A new poll in Taiwan has found that a majority of the public is unhappy with restrictions on plastic bags, even as complaints are prompting the government to relax some of the regulations it imposed in 2002.
Fifty-nine percent of the public thinks the policy is not working, in part, pollsters report, because the regulations transfer the cost of bags to consumers and have increased the use of paper bags.
The Feb. 12 poll from Taiwan's Environmental Quality Protection Foundation found that 20 percent of the public considers the policy a success. The news came as the government announced last month it was exempting small restaurants from the regulations, which require stores to charge for plastic bags, because it found that those stores actually were using more plastic bags since the restrictions went into place.
Government officials told the Taipei Times newspaper that customers use a lot of bags at small noodle shops and other takeout eateries, which are popular on the island. The rules said bags given to customers must not be less than 0.06 millimeter thick and could not be given out free.
The Taiwanese Environmental Protection Administration said the rules have reduced bag use at the five other types of stores targeted - department stores and malls, large retail stores, convenience store chains, large restaurants and supermarkets - and would remain in place.
Government officials told the Times they want to do more to boost the reuse and recycling of plastic bags. The EPA said it would start experimental bag recycling programs in May, with an eye toward more comprehensive policies in 2008.
While the government plans to push ahead, the policies have been criticized. The head of the EQPF said the government should also restrict the use of paper bags and require businesses to donate profits from selling plastic bags to environmental protection efforts. Other environmental organizations defended the restrictions as a way to curb consumption and blamed the government for not doing enough public education.
EPA officials have defended their policies, saying Taiwanese society is a heavy generator of plastic waste, on average creating 5.9 grams of plastic garbage per U.S. dollar of economic activity.
According to the Taiwanese EPA's Web site, that's about three times higher than the United States, France and the United Kingdom, and higher than South Korea, which produces 5 grams per dollar of economic activity.
The government also said it plans to start restricting use of disposable plastic tableware at schools and government cafeterias this summer, and would encourage, but not require, vendors to use less as well.