Taking out the Trash, the Taiwan Way


Beethoven’s “Für Elise” plays in the background. Neighbours brush shoulders, composting table scraps, separating out plastics into the accompanying recycling truck and ditch their own garbage, bags in hand, into the truck’s basin.

This is a daily scene in Taiwan.  This is not just some fab ‘permaculturist’s’ utopian dream. This is the way you take out the trash.  There is no curb-side checking on this small island.

Taiwan’s musical garbage trucks and aggressive waste management program, however, is more than a novel anecdote to the rest of the world’s sometimes slovenly, certainly more pedestrian systems.  It offers us an honest look at where we all might be heading.

Falling short just behind Monaco, Taiwan is the second most densely populated country in the world:  Some 23 million people crowd out 30,000 square kilometres, placing precious many demands on natural resources, forcing Taiwan’s federal government to be the most eager recyclers in Asia and early adopters in general; cycling through different payment systems and systems of penalization before arriving at the most recent permutation in garbage collection. For better or worse, Taiwan’s policies serve as a test bed or pilot for the rest of us.  They are making the hard decisions that the rest of us have delayed.

I am not the first foreigner to write about garbage collection in Taiwan---American students studying in Taiwan write about learning how to recycle, foreigners chat about the ice cream garbage truck, Taiwanese romanticize it as a community building exercise, a daily rite, an intersection of socio-economic classes; perhaps former community organizer, POTUS should have rallied around the trashcan?

Neither here nor there----For me, it’s like airing your dirty laundry. Taking out the trash says a lot about how you spend your days.

As usual, there’s room for improvement, and, um, novel solutions.  Stay tuned for more specifics on this policy.

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