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Sunday, October 25, 2020

About plastic bags and straws in Taiwan

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I have been a quite environmentally conscious citizen since I moved from Spain to Germany in 1985. In Taiwan since 1999, I witnesses how things over there improved step by step, beginning with the prohibition of free plastic bags at most places in 2000. Although the new prices established were more than affordable, I suddenly saw a lot of neighbors bringing their own “utensils” from home to save a little money.

On January 1st 2018, Taipei banned the sale of plastic shopping bags at hypermarkets, supermarkets and convenience stores. They all switched to “dual-purpose bags” that function both as shopping and waste bags. For many years, residents have been required to store and dispose of their non-recyclable, burnable garbage in certified trash bags sold by the city.

Simultaneously, government agencies, private schools, department stores, fast food restaurants, laundries, beverage chains, bakeries, pharmacies, medical equipment, book and stationery shops, as well as computer, consumer electronics and communications product retailers were no longer allowed to hand out free plastic bags.

At that time, I was still on the island and going to a gym regularly. There I had my usual chat with a Taiwanese acquaintance and I mentioned the new government policy. He also favored it, but said that it would further affect his business- he was actually producing plastic bags! Over the years he had had to lay off more and more staff as the market became smaller and smaller. This conversation left me a little baffled. I had never thought about this subject from any other perspective than to lessen the burden of the environment…

While visiting Taiwan last summer, a ban on the use of single-use plastic straws went into effect on July 1st, 2019. I welcomed that announcement, as I always thought them to be completely unnecessary. The exceptions were children and disabled persons like my father. He once told me that many years ago in Bavaria, another customer sitting next to him in a beer hall even offered to hold the glass for him. That friendly guy just couldn’t bare the idea of people drinking beer with a straw…

Anyway, my own strong conviction lasted until I was invited to a local Starbucks and the staff provided me with a thick paper version! At the end it hardly served its purpose, as it was getting softer and softer. It felt like it was disintegrating and also served as a little spoon. So I’m looking forward to (very occasionally) trying out those new types made out of bamboo!

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