Helping consumers identify products that truly promote environmental sustainability.
Each year during the dry season that typically runs from late June through October, countries throughout this region are affected by an air-pollution crisis that has come to be known as the Southeast Asian haze. Intense forest fires, caused by illegal slash-and-burn farming practices and annually covering vast areas of the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, are considered to be the main source of the problem.
The 2015 haze was especially severe, with more than 140,000 people reporting respiratory ailments in Indonesia, where a state of emergency was declared in six provinces. School closures were put into effect in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, and several major international sporting events had to be canceled. Despite the distance, Taiwan’s air quality was also affected by the haze.
In response to the seriousness of last year’s conditions, the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) has tightened its rules governing its Singapore Green Label certification to exclude paper products made by manufacturers deemed to be contributing to the haze. In the future, paper product makers and distributors will have the right to use the mark only if they have accreditation from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the international body that certifies wood fiber and pulp as coming from forests under sustainable management.
In Taiwan, the Green Mark supervised by the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has generally been based on much narrower criteria. With the exception of a few types of facial tissue products, the Mark is available only to products made from recycled fiber – a standard that is contrary to the global trend to encourage not only recycling but also the use of virgin fiber products that bear sustainable forest management certification.
As explained in the Sustainable Development portion of AmCham Taipei’s Taiwan White Paper last year, there are compelling reasons for broadening the qualification. Studies have shown, for example, that the carbon footprint for recycled-fiber products is even greater than for virgin-fiber products, due to emissions during the recycling and de-inking processes. In addition, paper supply cannot rely on recycling only but requires a steady flow of virgin fiber into the production channel.
The rising concern over the Southeast Asian haze provides yet another reason for rethinking Taiwan’s definition of Green Mark eligibility. Nearly all of the tissue fibers in Taiwan are imported, with nearly a third coming from countries without sustainable certified forest management. Even though a product is recycled, the source of the original fibers may be forests where irresponsible management is doing egregious harm to the health and welfare of people around the region. Should such products be rewarded with a Green Mark?