This June 5 is World Environment Day, and 2018’s theme is plastic pollution. This is a major problem in Taiwan, and Taipei in particular. Last year, The Ocean Cleanup, a foundation that develops technologies to remove plastic waste from the oceans, highlighted that the Tamsui River (淡水河) ferries some 40 tons of plastic per day into the Pacific Ocean, making it the 16th dirtiest river in the world.

On a macro scale, we need serious international policy reform and regulation across the entire petrochemical supply chain. To truly eliminate marine debris (and most single-use plastic) we need the simultaneous adoption of: a carbon tax, an aggressive circular design movement, and the large-scale funding of waste management (collection and processing) in low income countries.

BUT, you as an individual probably don’t have time to upend the world order in just one day, so here are five ways to reduce your plastic footprint – and maybe save some money.


Photo Credit: Mark Black-Wang

Volunteers conduct a beach clean-up at Baishawan Beach on Taiwan's northeast coast.

1. Refuse single-use plastic

Pick a day this week, or maybe even a whole week and count every single time a store, event, or individual gives you something with plastic in it intended for short or limited use. Coupons, junk-mail, wrappers around products, cushioning for packaging, straw wrappers, and countless more. These non-recyclable bits of plastic really add up.

According to the "Stemming the Tide" report from the charity Ocean Conservancy, 61 percent of plastic waste in the ocean comes from low-value seldom recycled plastics including plastic films and composites. Only 18 percent of ocean plastic includes high-value easier to recycle plastics like PET, commonly used in fibers for clothing, soda bottles and some tupperware, and HDPE, better known as polythene.

Further details of the impact of single-use plastics on our oceans can be found in Plastic Pollution: Single Use Plastic Impact on our Oceans, a comprehensive assessment of the problem and its consequences from the marine conservation social enterprise SLO active.

The upshot is simple: refuse single-use plastic as much as possible – you can’t really recycle or responsibly dispose of it once it’s made.


Photo Credit: Mark Black-Wang

Volunteers conduct a beach clean-up for National Beach Clean-up day at Baishawan Beach on Taiwan's northeast coast.

2. Re-use plastic when you can

First off, you should almost never microwave or re-heat any plastic intended for single use, nor pour boiling water into plastic containers. Containers not intended for reheating or repeated use can leach plastic into your food or beverage.

That said, you can re-use single use plastic for other uses. For example, you don’t need to buy a watering can for your flowers you can re-use a larger plastic bottle. Going camping, refill some old plastic water bottles, when finished, crush them down in your pack and recycle them later. Try and stretch out that supposedly single-use plastic (that takes 500 years to degrade or more) and get some value back.

3. Stop ordering home delivery, cook at home instead

Nobody has figured out a way to get services like Food Panda, Uber Eats, or others to use reusable containers or even implement a system that prompts you to be able to refuse plastic utensils. Therefore, every time you order from a delivery service you create unrecyclable plastic waste. Even if somehow those containers are made from recyclable plastic, unless you thoroughly wash those containers and dispose of them correctly they likely won’t end up recycled.

Instead, cook at home, take the time to craft a proper healthy balanced meal. Don’t forget about beverages – quitting soda will not only shrink your waistline but also your plastic footprint. For a high-energy alternative, you can also make tea or coffee yourself with loose leaf or roasted beans. This leads to our next tip.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG

Other food delivery services with equally weak policies on single-use plastic are available.

4. Buy in bulk

Find a bulk purchase store or purchase from an open air market (depending on where you live) and bring your own containers. This saves money for you as you purchase things you would buy anyway at a lower cost and it saves money for the business owner.

Don’t forget to bring a re-usable bag when you buy in bulk! Generally the best ones are ironically made from recycled plastic as cotton per gram has a higher environmental impact than polyester.

I didn’t mention bottled water before, but, don’t buy it. Besides generally coming from municipal sources (the same as your tap water), a home filter can give you the same taste and quality as bottled at a fraction of the cost. You could fill thousands of bottles with filtered water for the same price as a name brand pre-filled bottle.

If you live in an area without appropriate water quality, buy a serious water filter, it will quickly pay for itself compared with bottled water.

5. Tell your friends, and join the plastic-free community

If you re-use a grocery bag at the store, and no one is around to see it, did it make an impact? Yes of course, but the key to large-scale lasting change revolves around collective action. You don’t need to be a jerk to get people to join you, remember there was a time when you didn’t realize that you couldn’t actually recycle take-out boxes even though “they look like they are made of paper”. Take an educational approach to sharing your actions.

Lastly, join communities to stay connected and get more tips about reducing your plastic footprint. There are countless bloggers, writers, NGOs, and universities providing free, quality content on how to live a more plastic-free life.

5 Gyres, offers tips on plastic-free shopping.

Zero-waste lifestyle blogs: Trash is for Tossers and Litterless.

A charity that organizes international cleanups, Ocean Conservancy

Terramar, a great resource for all things related to plastic and the ocean.

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Editor: David Green