There is a very special Taiwan thing that I have been meaning to write about for months. It is something that inspires some with feelings of do gooding + pride. It inspires others with feelings of deep annoyance + others still with feelings of utter terror.
It is the trash collection.
When it comes to garbage sorting + recycling, Taiwan has got it down. All plastics are sorted + recycled (not just the 1 + 2 bottles, NYC!), there are separate categories for cardboard, paper, paper food containers, composts for plants, composts for pigs–when you get down to it there is hardly any actual trash (except chopsticks–Taiwan, we gotta work on that one!).
Now, I have always religiously sorted + recycled in NYC, but this is on a whole other level. At our school building there is even a woman who is in charge of the 9-ish garbage bins on the first floor. If you throw your rubber band, straw wrapper or left-over rice grains in the wrong bin, she will let you know.
Anyway, each household is pretty much required to deal with all of the sorting + physical disposal themselves. We actually have four separate bins for different garbage types in our kitchen + even that isn’t enough for proper sorting of all categories of garbage. The extra work kind of makes us all that much more accountable + responsible for our own waste.
I think the whole system is fantastic + I am happy to do my part, though I do miss the convenience of being able to take out my garbage + recycling whenever I want to! We cannot bring garbage out + leave it in streetside bins because of the pests that come with them. So, every few blocks has a designated time when the garbage truck will come (ours is 9:30pm, which has turned out to be way more inconvenient than anticipated), collection is prompt, but there is no collection on Wednesdays or Sundays.
The physical collection of the garbage is bizarre yet beautiful. Trucks blaring classical music riffs wind the streets announcing, “Garbage time!!” Some ‘hoods get Beethoven’s Fur Elise, we get The Maiden’s Prayer. This is where the terror comes in… Soon after my arrival in Taipei I was Skyping with my buddy, Lauren, when the garbage truck came around. She could hear the music blasting from the trucks in the streets of Taiwan in NYC + asked, “What is that creepy a** clown ice cream truck music in the background?!” The fact of the matter is that while these tunes are lovely, classic + recognizable, they come out of the loud speakers warped, cold + electric. But they are extremely effective–it’s almost like the Pavlov effect, I hear the music + immediately want to run our refuse down the stairs.
While I, in my NYC way, like my garbage disposal to take as little of my time as humanly possible, it is a social thing for many people in Taiwan! People gather well in advance of their block’s specified collection time to chat with neighbors or catch some air. Once the trucks are open for collection (it takes a few minutes to set up at each location), everyone swings specially designated blue garbage bags into the garbage truck, empties buckets of food waste into the mondo-compost bins + stuffs plastics, paper or bottles into their corresponding large sacks hung on the side of the recycling truck.
Please read this lovely article about the system by Joseph Yeh on Taiwan Culture Portal + enjoy this youtube clip of the collection in another neighb!
I also can’t resist throwing in this old Garbage classic of my childhood.