Taiwan recruits public as enviro-spies

Authorities in Taiwan have been issuing members of public with binoculars, notebooks and cameras to help them fight the rising tide of industrial polluters.

The enviro-spies are acting as deputised officers for Taiwan’s Environmental Pollution Agency, investigating the island’s biggest polluters.

Dirty smog is a major problem in Taiwan, with its break-neck industrial build up followed by a high tech revolution, and both air and water quality have suffered.

Reports of toxic waste polluting rivers and buried near residential areas have left the EPA stretched thin and while it has been five years since the introduction of tighter waste management of recycling regulations many businesses are still trying to dodge their obligations.

According to Taiwanese environmentalists up to 25% of waste being dumped illegally, partly due of a lack of professional waste disposal companies and partly because the environment is very much a secondary concern in a country driven by the economy and industrial concerns.

In December 2004 the EPA recruited a small army of retired civil servants, teachers and military personnel as eco-detectives, to carry out preliminary investigations and tip off the professionals to any suspected environmental crime.

The undercover activists are targeting any suspected offenders, be they big business or irresponsible small family firms.

The scheme proved a real success, with the sleuths finding several cases of illegal dumping, convincing the authorities to recruit dozens more.

There are now around 70 of the volunteers working for the EPA.

By Sam Bond

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