A day in the life of Taiwanese Rubbish

My sister spent most of this year living in a small village in Taiwan.  I had no idea that rubbish in Taiwan is so progressive!

I thought that the Australian method of waste disposal – with 1 bin for glass, 1 bin for plastic, 1 bin for paper and 1 bin for regular waste was pretty advanced.  The Taiwanese method is even better!

One day I was chatting with her on the phone when suddenly she said “I hear the music! I have to go”

* click beep beep beep *

Music?  To say I was perplexed would be an understatement.

Turns out that all Taiwanese residents don’t have those external bins where you leave your rubbish to be collected.  Instead, every week, the rubbish truck makes its way down the street playing Fur Elise, and all residents must be outside with their rubbish to throw onto the truck.

Talk about incentive to minimize the amount of waste one has! It’s become almost a symbol of national pride to show just how little waste one produces!

Recycling is super efficient in Taiwan, with having to separate out anything vaguely recyclable from anything vaguely biodegradeable (like kitchen slop).  And, most importantly you get charged for what you throw..

Wow. How great would that be in Malaysia.  Can you imagine litter free streets? What bliss..

Some things that are illegal in Taiwan (that I believe should be illegalized here too) : takeaway food containers, especially those Styrofoam monstrosities, single use plastic bags, disposable eating utensils.

Seriously. One doesn’t need that shit. You know you are going to be using a takeaway container every day if you usually buy lunch out – how much forward planning does it take to bring a reusable container with you? Or at least a small reusable bag to carry things the 5 minutes back to the office?

It’s just pure laziness on our parts.

And the really ironic thing? Taiwan, like Malaysia is a huge participant of the plastics manufacturing industry – making disposable items.  However, because Taiwan is an island nation, space is scarce, so there’s always the problem of what to do with all that rubbish.

So in 2003 they banned disposable items which make up the bulk of rubbish waste. Businesses that did not follow the ban were strictly fined.  Waste is way down 5 years later and rubbish incinerators actually do not have enough stuff to burn to run at full capacity like they used to.

Officials took the hard line, ignoring requests and pressure from the Plastic Industry to delay the ban
or promote recycling efforts instead (let’s be realistic, pushing citizens to recycle solely never does the trick – because people are just inherently lazy on an individual basis until it becomes mandatory to change a habit, most will just not do so).

Wonder when Malaysian officials will take the same hard line and look to protect Malaysia’s long term future as a country and to protect the long term health of Malaysian citizens.  Not banning disposable utensils because of the local plastics industry or short term protests from some citizens is just short term thinking. We’re all going to suffer from such careless consumption of our limited resources.

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5 thoughts on “A day in the life of Taiwanese Rubbish

  1. Probably when there is a regime change. Politicians are too busy trying to grab power and lying to the public. The PM keeps saying he is doing his job and that we have chosen him – even when the elections was tried to be rigged (indelible ink, anyone), crime is up, corruption is up, prices are up, rudeness in Parliament is up, the Lingam case & Altantuya case appears rigged to anyone with an Internet connection.

  2. “because Taiwan is an island nation, space is scarce, so there’s always the problem of what to do with all that rubbish”

    Yes, sadly only desperation can make people do something right. This desperation to survive is also why island nations like HK and Singapore get so efficient.

  3. I don’t live in a small town! Haha 🙂 It’s quite a big metropolitan centre.
    Well, I haven’t seen styrofoam but I have seen a LOT of packaging, paper bowls, plastic disposable containers and when you go to the market, they do have single use plastic bags. Only places like 7-11, Family Mart or supermarkets charge you for plastic bags (which I think is great). So yes, there may have been a ban by the govt but people don’t actually practise much of the non disposable lifestyle.
    The rubbish collection system is pretty cool, I have to say, even though it’s kind of annoying sometimes! Malaysia does have a long way to go.

  4. Joe : There WAS a regime change (sort of) remember. It didn’t really help. I don’t necessarily agree that we should wait for the government solely to do things, I think we as individuals should try to make the change for ourselves first – for example committing to not taking single use bags and reducing our own waste.

    I think implementing moves like that would be really unpopular politically anyway – because the average citizen just doesn’t care, kwim?

    Damien : Not to mention Japan. Funnily enough even the Chinese Government is more progressive on environmental issues than our government is.

    LC : I don’t think there are any politicians who think this is an important issue. So even with next elections it won’t make a difference. Look at Bok House and Pudu prisons – no matter which politician is in power, everyone still only cares about $$ RIGHT NOW, not safeguarding our cultural, environmental or monetary future.

    Miin : REALLY?! well, i never get to visit you ler. I thought it was a small town. i don’t know, something major would have to happen in a really obvious way to make people realize we have to change our behavior to survive comfortably. There have been really obvious changes, yes, but they happened gradually over the last 50 years so nobody thinks it’s a big deal.

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