Taiwan's COVID-19 curbs drive spike in food packaging waste

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TAIPEI, July 23 (Reuters) - Taiwan has become inundated with waste after a surge COVID-19 cases prompted movement curbs that led to a spike in online shopping and food deliveries and that is 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.

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% compared to the same period last year.

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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."

New Taipei, the municipality surrounding the capital, had a 50% 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 T$20,000 ($713.75) on single-use tableware just in June, increasing his raw materials costs by up to 14%.

"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."

($1 = 28.0210 Taiwan dollars)

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Editing by Ben Blanchard and Christian Schmollinger

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