Pain in the Poohole Plastic:
We need to stop its villainous schemes
By Michelle Ning Lo May 15, 2014
You’re an average Taiwanese adult and your average workday involves a cup of coffee from the nearby 7-11, breakfast consisting of an egg wrap and a sandwich, a lunchbox you ordered with the rest of the employees in the office, and a nice bubble tea to get you through the afternoon until you can take out some fried rice and soup at a nearby restaurant for dinner.
This all sounds all-too familiar, and now you’re wondering why the heck you’re reading an article with a boring opening. You’re probably questioning my writing skills, and you’re wondering what’s taking the food vendor so long. It’s midnight snack time and you really need to get some fried chicken strips into your stomach to stop that noisy rumbling.
So, let’s up the ante. We’re going to rewind your everyman day and chug a pint whenever thin plastic comes into the equation. The plastic wrapper around the straw for your coffee. Chug. The small plastic bag that holds your coffee cup. Chug. The plastic bag that contains your egg wrap and the one that is used to wrap your sandwich. Chug twice. The plastic wrapper that goes around your disposable chopsticks. Chug. The plastic bag that holds all your breakfast items. Chug again.
Not drunk yet? Don’t worry. That was just the morning…
Ilha de Plástico
But we’ll finish the game later, because I want you to be conscious while I tell you that in Taiwan, the annual consumption of plastic bags is about 18 billion1. That is, every person on average uses two plastic bags a day. But that seems like an understatement, considering the four plastic bags you’ve already drunk to.
The staggering number of plastic bags used and disposed of in Taiwan every day has provided our small country with an unlimited amount of litter problems2, drainage issues3, and deadly dioxin4. Stray plastic bags not only ruin Taiwan’s reputation as Formosa by becoming unsightly blemishes in our otherwise marvelous scenery like annoying drifting photo-bombers, they also clog up drain pipes and sewer lids, turning our streets into their customized mud baths. As we try to murder them in our incinerators, they reincarnate as dioxin, and they are back for revenge, a soul for a soul.
Human beings have been taking these immortal grocery-holders for granted ever since their invention, but plastic bags aren’t content with just being used for meaningless ten-minute tasks, nuh uh. Like your ex-girlfriends, they want to stick around forever, and ever, and ever5.
They’re taking over the world!
Taiwan isn’t the only ex-lover that plastic bags refuse to let go of. Difficulties regarding the disposal of plastic bags are found everywhere in the world6. But those are just our own private plastic problems which we could treat as flimsy, indecomposable skeletons in the closet.
Plastic bags are also expanding their evil plans to places beyond human territory, specifically, the five mammoth gyres in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans7. Plastic bags somehow find their way into the ocean and settle in these gyres, giant water vortexes. Once plastic bags find a place of their liking, they make the place a base from which to bring about their villainous schemes. They scatter into swarming pieces of microplastics and disguise themselves as plankton and other things marine animals find delicious. They seize innocuous birds flying by, hitch-hike to other places in the ocean, and kill their rides once they reach their destinations8. They assemble together into one giant dragon of plastic waste, and terrorize the oceans worse than all of the monsters in Sinbad combined9.
What have we created? Billions and billions of evil villains that have a life expectancy of centuries, and who all have just one goal in mind: to take over the world.
Better than bad isn’t good
You sip at your bubble tea before raising the cup up for all to see. “Meet our saviour.”
First of all, good for you for being one of the few people who are actually aware that 70% of beverage cups in Taiwan are made of PLA, or corn-based plastic10. Second, however, you are still part of the majority who don’t realize that PLA isn’t the cure-all it’s made out to be.
Qing-Rui Pan, hilariously nicknamed the “Asian Plastic Cup King,” produces 600 million PLA cups annually. PLA is biodegradable, is made from renewable plant starch, and does not come back to haunt us when we incinerate it11. It’s basically petroleum-based plastic’s Dr. Jekyll. So we can make as many of these cups as we want without having to feel guilty, right?
Unfortunately, no. It’s true that PLA isn’t as immortal as its Mr. Hyde, but without proper industrial composting, it can still take 100 to 1000 years to biodegrade. Another issue is that PLA isn’t recyclable and shouldn’t be mixed with traditional plastics for it could cause problems in the recycling stream.
“Whoa,” you say, finally lowering your bubble tea cup, “I didn’t know any of that.”
And you’re not alone. Due to the lack of education and public awareness, PLA is still a problem in Taiwan12. You’ve probably heard of corn-based plastic, but before today you wouldn’t have known its other name. When you saw “PLA” at the bottom of your plastic cup (which in itself is a thing barely anyone does), you would’ve just thought it was any old plastic.
This is where I’m going to start ranting about the government. The Environmental Protection Administration is now reinforcing PLA use in the market, but those lazybones either didn’t do enough research or just didn’t care enough to promote proper disposal of PLA products.
It’s like they mixed the perfect chocolate-cake batter, shoved it into the oven, patted themselves on the back, and then left without even telling anyone they were baking. The result wouldn’t be deliciousness, it would be a freaking fire.
Refuse and Reuse
“Alright. I’m out of ideas,” you say, munching on those tasty chicken strips. “How do we solve the problem?”
Well, you can start with that snack you’re currently devouring. Chicken strips and most other snack foods sold at Taiwanese vendors come in a paper bag, which is then put in a plastic bag for its convenient handles. But do we really need the handles when it takes approximately five seconds to walk back to our dorm rooms or our scooters? If we knew we would need a bag with handles, couldn’t we have simply brought a reused plastic bag with us in our pockets?
Refusing and reusing plastic bags is the most effective way we lowly commoners can eliminate the panic-provoking plastic problem. Vendor owners often look at me as if my skin were rainbow-coloured whenever I say no to bags, but that’s a small price to pay in order to save our environment.
Going back to your everyman routine, if you bring your own coffee mug, metal chopsticks, and reusable bag, and refuse or reuse the straws for your coffee and bubble tea, every day you could easily prevent nearly twenty pieces of evil from harassing Mother Nature.
And really, think about it, do you really need a tiny immortal plastic bag to carry your coffee when you can easily hold onto the cup itself? Do you really need a tiny immortal plastic bag to hold your bubble tea when the cup is already sealed up nicely for you?
I agree that completely eliminating plastic use for us twenty-first-century entities is as possible as Taiwan ever having a competent government, but that doesn’t mean we have the right to wantonly hurl eternal evil in the environment’s face. Reducing plastic bags and cups isn’t that hard, and since Superman isn’t real, but super villains are, it’s up to every one of us to fight against the wicked schemes of plastic.
So, want to finish that drinking game?
1. 環境資訊中心 – 台灣塑膠袋用量驚人 年耗180億個
2. 中時電子報 – 合歡山淨山 看見台灣人真髒
3. ETtoday 東森新聞雲 – 桃園國際機場「抓漏」 廣邀專家盼徹底解決問題
5. Iowa State University – Corn Products Could Replace Oil-based Plastics
6. Say No to Plastic – Plastic Facts
7. Huffington Post – This Is How Your Plastic Bag Ends Up in Massive Ocean Garage Patches
8. Scientific American – What Is It? Death by Plastic
9. Love for Life – Plastic Ocean: Our Oceans Are Turning Into Plastic…Are We?
10. 中時電子報 - 「玉米製」環保杯技術致富 市占率七成
11. About.com – Pros and Cons of Corn-based Plastic PLA
12. 環境資訊中心 – PLA不能回收 糟蹋環保美意