Blind accusations won’t solve takeaway pollution

By Liu Yuanju Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/30 22:48:39

Illustration: Luo Xuan/GT


The recent boom in the takeaway industry has brought a lot of convenience for people's daily lives, but there are increasing concerns about the environmental impact from the industry. According to statistics from Guangzhou-based market consultancy iiMedia Research, the number of people ordering food in China reached 256 million in 2016. And according to various media reports, most of the garbage that is produced by all this takeaway food is not recycled. This has led to criticism of the industry, but pollution from this area is only the tip of the iceberg and environmental degradation is a much wider problem. Rather than rushing to accuse certain sectors or areas, a rational approach is needed to find the right solution.

Environmental pollution is a global problem, and the Chinese takeaway industry plays a relatively small part in it. A solution will only appear if the real root causes can be found and solved. Internet data showed that China's annual production of plastic products amounts to 75.61 million tons, of which plastic bags account for 2 million tons, or 2.4 percent of the total. Other items involved in the industry such as tape and films reached 13.05 million tons in 2015, taking up 15.7 percent of the entire plastics production. So China's takeaway industry accounts for only a relatively modest amount of the nation's plastics output.

In fact, takeaway pollution is actually a technical problem, instead of a moral issue. First, more effective recycling and a mature classifying mechanism could help alleviate the problem. In the last century, Switzerland also faced difficulties with environmental pollution, and the government responded by introducing garbage classification regulations in the 1980s. It also handed out booklets explaining to people how to choose garbage bags, how to seal them, and how to dispose of them. This enabled Switzerland to take control of its garbage collection system.

Second, when commenting on environmental pollution, we should be objective and fair. After pollution from the takeaway sector became a big issue, people began criticizing several major domestic takeaway platforms. However, the takeaway business is found all over the world, and the version in China is not especially bad in terms of pollution. In addition, the harmful effects of plastic pollution from the takeaway business are arguably less damaging than the pollution from carbon emissions caused by activities such travelling by plane. Protecting the environment is an overall duty for all of us and it requires looking at all aspects of our daily lives.

Last but not least, the increase in energy consumption that has come as a by-product of social development needs to be correctly understood, and environmental protection should gradually become a general habit among the public. Three decades ago, a Chinese family only used small amounts of electricity, but that has changed. For instance, it has become normal for people to keep their air conditioning running during summer and this obviously uses up a lot of electricity. However, we should not stop using electricity just for the sake of cutting consumption, as that would actually be a regressive move.

The original intention of the takeaway industry was to offer a convenient service and allow people to avoid housework to a certain extent. Although it might involve consumption of more energy, we cannot pause the development of services in society or of science and technology, which also require huge amounts of energy.

It would be better to find more effective recycling methods and to actively participate in them. Efforts should be made to encourage people to develop a habit of protecting the environment and for this to become a general way of looking at daily life. Only in this way, can we enjoy sustainable development in a pleasant environment.

The author is a research fellow with the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law.

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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