By Pai Su-Yu
Photos courtesy Taiwan Adventure Outings (TAO)
Not too long ago, Taiwan was overflowing with garbage and wallowing in mountains of dumpsite trash such as broken furniture, rubbish, tires, chemicals and plastic waste. In 1993, the trash collection rate on the island was only about 70%, and a few years later, two-thirds of the nation’s landfills were full or nearly full. Taiwan had become a garbage dump nation.
AN ABRUPT TURN-AROUND
Today, Taiwan is considered a leader in the effective reduction of plastic waste, thanks to its ongoing elimination of single-use plastic products, its recycling management and garbage disposal projects, and strong community support.
So, what happened to bring about such drastic changes in public awareness and government policy shift? Among other things it was citizen and environmental advocacy groups, the unmistakable signs of Taiwan’s marine ecosystems collapsing due to human activity, the abuse of fossil fuels, rising global temperatures and the excessive consumption of plastic products.
PUBLIC AWARENESS – LOCAL COMMUNITY AND VOLUNTEER GROUPS STEP FORWARD
A few years ago, a friend of mine wanted to visit one of her favorite childhood beaches on Penghu island, the Longmen Back Bay Beach, with her children. Several days later, she returned with a dismal story about how cluttered the beach was with beach garbage, such as styrofoam, plastic bottles, plastic flip-flops, medical syringes, plastic wrappers and other junk. She was visibly shaken and couldn’t understand how Taiwan could let this happen.
Even though my friend did not have much time to spend in Taiwan, she immediately began to contact her Taiwanese elementary, junior and senior high school friends, who still lived in Taiwan. Within two days, she had organized an impressive group of volunteers, who traveled to Penghu to clean up the beach. They picked up over six tons of plastic trash.
INTERNATIONAL FRIENDS REACH OUT TO TAIWAN
Jane Goodall, during one of her recent visits to Taiwan, praised the nation’s conservation efforts and remains hopeful for Taiwan. The Jane Goodall Institute of Taiwan and the Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots youth program, cooperates with other Taiwan educational institutions and organizations to offer community service programs in environmental and animal conservation.
One successful project, affiliated with Chang Jung Christian University in Tainan, worked on improving a waterway and hiking trail that runs from Tainan City all the way to Yushan, the highest mountain in Taiwan. Additionally, the project targeted the removal of river trash, the improvement of other hiking trails and the planting of trees to replace those lost to industrialization.
For Jane Goodall, community and citizen involvement is what makes a project successful. Getting people together for a common cause is the spark that unifies and fuels their passion for change.
Keeping Taiwan beautiful, and their love of being outdoors were two important reasons why eco- friendly expats Ryan Havern and Dustin Craft got together to form Taiwan Adventure Outings (TAO) in 2015. Since then, they’ve organized hundreds of volunteers from the local and international community to help clean up Taiwan’s beaches.
This past May, they jointly co-hosted a public discussion about Taiwan’s local environmental challenges with All Hands Taiwan, Ooh Cha Cha Hooch, Nate Maynard, an environmental consultant, and Mark Blackburn, Director and Co-founder of Wraptie International. The discussion also highlighted pro-active steps people can do on a daily basis to support a healthier and cleaner environment, one being children’s education (see Ryan’s article, Upcycling Lessons With TAO, in this issue of Centered on Taipei).
GOVERNMENT SHIFTS IN ANTI- PLASTIC POLICIES
Taiwan has become one of the world leaders in curbing the production and use of plastic through bans. Two years ago, eight grassroots environmental NGOs, together with the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), helped to establish a Marine Waste Management Platform with the specific purpose of phasing out single-use plastic products. EPA Minister Yang-Yuan Lee announced in the beginning of this year that there will be a blanket ban by 2030, which will lead to a significant reduction in plastic waste.
In 2018, Taiwan’s policy to decrease the giving of free plastic bags by pharmacies and food businesses showed a significant drop in the request for plastic bags by shoppers.
This year in July a plastic straw ban came into effect, and will be among the farthest-reaching of its kind in the world. Now, major restaurants and coffee shops may no longer provide plastic straws to customers dining inside their establishments.
By 2020, single use items like plastic bags, disposable food containers, plastic cups, utensils, and straws will no longer be available to customers unless they pay for these single use items.
Taiwan offers a beacon of environmental hope to other countries, but it still has a long way to go.
Pai Su-yu is an educator, author and ‘casual’ photographer, whose curiosity for life keeps things interesting.