The Western recycling expert meets his Eastern master

A grateful plant, saved from the garbage truck

Recycling in Taipei is nowadays very strict, even more than it used to be when I moved out of the capital in 2014 to Tamsui, on the northern coast of the island.

Compared to Valencia, people take it quite seriously, especially when it comes to raw and cooked kitchen leftovers, which are collected separately to be used as fertilizer and fodder for pigs, respectively.

Interestingly, the garbage and the recycling truck arrive to the tune of immortal German composer Ludwig von Beethoven’s (1770-1827) minor for solo piano r Elise, to let everybody know that it´s time to go downstairs with their trash and recyclable items.

The reason for this peculiar, if not unique method is that only guarded, mostly newer communities with their own private collection system have those trash containers common in Europe.

After my return to Taiwan in late May 2021, last August I moved into a building from the 1990s, which means that all my neighbors and myself rely on the municipal garbage disposal services.

Not only because I have lived in good old Formosa for more than 20 years now, but also because I stayed in “lovely” Berlin from 1985 to 1999 (excluding my first Taiwan experience 1988/89), I’m very familiar with recycling and pay a lot of attention to it.

That’s why I found it quite ironic that my direct neighbor, a retired cook who does a lot of voluntary work in our borough, yesterday evening rang my doorbell to ask me if I had left some rubbish on the street.

Of course I denied that, saying that I had actually put out a bag full of paper, cans and plastic bottles to be collected by an older person that often makes a living out of selling such things.

Though friendly as always, he insisted that I had done something illegal, even mentioning a glass bottle that supposedly was also part of that pack, and warning me that I could be fined by the Environmental Protection Administration.

It turned out that a watchful neighbor had seen me trying to provide extra income to sometimes destitute senior citizens and, knowing were I live, had alerted him that I was in fact polluting the area.

I tried to explain to him that I had heard that somebody would pick up recyclable stuff pretty quickly, which usually was indeed the case, and referred to the pet shop next door, which almost daily throws out cardboard boxes of all sizes right onto the street.

He said that they also had been lucky so far not to be reported and fined. I have to admit that I found the whole procedure a little strange and very different from the old days.

For many years, grandpas and grandmas used to wait eagerly, from time to time even fighting over items they could make some profit off, but obviously their numbers have dwindled considerably.

Also, the few scavengers left in my new neighborhood are surprisingly rude and ungrateful. They didn´t thank me at all, even when I delivered my treasures straight to their doorstep.

Therefore, from now on my only option is to handle over everything that I want to get rid of to the dustman directly. It would be grotesque that an old recycling hand like me ultimately runs into trouble with the law for not disposing of his rubbish properly.

On a related note, this morning I discovered a beautiful flower on my balcony. A couple of weeks ago I had saved that plant from the location where a strange fellow had deposited it.

From the backside of the garbage truck he had removed a half-full bag, which contained a plant in perfect condition. As a gardening maniac and a rescuer of abandoned green orphans, I was really touched by his action.

Well, before I could inquire if he was a fervent Buddhist for which all forms of life are sacred and congratulate him on his admirable behavior, he disposed of the pot in a nearby park and cycled away with the now almost empty bag…

I was really surprised, though nevertheless didn’t hesitate for a second to add a new piece to my little plant collection. Today, when it blossomed, I realized once again that I had done the right thing.