by Jesse Teel
Taiwan had the unfortunate nickname “Garbage Island.” Trash polluted the environment through littering and burning. Mountains of waste rotted in the streets. Taiwan initiated a waste management overhaul and the last two decades have seen a transformation to a clean, largely litter-free country.
The waste and recycling system in Taiwan is incredible. The country has one of the highest recycling rates in the world, 55%. Compare that to New Zealand, another developed Pacific Island country, that recycles around 28% of its waste. Kaohsiung 高雄 (pronounced gau-shaang) is Taiwan’s third largest city and its largest port with a population of 2.7 million people.
I visited Kaohsiung in 2016 and traveled to the countryside outside the city. Kaohsiung is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been to. Litter was rare to see, there were few public trash cans, and the waste and recycling trucks were… different. One night I heard music from what I thought was an ice cream truck. Wrong. It was a bright yellow garbage truck making its way through the streets collecting household waste from residents. White recycling trucks follow the garbage trucks.
Our friends (Kaohsiung locals) told us the trucks come several times during the week. Mobile apps send alerts and let users track trucks. Residents take their waste and recycling out to the trucks. Household waste is separated into categories – recyclable, nonrecyclable, and organic. People must purchase special bags for nonrecyclable garbage. Residents are required to make sure that recyclable items are given separately to the truck that collects recycling.
The song of the trash truck is a musical call to action. A tune (traditionally Für Elise or The Maiden’s Prayer) to remind you to bring your waste to the curb. It needs to be done. Taiwan has a population density of 1,742 people per square mile. Compare that to New Zealand, our other Pacific Island country, that has a population density of 50 people per square mile. What are you to do when you are an island country with a large population? Landfill less, recycle more, and for goodness’ sake, REDUCE THE WASTE.
Jesse Teel works in Facilities Management as a coordinator for the Waste Reduction and Recycling Department.
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