jingning: (Ginko)
[personal profile] jingning in [community profile] taiwanderland
About a month ago, after weeks of intense research, meticulous planning, and tense negotiation, I finally entered the world of apartment life in Taipei. My new place is a mere two blocks from my previous residence and a bit more expensive, but the privacy, convenience, and comfort of living in an apartment more than makes up for these slight drawbacks. As I would eventually come to discover, however, finding out how to pay the bills and work the quirky-shaped keys would be the least of my worries. It wasn't until two weeks later that I fully realized the significance of previously neglected facet of my daily life: taking out the trash.

Within two weeks, I had accumulated enough garbage from moving in, ordering out, and general laziness to fill two large bags, one for trash and one for recyclables. At one point, I ran out of room for garbage in the first bag, so it moved to a temporary home by the door, another bag covering the top so that the smell wouldn't flood the room. The bottles and containers threatened my living space in their own way, forming a toppling plastic mountain in the corner of my room. The drink boxes needed to be flattened and rinsed out to prevent a TetraPak mountain filled with mold spores and festering strawberry soy milk; those, in turn, came to fill a medium-sized paper bag. Needless to say, I needed a solid solution, and fast. Otherwise, that solution would have to be The Ghostbusters.


I had heard that Taipei has one of the most unique waste management systems in the world and has had ridiculous amounts of success in reducing overall waste volumes. Unfortunately, the rarity of the system also meant that I would have to do some extensive research on how Taipei manages waste before figuring out how to keep my new apartment from turning into a biohazard.

So, how do the Taiwanese take care of their waste?
No, they do not gather their trash into one bag and recyclables into another and run them down to the nearby dumpster.
No, most do not pay a monthly fee for their own private trash receptacles.
No, most do not dump their trash into the surrounding mountains and rivers.

Imagine my surprise when I first heard this song outside my window and, curious about the possible existence of a nighttime ice cream truck, ran out to be greeted by this:


Yes, that is a garbage truck (you'd be in for a disgusting surprise if you tried to find ice cream in there).
Yes, that is "Für Elise" by Beethoven. The first song is "A Maiden's Prayer" by Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska.

Yes.
Both composers are probably rolling in their graves.

*****

Some years ago, Taipei County was facing a serious problem with their trash management system. Similar to the current system in the U.S., trash collection areas were set up throughout the city, where apartment and home dwellers would dump anything from plastic bottles to kitchen waste. The trash often overflowed, the warmer climate caused wastes to quickly fester, and the burden on the landfills threatened livable spaces in Taiwan. For a country as small as Taiwan, finding the most efficient way to deal with waste was not only green, but a necessity in order to ensure the safety and well-being of its 23 million residents. During this search, several waste management and recycling plans were experimented with before settling upon the one used today.

During the earlier stages of the recycling program in Taiwan, many people began to collect recyclables for a living (收破爛) from areas surrounding their homes, which they could then sell back to the government for a meager price. They ride bikes attached to tall trailers up and down the streets of Taipei, piling collected recyclables precariously high in their rickety trailers, taking them directly to the recycling centers to collect their compensation. While the number of individuals collecting recyclables has dwindled over the years, it is still possible to see Taiwanese people piloting these vehicles down narrow alleys, looking for plastic bottles, old clothing, and pieces of cardboard.

Bike-trailer for collecting recyclables
收破爛: A bike-trailer used to collect recyclables to sell back to the government.


As of 2007, a new waste management program has been in effect in the Taipei metro area and most places in Taipei County. Since its implementation, waste volume has decreased dramatically, with a 60% drop from reported volumes in 1999. Instead of taking one's trash out to be left somewhere for a number of days until it is collected, yellow trucks blaring classical tunes are sent out to all corners of the city, followed by a smaller recycling truck, and residents must go out to meet them at specified times. Interestingly, the recycling trucks are not always government staffed. As recyclables can be sold back to the government, a number of small companies have cropped up that hire drivers to collect recyclables before the government does.


Blue recycling truck
One of the many private company-run blue pickup trucks that collect recyclables in my neighborhood.


Most of the trash collected in Taiwan is either incinerated or recycled, reducing the amount of trash lying around in dumps even further. Although the government-run trucks take recyclables from residents on the streets for free, there is a small fee on per bag basis for the general trash that gets thrown out. Non-recyclables must be put into a certified blue-colored plastic bag, available in three sizes, that can be purchased at any convenience store. Instead of paying a monthly fee for an arbitrary amount of trash, citizens pay for the amount of trash they actually dump. They can also be fined a hefty amount if they recycle incorrectly or use uncertified trash bags, to name a couple.

Certified blue bag for dumping general trash
The certified blue bag required to dump general trash into the garbage trucks. Note the sticker with security features near the middle (closeup in the lower right corner).


It also seems like Taiwan is really progressive when it comes to finding technology that will allow more and more things to be recycled, such as computer parts and light bulbs. The government will even collect kitchen wastes, such as the peels of fruits and uneaten food, and sell them to fertilizer companies for compost and/or pig farms for food. Recyclables must be put into categories that are listed on instructions that come with every pack of the certified blue bags. The collection of these categories alternates from day to day, so as to allow for efficient collection.


Taiwan's recycling logo is quite clever in its design. Just take a look at the shape created by the negative space.


Since moving into an apartment here in Taipei, taking care to manage my trash has been a key part of my daily life. I am now trained to react to Für Elise like one of Pavlov's dogs, jerking up from whatever business I'm buried in the instant I hear the sound, followed by a frenzied rush around the apartment to gather trash. The ridiculous scene ends with me dashing down the stairs to greet the Golden Waste Chariot of Taipei, blaring its 8-bit classical music from a nearby street corner. I have since memorized the schedules of the almighty trash collectors and no longer need to run out to catch them in a rush. Nevertheless, I still feel a moment of panic whenever I hear the tones of Für Elise pierce through the night traffic outside my windows.

Thank you, Taipei.
I am forever doomed to associate Beethoven with taking out the trash.


-- Sara
何靜寧



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Taking out the Trash

on 2011-04-08 04:02 am (UTC)
Posted by (Anonymous)
Sara -

Tom and I really enjoyed this entry! You and Lara are so clever at your writing that we feel you might have careers in literature or journalism or some other form of verbal and visual art!

Mary, Tom & Sadie

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何靜寧 & 何靜嵐 --- Sara & Lara

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