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Sunday, September 20, 2020

Taiwan’s capital Taipei, a shining pioneer in recycling policy

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As I have now almost 35 years of recycling experience, one of the many things that I do miss about Taiwan– except too many cockroaches, daily (although often unnoticeable) earthquakes and an average of three heavy typhoons every year- is the excellent recycling system, first started in July 2000 in the capital Taipei. The usual municipal garbage disposal fee was abolished and special plastic bags with a forgery-proof hologram came on the market. Smart criminals immediately saw a new business opportunity and tried to copy them! Less than a year later, after then-mayor Ma Ying-jeou from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had received information on 56 cases of bag counterfeiting and cracked down on 14 of them, he wanted to impose fines of up to 30 million New Taiwan dollars (US$911,854) and jail terms of three to seven years for producing fake bags, which looked so similar to the official ones that not even the city’s Bureau of Environmental Protection experts could tell the difference between them. The legal pink-colored bags were introduced at extremely reasonable prices, for example 1.3 euros for 20 five liter bags. Most of the time, for me one of those bags was enough for one week. They still can be purchased at the same price at supermarkets and convenience stores all over Taiwan. As there are around 10,000 of those 24/7 shops all over the island, you don’t have to walk far or wait even five minutes to get them. The combined efforts by the government and the population have resulted in a recycling rate of 55% nationwide and 67% in the capital Taipei, making it one of the highest in the world. They had no choice, as Taiwan has the size of Holland, but only 20% of its surface is actually arable land and probably were inspired by neighboring Japan, a package-crazy, but also nature-loving, clean country. Most Taiwanese I know take recycling quite seriously and even organic waste is separated into two categories, used as pig fodder or fertilizer. There are no trash containers on the street, so people who don’t live in large buildings or communities, where paid staff takes care of garbage disposal, have to wait for the truck that comes with music two or three times a day, usually starting in the late afternoon. Recyclable items can be given in any type of bag to members of the public cleansing service arriving with the lorry, or to the waiting older citizens who rely on cans, paper and plastic bottles for extra income. It’s always useful to have a regular chat in Chinese with these fellows. Once you have befriended them, they sometimes might be willing to throw out the regular garbage for you when you have something more urgent to do!

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