How much longer we can afford to pollute the climate for our consumption? (SDGs12) Part A

An albatross stuffed to death by trash, a sea turtle choked to death by a straw, how much longer we can afford to pollute the climate for our consumption? 

(SDGs 12: Responsible consumption and production)

Original Article: Ms. Sara Yeh

Sources: NPOst (

Translated by: Eden Social Welfare Foundation

Special thanks to Joseph Winkler (translation volunteer)

In 2009, the well-known photographer Chris Jordon, stepped onto Midway Atoll at the center of Pacific Ocean, the coral atoll more than 3000 kilometers away from the mainland, used to be the paradise for albatross, however, it was littered by bodies of albatross covered with plastic trash. Jorden’s image of a dead albatross that had a stomach filled with trash shocked the whole world. 

In 2015, a sea turtle whose nose was clogged by a plastic straw sadden the whole world. The members of the research team gradually took the straw out from the nose of an olive ridley sea turtle, the turtle kept crying, bleeding and struggling during the process, which raised the issues of plastic straws, and sea garbage in general. The average Taiwanese produces 2.1 kilos of waste every day and uses 180 billion plastic bags every year, which is the primary culprit of plastic pollution that kills many sea creatures each year. Therefore, the upsetting pictures mentioned above are classic examples of how choices of personal consumption can go beyond national borders and cause harm to the environment and creatures throughout the world. However, the issue has greater structural impacts than we had expected.   


photo credit: Jeremy Bishop @ unsplash

Words cannot describe the harm that plastic causes to the environment, however, is it the responsibility of the consumers of plastic straws and plastic bottled water? In regards to air pollution, according to the statistics by Environmental Protection Administration, R.O.C.(Taiwan), the top 3 pollution sources of Taiwan were China Steel in Kaohsiung, Taichung Power Plant and Hsinta Power Plant in Kaohsiung. Asia Cement Corporation and He-Sheng Mining in Hualian, Formosa Petrochemical Corporation (FPCC) and cogeneration plants in Mailiao, Ruentex cements in Yilan. Overall speaking, 60% of air pollution in Taiwan comes from industrial and business activities, including road freight vehicles, power industry, manufacturers such as food, papermaking and plastics, as well as steel, cement and textile industries. Environmental effects caused by both state-owned and private large enterprises are greater than personal causes when the situation is applied globally. Examining top the 10 cities with the most server air pollution, the pollution source come from mainly transportation, and the rest came from its power generation, coal-fired power plants and aluminium and copper products manufacturing.

Photo credit: Sea Turtle with Straw up its Nostril

However, can we live without industrial development and enterprises? Can we live without economic activities? CPC oil refinery in Kaohsiung and Nanzih Export Processing Zone were the symbol of Taiwan’s economic growth but became the origin of pollutions of our lands. Environmental damage caused by large enterprises is more than the wastes it generated, but the resources also have their costs. Economic activities initiated from the land, rely highly on natural resources such as minerals, water power, forests and farms. According to an estimation by the UN, if we carry on with the current consumer behaviour and production, the amount of annual natural resource exploitation will reach 3 times as much as at the millennium by 2050. Evidently, the current economic development model does not support sustainable living off the planet and human beings. (Note 1)

Moreover, if we are to discuss planetary boundaries, according to the research, due to the imbalance in the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles, extinction of various species is most severe risk that our plant is currently facing, followed by climate change and land system change. The speed of planet degeneration is like a train that has lost its control, running to a disastrous future at high speed. It can be seen clearly that, to meet basic human needs, economic activities are necessary, but it has become the key to planet degeneration under the current development model. What we actually need is to transform the production and consumption model, finding sustainable a way of living.

Choosing sustainability, raising sense of responsibility in production and consumption

In UN Rio Earth -Summit 1992, Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) had been in the centre of discussion. The international society began its awareness that, if planet degeneration is to be stopped, and environmental shock to be reduced while satisfying basic human needs and economic activities, consumption and production model must be transformed.

In 2012, the UN set the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10 YFP), by 2015, it recognized sustainable consumption and production as the core goal of SDGs, one of its sub-goals was imploring developed countries to take a leading role, considering the development and ability of developing countries to successfully accomplish the SGDs, and to practice 10 YFP together.

SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

10 YFP is an action frame, speeding up the process of countries in their transformation to sustainable consumption and production (SCP). 10 YFP supports developing countries with the abilities, skills, information, knowledge and money needed during the process of transformation, encouraging each country to include SCP in their development policies, as well as innovative views and partnership between associates.

The goal of SDGs 12 is not only to implement 10 YFP, but also to achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources (12.2), halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses (12.3) , achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release into air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment, and substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse (12.4/12.5). Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle (12.6), at the same time promoting public procurement practices that are sustainable, in accordance with national policies and priorities (12.7). as well as ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature (12.8).

If we are to evaluate the agenda proposed by National Council for Sustainable Development, Executive Yuan, R.O.C, it can be seen clearly that the aim to reduce allowances for fossil fuels was not mentioned in the draft; moreover, in regard to promoting consumer knowledge and awareness mentioned in the draft was not related to sustainability and green economy. 

In regard to other policies including promoting green economy, implementing policies on green factories and the concepts of cradle to cradle (C2C), raising the efficiency of energy use, pushing for public green procurement (Note 2), introducing eco-travel and local travel, each goal has to be met by 2020. Above all, the most important is the implementation of a “circular economy.” Here we discuss the overall transformation of Taiwan’s economic model, which is also the core value of sustainable consumption and production.

photo credit: André Robillard @ unsplash

Five elements of circular economy

Charles Huang, founder and the Chairman of Taiwan Circular Economy Network (TCEN), mentioned in his book “Circular Economy”, which was published last year: In Taiwan, more than 90% of energy, fertilizer, and animal feed, and over 60% of food relies on imports. This continual dependence on imports of large amounts of energy and raw materials, as well as the waste that is created and discarded throughout manufacturing, does great damage to the environment. In this kind of industrialized economic model, prices, supply and demand are likely to fluctuate, making it difficult to balance continual economic growth and environmental consciousness. If we do not change the linear economy model of mining, manufacturing, and disposing of, not only will it affect our competitiveness in the global market, it could pose a threat to national security.

In this type of linear economy, not only has labour often become the ultimate underprivileged group and victims of exploitation but inevitably huge amounts of waste have been produced in the process. For example, the total volume of solid waste products has increased by 30% in 10 years, and 30% of the rivers have been polluted, influencing the dramatic environmental impact in Taiwan.

Concept of circular economy

Fourthly, upgrade and recycle borderline products, transform them into resources and return them to the production circle. Moreover, borderline products from different industries can be used as the resources for other business chains, which is mutually beneficial to each other; creating symbiotic and complementary industries, work together to reduce environmental impact.

Taking Kalundborg Symbiosis, Denmark as an example, gasoline from refineries can be used as dryer at gypsum factories, the excessed water can be used as cooler for power plants; the dirt from power plant is send out by pipelines and transformed from the origins of air pollution into the raw materials of cement factories, saving the cost for purchasing limes, power plants are able to generate clean water vapor. Borderline products from pharmaceutical factories and enzyme production factories can be used as the natural nutrients for agriculture and aquaculture industries. Borderline products from agriculture such as helichrysum, can be transformed to fuels or industrial materials, recycling.

Obviously, it can be seen that “circular” does not emphasize waste recycling. In Taiwan, daily recycling usually refers to down-cycling, the economy value and function were reduced after recycling, and it is only extending the time that the products turning into trash. In fact, according to “Circular Economy”, the percentage of recycling in Taiwan is 55%, even higher than 35% in the USA, The Wall Street Journal regard Taiwan as “The World's Geniuses of Garbage Disposal”, but what happens to the recycled materials and their function in the industrial cycle is unknown.

On the other hand, if we look at the concept of “recycle” in circular economy, it is a method used to enable borderline products to return to production chains, upgrading the value of “renewal materials”, reducing the need for “raw materials”. The aim of “Garbage to you, resources to me” is “zero waste”, claiming that there is “no such a thing as waste, only dislocated borderline products”. 

- To be continued -