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What I Picked Up About Trash in Taipei

By Julia Ross Sunday, December 2, 2007

http://www.washin! dyn/content/article/2007/""/2#/$R2007""2#0"%%7.html

&hen ' planned (or my year in )aiwan two summers a o, trash was the last thin on my mind. )he more ob*ious challen es o( mo*in abroad !! (indin an apartment, buyin a cellphone and na*i atin the bus system !! preoccupied me in the wee+s be(ore my departure. ' worried most about studyin ,andarin (ull!time, the di((iculty o( masterin the lan ua e-s (our tones and the intricate arcs, (ishhoo+s and rids that ma+e up written .hinese. But stran e thin s happen when you cross cultures. /ne0pected (rustrations *e0 you, and habits in rained o*er years suddenly come up (or ne otiation. So it was (or me and waste disposal. 1n this lea(!shaped island o( 22 million people "00 miles o(( .hina-s coast, trash matters. ,y )aipei landlady was the (irst to ma+e that point, when she a*e me a crash course on how to dispose o( household waste li+e a local. 3irst, buy city!appro*ed trash ba s at the corner 7!4le*en. )hen, meet the arba e truc+ (i*e ni hts a wee+ at the mouth o( a nearby alley. 3inally, hea*e the ba s onto the truc+ yoursel(.

5ou-ll reco ni6e the truc+, she said, because it plays music !! a tinny *ersion o( the Beetho*en classic 738r 4lise,7 as ' soon disco*ered.

&ith help (rom the melodic warnin , ' (i ured out where and when to show up. /nderstandin the mandatory recyclin system was more troublesome. 'n )aiwan, recyclin truc+s ta alon behind trash collectors, but they accept only certain items on certain ni hts. $ccordin to the strictly en(orced schedule, plastic bottles must be separated (rom plastic wrappin and ba s, and (lat recyclables, such as Styro(oam trays and cardboard dumplin bo0es, are collected only on ,ondays and 3ridays. Show up with bundled newspapers on the wron ni ht, and you-ll et an ear(ul (rom the sanitation wor+er. 3ei nin i norance o( ,andarin won-t absol*e you, either. &aitin (or the arba e truc+ is one o( )aiwan-s li*eliest communal rites. ,any e*enin s ' watched (ood *endors (rom the ni ht mar+ets, buc+ets o( e shells in hand, chat up con*enience store cler+s alon side 3ilipina nannies who traded +itchen appliances as i( they were at a Sunday mornin swap meet. 3reelance recyclers +een to ma+e a (ew dollars showed up to collect cardboard and newspapers, which they would sell bac+ to the city. $n alderman with a whistle +ept tra((ic at bay. )hese curbside 9aunts were my initiation into )aiwan-s broader waste!disposal networ+, made up o( municipal employees and re ular citi6ens all doin their part to +eep the system hummin . &atchin the city-s disparate trash tribes at wor+ shamed me into compliance a(ter years as a hal(!hearted recycler bac+ home. ' e*en came to (eel a peculiar solidarity with the 7ladies with ton s,7 the city transit and uni*ersity sanitation wor+ers who spend their days si(tin throu h arba e bins in subway stations and on uni*ersity campuses in search o( aluminum cans. $nd ' admired the swi(t *i ilance o( (ood court employees as they swept (ast!(ood wrappers and Styro(oam cups o(( my table into shallow bas+ets be(ore ' had time to loo+ (or a trash can. :)here aren-t any.; )hen you ha*e nosy landlords, who, dependin on the housin arran ement, are sometimes tas+ed with sortin their tenantstrash. 1ne $merican (riend, upon surrenderin se*eral ba s o( re(use soon a(ter he mo*ed into a studio apartment in )aipei, was

dumb(ounded when his landlady scolded him (or eatin too many candy bars and not enou h (ruit. <umiliated, he bou ht a ba o( oran es the ne0t day, hopin she would notice the peels he planned to lea*e on top o( the pile. )aiwanese (riends tell me that "0 years a o, their capital-s sidewal+s were drownin in rottin arba e. 5ou-d ne*er +now it today, than+s to the introduction o( a per!ba trash!collection (ee to discoura e consumption, a char e (or plastic ba s at supermar+ets and the ri orous recyclin policy now in e((ect. )hese chan es created an in(initely cleaner city. 4*en more impressi*e, they (ueled a sense o( ci*ic responsibility in a place where democracy is still ta+in root. Just as the )aiwanese in*est in their youn representati*e o*ernment, they in*est in a clean en*ironment. )here-s a palpable appreciation (or hard!won pro ress. Bac+ in the /nited States, reen awareness has seemin ly ta+en a =uantum leap in the past year, with tal+ o( carbon o((sets !! a term ' hadn-t heard when ' boarded my plane (or )aipei !! lacin the passen er con*ersations on lon !haul (li hts. But '-*e been home (or three months now, and /.S. consumption patterns loo+ as robust as e*er, with the same limited patchwor+ o( recyclin opportunities a*ailable. Reducin your 7carbon (ootprint7 is a hip way to (i ht lobal warmin , but what about the trash enerated by last ni ht-s ta+eout> Be(ore my year in )aiwan, ' was a la6y en*ironmentalist, duti(ully recyclin wine bottles and newspapers and optin (or paper o*er plastic, but ne*er willin to o the e0tra mile i( it wasn-t con*enient. 't-s no lon er so easy to ma+e e0cuses. ?i*in in a place where ' was e0pected to use what ' bou ht and recycle e*ery last yo urt cup and 9uice bo0 le(t me with a new appreciation (or what clean streets mean in a ci*il society, and the reali6ation that '-m responsible (or e*erythin ' consume. )hat-s as ood a .hinese lesson as any. Julia Ross is a writer and former U.S. Fulbright scholar in Taiwan.$2%/Rec ycle/A$5)3inalReport.pd( http://www.southwest!en* C20depth/re(useC20hurdles/payC20asC20youC20throw.html!burn.or /downloads/D&C20)aiwan.pd( http://www.taiwan!> idE2000%%#0%077c.t0tFtableE0Fh"E C47C#2CB0C4GC$2C%2C47C#HC#3C4IC%GC%BFh2E C47C#2CB0C4GC$2C%2C4HCB3C#DC4%C%2CB2