Every evening, a Beethoven melody echoes through the streets of Taipei as the garbage trucks arrive. A huge ballet of citizens follows with garbage bags in their hands. This music truck system is at the heart of a waste management revolution on the small island.
Garbage collection sometimes hides surprises…
TAIWAN – The scene is quite funny. Dozens of citizens, garbage bags in hand, wait on the edge of the street. It is 6:25 p.m. in Taipei. Some talk to each other. Mothers have come with their children.
In the distance, Beethoven's Letter to Élise plays through the loudspeakers. The yellow garbage truck approaches and stops. Dozens more residents then come out of their homes and rush to the vehicle.
Citizens bring their own garbage bags, recycling and table scraps to the three trucks reserved for this purpose. Garbage collectors help with sorting. They stay in the same place between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the neighborhood and the traffic.
In the coordinated crowd, Mina, a young woman dressed in pink like her daughter whom she took that night, bring bottles to the recycling truck and then a large garbage bag.
It's definitely just one more chore, she laughs. I don't come here to socialize with people. Then, if we don't line up correctly or if we cut someone by mistake, some people can be very mean!
An employee supervises a resident who puts his garbage in the truck.
This playful way of empowering and raising citizens' awareness of environmental protection is already nearly 25 years old. Previously, in the 90s, Taiwan was nicknamed the island of garbage.
It was the time of the garbage crisis in Taiwan. Gigantic mountains of unsorted or burnt waste were growing, bags piling up in the streets and giving off a strong stench in the sticky summer heat.
In 1998, the City of Taipei launched the policy called No bags touch the ground successfully. This is the entrance of the musical garbage trucks which pass twice a night. Citizens must bring their waste in person and also pay for their waste production.
Only government garbage bags are accepted. There is also a legal stamp on each bag to prevent counterfeiting. These biodegradable bags can be purchased at the grocery store or convenience store. A large bag costs 5 New Taiwan Dollars (NDT) and a small one costs 2 NDT (the equivalent of 20 cents and 8 cents Canadian respectively).
The island is populated and the space for waste is very limited, said Yang Wei Shiou, the principal secretary of the Department of environmental protection of Taipei. It was necessary to offer a financial incentive to the citizens. The less waste you produce, the less it costs you to buy bags. This replaced the old garbage tax.
In Taipei, music accompanies the garbage collectors.
The policy established by Taipei has quickly spread throughout the island. While some also use the melody of Beethoven's Letter to Élise for the trucks, others rather announce the arrival of the garbage trucks with A Virgin's Prayerfrom Tekla Badarzewska-Baranowska.
Bringing your own garbage to the truck promotes community spirit, says Yang Wei Shiou. It helps with the environmental spirit too. It is a social gesture.
This is probably true among migrant workers who have come from elsewhere in Southeast Asia to find employment in Taiwan. It's not uncommon to see them arrive early and tell each other the latest news, an important update for those who don't speak Mandarin or English.
That evening, in the Tianmu district of Taipei, a man dressed simply in his pants and a white tank top is chatting with a friend. He proudly explains that he likes to come and carry his garbage cans to help his spouse who takes care of other household chores.
It's like my job, he says, l laughing eye. I arrive early and wait for the 6:30 p.m. truck. I chat with people. We discuss news and gossip in the corner. I like it.
The success of Taipei's No Bag Touch the Ground policy is undeniable. Since its inception, the recycling rate has increased from approximately 2.5% in 1998 to 60% today.
Every evening, a Beethoven melody echoes through the streets of Taipei as the garbage trucks arrive. A huge ballet of citizens follows with garbage bags in their hands. This system of musical trucks is at the heart of a waste management revolution on the small island. The report by Philippe Leblanc
But there is now a bottleneck in several municipalities for recycling, said Xie He-Lin, the general secretary of the environmental organization Taiwan Watch. Some cities cheat on their recycling data by including industry sector data in the household recycling rate. More needs to be done.
At the moment, three trucks criss-cross the streets every evening. A garbage truck, a recycling truck and a table scraps truck. Xie He-Lin would like recycling to be better organized and divided into more categories of recyclables.
Whether the system needs modernization and improvements or not, the Pavlovian reflex is so strong today in Taiwan that several citizens interviewed say they think about taking out their garbage every time they hear Beethoven's melody, regardless of the context. .
It's funny, because I think about it every time, admits a woman who is lucky enough to live in front of a stop on the road of garbage trucks . It takes me a few seconds to tell myself that it's just the music, not the time for garbage!
It's proof that this waste waltz is deeply rooted in everyday life Taiwanese.
Our correspondent in Asia Philippe Leblanc is based in Taiwan for the next few months, to help us discover this island of nearly 24 million inhabitants, his company and the challenges that drive it. And also to cover current issues throughout the Asia-Pacific region.