The Taiwanese Musical Waste Disposal system

Come evenings (except Wednesdays and Sundays) in Taipei, and this is the tune you start hearing all around. For the Taipei-kars definitely do things musically – even if it as mundane as garbage throwing. If you have seen the video link above, you can see how two garbage trucks come to each of the localities to pick up the trash.

What you cannot perhaps see is the discipline of every citizen who line up for their arrival sometimes as much as 10 minutes before the actual time – yes, even when it is pouring and they have to bring umbrellas along. They come and neatly line up with their trash bags secured, and other wastes separately carried. Some bring pails along for the wet wastes, and many come to drop it off on scooters. When the trucks are late, like on Mondays or Thursdays at times, you can see people in queues, patiently waiting. Also the logistics and route of the garbage trucks are so worked out that for every house, there are atleast two and at times three very convenient locations where the garbage trucks comes visiting.

But first things first. Every household in Taipei (and I am sure rest of Taiwan) separates out the trash – vegetables and fruit peels (for composting perhaps) in one, cooked food waste (for the pigs) in another, cardboard boxes (like those used for pizzas) or take-away containers, glass bottles, recyclable plastic bottles and cans in another. The rest of the waste has to be neatly put into color-coded plastic bags for each zones, which are tied up and thrown into Truck No 1. Truck No 2 contains three big plastic bins (like the blue plastic ones we store water in, back in India) for the wet waste mentioned above (veggie peels and cooked food) as well another bin to put the used plastic bags in. Two person man the second truck, the first guy oversees the wet wastes bin (using a flashlight), and the non-wet separated wastes are handed over to the guy in the truck. He also collects used plastic bags and the like.

I have had a chance to observe these trucks at different points in the city – many a times from the bus I am riding in alongside. Apart from the efficiency witnessed by all the workers, I have noticed that the trucks are pretty modernized. The ramps for lowering the bins are automated, and the inside of the garbage trucks, where these huge bins are stored and taken around are very clean and neat. So much that riding alongside doesn’t seem a big problem. The workers are given bright orange/yellow overalls, gloves, and mostly don gumboots. This is a stark difference to how waste is manged back home.

When I was a newcomer in Taiwan, it was the Scientist who did this chore at first.  I was told it’s a very complicated system and I let him handle matters at first. I would watch from the window, actually drawn to the window by the music. Then one day, I followed the Scientist to see what is thrown where. A couple of more such followings, and I was ready to tackle this on my own. What I was perhaps unprepared for, is the Taiwanese courtesy exhibited here – for my Aries self, patience doesn’t come easily. You had to allow the ones in queue to go first. You also had to wait patiently for the older folks to empty their pails (and they can take a few smelly moments) – it was definitely not easy for a girl like me.

Another thing I noticed was that it was mostly the older folks who came out with the garbage. And it turned out to a social gathering of sorts, with many of amiably chatting away before and after the truck has come and gone..

It’s been over a year now, and while I am used to this everyday occurrence, deep down I am still amazed that the citizenry rally around and support this initiative. Come to think of it, its not a very difficult habit to implement back home, just needs a strong public will. After seeing what composting can do for an individual and household, I am sure that such initiatives will do a lot for the world and times we live in..

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