly kind do care about nature!



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