Indiscriminate use of Plastics

Are people in Taiwan aware of the fact that plastics are considered non-biodegradable products and are thus harmful to the environment and to their country in the end? Is that being taught to students and are their parents aware of this fact as well?

Whenever I pass by Chinese eateries, I cringe at the sight of disposable utensils being used - from bowls to spoons and cups. I hardly find places to eat where they use “washable/reusable” dinner wares. One time, I dined-in in one of those places, and I thought I’m gonna use a “real” plate. But to my surprise, the food stall covered the plate with transparent plastic so they don’t have to wash it afterwards.

The same for “pien tang” or packed lunches being sold in offices. Most of them are packed in disposable (non-biodegradable) plastic containers.

Convenience stores are no less guilty of this behavior. Some clerks don’t bother to ask whether you need a plastic or not. It’s a pity that most local consumers I have observed would always demand a plastic bag for every merchandise they buy, even if the item was small enough for them to carry.

I’d be happy though if they’d reuse those plastic bags. But I noticed that once they get to their homes (and I hope my Chinese friends are listening! ), they wantonly throw these bags to the garbage bin.

I could just imagine the enormous amount of plastic garbage being used in this country everyday. Are these plastic bags being incinerated? If so, then we (as residents livng here) are not spared from this health hazard. Oh well, I’m pretty sure I’d hear comments that “if you can’t withstand this practice, then might as well pack your bags and leave this country.”

you use it once and throw it away…it is a reflection of the society here…comsumer driven…

Chinese people are not as exposed to green issues as the westerener simply cause the economy is still developing… take a rich european developed country…they care about the environemnt…when you are socially and econically secure you worry about this…
Taiwanese people are slowly beginnig to care about these things, but to them the plastic comes from X and when they are finished it goes via the noisy dump trucks to Y…and that is where they stop to worry about it.

Chinese people are concerned about their health and it is a fact of life the air is bad but they are apathetic to it. If is not in their apartment it is not their problem. Although they are still I think going to put an incenerator in Peitou but I think the locals are objecting (no doubt unsucessfully to it) to it

Also keep it in plastic; to keep out all those bad germs and diseases. I was baffled by this at the start…Taiwanese never touch there food…there is always a medium such as a plastic bag in between. Good idea though !!!
I told a chinese person once that I sometimes in winter when in college I only took a shower maybe 4 times a week…cause we didn’t have money to buy the gas or oil for the heating
He said “you very dirty!”
I said “NO Taiwan very dirty !!”
And again Taiwan does not have this community neighborhood spirit like at home. Taiwan society is based on families…our society is based on individuals working together…so they are not concerned beyond their family

As Mr. Clean mentioned, when considering the use of disposable containers you have to understand that Taiwan had a lot of cases of hepititas in its recent past. The plastic containers helped them to have a cleaner environment from those kinds of germs. I’ve heard the general population has 30% hepititus rate. It seems too unbelievablebly high but it does show that in the past that disease was severe. This doesn’t excuse the waste of materials but maybe we can understand a bit better why Taiwan is like it is.

The most serious problems are air and water. Did you know that one township found TCE in its well recently? Its the chemical agent that caused lukemia in the movie, A Civil Action, which was based on true story. Did you know that last year cancer cases in one township were up 45%? The town is the same place where Formosa Plastics founded a hospital (go wonder why). Were you here last year when Kaohsiung had a water crisis? Down there they couldn’t use the water for two weeks because some disposal company had dumped toxic waste solvent into the river. It is tragic but they do know about the problem and are working on it.

Uraloser, 30% is about right, but it probably refers to the carrier rate rather than the actual percentage of sick people. Still, some of the posters in the thread about one night stands should perhaps ponder that number, the next time they’re looking for “corner monsters” (their nasty description, not mine).

Hi all,

I just want to insert some actual facts into this discussion. I’m in the environmental field in Taiwan, and I have to say that although Taiwan has some very serious problems when it comes to environmental pollution, plastics are actually the least of the problem.

Taiwan actually has one of the highest plastics recycling rates in the world. I believe the figure is in the high 80% if not 90+%. This is compared to the US, which is lucky if the recycling rate of PET hits 50%. The reason for this high rate is because of the recycling capacity on this island. For some reason, several companies decided a few years ago that plastic recycling was going to be a money maker, so they all built recycling plants, which led to a glut of capacity, which means all the plants are begging for plastic to recycle. Why don’t they import plastic? Unfortunately, there are very strict international laws agains the transport of waste.

The plastics that get recycled are often exactly the plastics that people use in restaurants, etc… Because restaurants can collect a large amount of plastics (and styrofoam, also recycled in Taiwan), they can actually make some money (not much, just a few pennies really, but you know how the business people are in Taiwan) by selling this stuff to the recyclers. The people who have the worst record with recycling in Taiwan are residential homes. People still don’t segregate their garbage, which is one thing that the new garbage policy in Taiwan was trying to solve. So, yes, it is bad that all the stores in Taiwan seem to want to bag EVERYTHING, even, say, a stick of gum.

Ok, on to the problems. Taiwan has a notoriously bad problem with toxic chemical disposal. Unfortunately, unlike plastics, toxic chemicals have no re-sell value and actually costs money to dispose. So there have been incidents of dumping into the rivers, streams, or road side in Taiwan. If you want to rant and rave about something, this is it.

These recycling figures are inaccurate, according to the Taiwan EPA. One example of why: Many manufacturers of beverages in PET containers routinely underreport the number of containers actually produced, so that many companies actually end up with recycling/return rates of around 110%!

Things are getting better though. While we would wish for drop-off bins, at least there are recycling trucks every few days. Five years ago, there were only the “bei-bei” going around picking up trash here and there.

Rather than getting my numbers from government agencies, which are often inaccurate, I actually got my numbers from various industries (recycling, collection, incineration). How do I know they are fairly accurate? Because the Taiwanese recycling facilities are paying several cents per kg more for PET containers than anywhere else in the world (there is a magazine about world wide PET prices that is published every 6 months). Furthermore, the Taiwan EPA also pays money to collectors who consolidate recyclable waste. Because of the high price of PET in Taiwan and the nature of the Taiwanese business, I’m willing to bet that if the PET is out there, someone is collecting it.

The only stuff that is not being collected is highly contaminated containers (usually those that someone has re-used as an oil container, etc, etc…)

There’s an article about this in today’s Taipei Times:

As you can tell from the article, the way the EPA has set up the problem doesn’t address the manufacturers responsibilies.

In the States, the manufacturer that uses these PET bottles for their products (coca-cola, water, etc.), has to give the deposit to the distributor (grocery or convienence store) and the distributor has to give the deposit back to the consumer when the bottle returns after his purchase. This ensures a cost structure that enforces all parties to be responsible for their purchases. (spam me if this is getting too boring)

In Taiwan, the government pays the consumer for returning the used bottle and pay the company to recycle it. So of course, the manufacturer wants to make money off this system by saying they produce less bottles and recycle more. The system ensures that those companies don’t have anykind of responsibility and can make money having more PET bottles in the market.

The EPA has been trying to push recycling for years, but everytime they do so, the program goes over budget. Why do they keep with such a defeatist program? Because of big business. If they don’t, the officials will get fired because the businesses have good contacts with the politicians.

If I was Taiwanese, I’d be torked how my tax dollars are used by the government (and I pay taxes, so I already am torked). I can’t understand why Taiwanese, who love to talk politics, can’t pay attention better to even the simplist of quality of life issues. Its beyond me.

I’d like to add Refuse to the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The idea that drinking water out of a PET bottle is okay is wrong because the manufacturing and dsiposal of PET products creates pollution, however you look at it. Plastic garbage is plastic garbage. Just because some claim it is recyecled does not make it okay.

And the word ‘recycle’ suggests that the stuff is used again. How is a material like PET used again? What actually happens to the tons and tons of PET and styrofoam used each day? Recycled into what?

I am not sure if this is the right place to post this message but I would like to ask if anyone knows why we must pay so much money to buy government-assigned trash bags, not to mention the fact that they do not seem to be biodegradable. Is this done in other countries?

It’s not all that much money per bag. And the whole point is to make people be careful about what they buy and throw away. When it was free, people just threw away tons of anyolcrap. Now people are more careful. As a single guy, I throw out one bag every two weeks or so because I try not to buy packaged products, reuse shopping bags, never use styrofoam food containers, carry my own chopsticks, use a glass bottle for my daily ration of to-jian and compost all organic trash.

Garbage is a state of mind. No though = lots of trash. Making people pay makes them think twice. Trash disposed of in a landfill does not biodegrade due to lack of oxygen, so it does not matter that the bags don’t rot. And incinerated trash does not need a biodegradable bag either. What’s the use of putting non-biodegradable trash in a biodegradable bag?

Like I said the best policy is REFUSE. Don’t give in to constant desire to buy lots of crap, and think carefully how to reduce your generation of trash.

And like uh, I’d love it if some smart person could tell me what actually happens to all the supposedly recycled, PET, styrofoam, and vinyl bags.

Yeah, lots of statistics and articles on recycling, and not a mention of what actually happens to the stuff. Recycling only defers, but does not solve the global trash problem.

My understanding is that these kind of materials cannot actually be recycled and that this recycling stuff is all economy boosting propoganda, encouraging us to consume more with a guilt free heart.

The fee for garbage disposal used to be included in the water bill. I’m not sure how much it was, but if you recycle a lot I guess you’re probably paying out less money by buying the bags than you would have been under the old system. Other countries have this system of buying the bags too - sometimes for reasons of ‘user pays’ economics and sometimes to encourage recycling.


The market out there is really hot right now for recycled PET. Out of all the different products currently being recycled (paper, styrofoam, PET, aluminum, glass), PET and aluminum have the highest value. Aluminum gets made back into exactly what it was originally: cans. This is because it can be melted down to what is basically virgin material and the contamination removed.

PET, on the other hand, can only be downgraded, which means that it is usually washed, chopped up into small chips and re-extruded as a lower grade plastic. Because there are still trace contaminants left in the recycled PET, the one thing it cannot be recycled into is food containers. Thus, the plastics you see in beverage bottles, etc… do NOT contain recycled content. What it does get recycled down to is containers for hosehold products (detergents, cleaners, etc…). PET can also be downgraded into low value plastic products (hangers, garbage cans, those plastic bins people use for storage), textiles (usually coarse canvas like fabrics), and weird things like office interiors (those cubicle dividers? Usually made with recycled PET). Actually, one of the biggest users of recycled plastics is the car industry. They will use the PET as stuffing, and for the plastic dashboards, sideboards, etc…

Unfortunately, the current PET recycling technology does not produce a stellar product. Recycled PET tends to be much more fragile than virgin PET. One thing that industry has done to try to incorporate recycled PET is to use a core/sheath system: the core of the product is recycled PET but the surface/sheath is virgin PET. This helps but is not ideal.

There are currently technologies being developed to recycle PET to a purer grade that will be more akin to virgin PET. However, to do this currently would require a great deal more processing energy - making the life-cycle of the recycled PET less environmentally friendly than virgin PET.

I have no idea what happens to styrofoam. Until I got to Taiwan, I didn’t even know that styrofoam was recyclable.

Although recycling is a real and important industry, I agree with “Fool” overall. Just because we recycle products does not mean we should continue to consume in the uncontrolled way that we have been. Reusing and reducing (which I consider to be equal to refusing) are just as important as (if not more important than) recycling. Although I’m not sure I could ever get to the 1 bag every two weeks that “Fool” is at, I also manage my waste stream very carefully. But a note to the wise: just because you are not throwing it out does not mean you are being environmentally friendly. For example, if you use a paper towel to act as a dish for a pizza, it is actually more environmental than using a plate and then having to use water and soap to wash that dish.

Hope this helps answer some of your questions…

In the beginning, I was really curious about why we had to buy specific trash bags for non-recyclable and organic refuse. Before this system began, I had tried to recycle, but had no idea where to take the bags of accumulated stuff. And then, when I heard we had to start buying specially marked bags, I was a tad bit perturbed. It seemed an illogical and unfair cost; I thought why doesn’t the government just put up recycling bins. Well, I just had to know the why of it, so I kept asking around and the best answer I’ve heard so far is:

The money we spend for these specially marked garbage bags is actually for garbage tax. So the more garbage you have, the more bags you use, hence the more tax you pay. It actually makes sense in that respect and certainly does encourage the thrifty local population to recycle (at home) more than they ever would have considered prior to this new system of trash control. Now I don’t mind paying for the bags anymore.

Re-topia Revolving Clearance!

I gotta say how great this forum is. It has been enlightening to me, and it is great to see others concerned with these issues, and learing to change our ways.

But come on folks, what the hell happens to styrofoam and vinyl bags after we have ‘passed the buck’ so to speak? Thanks for the info on PET buttercup, but is that all there is?

Buttercup! Folks! Please don’t let us down! Gotta keep this thread alive!

Buttercup’s comments on the half-life of PET was very informative. Uugghh recycled PET used in cars! From bad to worse. And then what are cars recycled into?

But I’m still not certain if what you wrote applies to Taiwan. Does anyone know what actually happens to used PET, styro or vinyl in Taiwan? Why is it that many journalists can write about recycling in a general, ‘progress is being made’, or ‘the figures add up to a possible scam’ way without really explaining anything, especially in a local context?

By the way, I did a little ‘Personal Waste Stream Auditing’ project while living in India a while back, and wrote a kinda Program of the same title for others to read and hopefully try out. Got the idea from a group of housewives in Seoul Korea who were examining their personal responsibility for the 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind Phenomenon. It involves sorting and keeping ALL your waste for a month and then auditing it out to see how dirty one really is. It may sound gross but is actually really enlightening and even funny, but also sad and embarassing. I dare ya!

If anyone is interested, I may try to post it on this thread which may be tricky, or leave me your e-mail address and I’ll try to send it to you.

“Garbage is a State of Mind”
Stupid Desire = Lots of Trash

Hey, fool, I’d be very interested in trying out your waste audit program, as I already keep my garbage lying around for more than a month.
Seriously, I hope you can post it here.

Hey Sandman and Folks:

Still have not got around to the Garbage Audit post as it’s in another format, but hope to do so soon, and to keep this thread alive.

I find it amazing, (not so amazing really) that people will go on complaining about the way ‘the Taiwanese’ use plastics and the cost of disposing garbage, or how it is sheathed and rextruded, but have little concern about the final end of the mounds of crap that they, and everyone else are responsible for.

How many plastic cups, styrofoam trays, plastic wrappers, disposable chopsticks and plastic bags did you use consume and dispose of today? How many this week? How many in your life time?

Out of sight, out of mind, eh folks!

Same as the the nasty producer’s mindset: Once it leaves my hands who cares what happens! Polluted environment? Dioxin in the air? Dirty beaches and mountains? Cancer? Learning disabilities? Straining municipal services? Feel good propaganda? Smoke screen? Personal responsibility? Fock 'em all! Convenience is King! It’s your God given right to act as you please. Right? Dui bu dui?

“Sentiment without action is the death of the soul.”


How many plastic cups, styrofoam trays, plastic wrappers, disposable chopsticks and plastic bags did you use consume and dispose of today? How many this week? How many in your life time?

We don’t have a choice. If I was the one selling the food, then I would have full control on the type of packaging I’ll use to dispense my products. And most definitely, I won’t use plastics. However, I’m on the other side of the fence. And most food establishments I go to use plastic. Should I bring my own china everytime I dine out?

But wait. This doesn’t mean I haven’t given my 2 cents share to environmentalism. Believe me, I’ve dramatically reduced my visits to “fastfood” joints and nowadays, have been cooking in my humble abode. No plastic garbage to worry about. But some spoiled leftovers which can be good as compost! Isn’t that good enough?