TAIPEI: Taiwan has become inundated with waste after a surge of COVID-19 cases prompted movement curbs that led to a spike in online shopping and food deliveries, threatening to set back efforts to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic.
Taiwan has been dealing with an outbreak of community COVID-19 transmissions since April after months of few domestic infections and has since mid-May been under curbs that limited personal gatherings and curtailed restaurants to take-out service.
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Lin Yu-huei, head of recycling at Taipei’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the amount of discarded take-out containers in the capital Taipei between January and May increased by 85 per cent compared to the same period last year.
In May alone, Taipei produced 10.79 tonnes of recyclable waste versus 7.05 tonnes a year earlier, the environmental protection department reported.
Much of that is single-use tableware, both paper and plastic, and that concerns environmentalists.
“We can’t go back to using single-use tableware every time there is an epidemic outbreak,” said Tang An, a campaigner at Greenpeace Taiwan.
“This would mean that all the past efforts at decreasing plastic waste would have been for nothing.”
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A staff member prepares take-out lunchboxes as indoor dining is restricted due to the COVID-19 outbreak, at a Korean restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan, Jul 9, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Ann Wang)
New Taipei, the municipality surrounding the capital, had a 50 per cent jump in recyclable waste in May versus a year ago, said Tang.
While single-use table ware and plastic items are banned in mall food courts and supermarkets, most small restaurants and beverage shops, who are also the biggest source of single-use plastic, are exempt from the policy.
Those are also the businesses who have seen the biggest increase in delivery orders.
Chef Pan Yen-ming at Taipei’s An-Nyeong Korean restaurant said he spent about NT$20,000 (US$713) on single-use tableware just in June, increasing his raw materials costs by up to 14 per cent.
“I have to confess that I choose to close my eyes to this, I have to forward the social responsibility for this to others, pretending that I don’t know,” he said.
“If you don’t package the food in a beautiful way, no one will pay attention to you.”