THE EARTH TIMES
MAY 29 – JUNE 15, 1996
Efforts to combat massive pollution woes show results despite political opposition
Cash payments are used to pull smoky vehicles off busy roads
By Ashali Varma
TAIPEI –With 1,539 people per square mile, Taiwan is the second most densely populated country after Bangladesh. Scarcity of land and rapid economic and industrial development have led to environmental pollution at many levels.
“We have water pollution, air pollution, industrial waste and household waste to deal with,” said Lung-Sheng Chang, Administrator of Taiwan’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was set up in 1987. Chang is candid about the problems and has a no-nonsense approach to the solutions, despite opposition to the ways in which the EPA collects money.
“We have 10 million motorcycles and five million cars, buses and trucks on the road.” Emissions are a problem, Chang said, adding, “We have put the highest emission standards on our new cars and motor cycles and because of this we exported 400,000 motorcycles last year.”
Although opposition legislators have asked for budget cuts for the EPA and are of the view that gasoline should not be taxed and the taxes should come from industry alone, Chang contends that the EPA has to do both to improve the air quality of the cities and towns. “Our charges are so little that we estimate that a motorcyclist pays about US$2 per year tax for gasoline and they get free emission checking which costs about the same,” Chang said.
He estimates that the EPA has collected NT$3 billion (US$ 120 million) from mobile sources and NT$4 billion (US$160 million) from industry. With 100,000 factories on the west coast alone the EPA collects NT$170 (US$7) for each ton of coal used by factories.
Ferng-Ching Lin, Director of the Bureau of Reconstruction, said Taipei City Government works with the EPA to control industrial pollution. “We have very strict rules in Taipei city and EPA teams go out to check industries on a daily basis. We have managed to reduce industrial pollution. When there are serious violations of regulations we cut off their electricity,” Lin said. Another factor that has forced industries to move out of city limits is the high cost of land.
The EPA works on many levels with city administrations and Chang says taxes on industry and gasoline arc used to create incentives for users of cars and motorcycles, and to pay for parks, waste disposal and a host of other programs that the EPA has established to reduce pollution in the air and waterways.
“We established a used car foundation for manufacturers in 1994,”Chang said. The EPA asked manufacturers to deposit NT$3000 (US$120) for every car sold and NT$700 (US$28) for every motorcycle. We then asked car and motorcycle users to bring in vehicles that can’t be resold and we give them 70 percent of the deposit and with the rest we are building a plant that will sort out the different parts like tires, plastics, steel and recycle them.”
In addition, the EPA gives NT$5000 (US$200) to motorcyclists to buy battery-run motor cycles and NT$20,000(US$800) to cab driver to convert their cabs from using gasoline to Liquified Petroleum Gasoline(LPG) which is cheaper, less polluting and safer
Chen Fu De is the owner of a cab company in the eastern suburbs of Taipei. He has been in business for six years and has 100 cabs on the road. He knows about the LPG incentives. He thinks LPG is cheaper and safer and would like to convert his cabs to use it but says there aren’t enough gas stations that supply LPG. Chang agrees and as an incentive to gas stations the EPA is giving NT$5 million (US$200,000) to stations that will provide LPG.
Chen also said that at the moment the economy is in recession and he cannot afford to take on the extra NT$20,000 that it would cost him since the EPA incentive only covers half the budget. He said that in the future when he buys new cars he willsee to it that they are equipped for LPG.
Local entrepreneurs are already involved in recycling car parts. Near Chen Fu De’s cab company, is Yen’s car recycling business. Yen, who would only give his last name, has been in the business for five years and makes a good profit out of buying old cars and stripping them for recycling.
On one side of his lot are a stack of tires and next to it, in neat layers, lie the crushed shells of cars. In another corner, Yen has several car doors waiting to be stripped. He said that he sells the scrap metal, tires and other parts to various factories that use it to manufacture items for industries.
According to the EPA, some of the measures have already paid off because of more consumer awareness. Chang says that the air quality in Taipei has improved despite the fact that in 1995, 500,000 more cars were added to the already over-burdened roads of Taiwan.
The fact that the EPA budget isUS$440 million for an island that is 14,000 square miles with a population of 21.13 million people, whereas the US EPA budget is $6.5 billion for a country of 260 million people and 3,679,192square miles, points out that pollution control is serious business for Taiwan.
With very little land for landfills, solid waste is another major pollution problem for Taiwan’s cities.
“Ten years ago, less than 10 percent of solid waste was treated, now more than 25 percent is treated,” Chang said. Dumping sites are scarce in Taiwan and the people are more conscious and say not in my backyard, so the waste has to be incinerated in giant incinerators with high tech pollution control devices, which are very expensive to install.
“We have four incinerators in Taipei and one in Taichung and another six under construction and six more are planned. We expect that in four years we will have 15 incinerators working and 75 percent of the solid waste will be treated,” Chang said.
However, as most cities and public agencies around the world have realized, the most important factors for pollution and waste control, are creating public awareness, reducing household and industrial waste and recycling.
“We have managed to control the increase of solid waste,” Chang said, “We estimated that one person produces 1.2 kilograms of waste per day and by creating environmental awareness we have managed to keep this waste down.”