My introduction to garbage disposal in Taiwan

On a sweltering evening in mid-August last year, the beginning of my second week in Taiwan, I had just returned to my apartment from work.  It was barely a 10 min. walk, but with the heat and high humidity, my shirt was drenched in sweat.  Even my sweat was sweating.  I tried to turn on the air conditioner but it decided not to co-operate.  Fantastic.  At least I had a fan.  I turned it on full blast and collapsed on my bed, too drained to do anything.

As I lay there loosing body mass through sheer sweat, I heard the sweet music of what sounded like an ice cream truck.  Perfect timing!!!  I grabbed my wallet and ran out the door.  I didn’t want to miss out on some cold, delicious ice cream.

As I walked out, I saw something very similar to this:

As you can see, instead of ice cream, I was faced with people dumping trash into a big yellow truck which was blaring what sounded like ice cream truck music.  I was extremely disappointed, and this severe let down has ruined ice cream truck music for me forever.

Taiwan has almost no public garbage bins.  Because of this incredibly annoying phenomenon, all the trash that one accumulates during the day is carried on person and dumped in a bin at home.  Then a big yellow garbage truck blasting musical tones comes around, followed by a smaller, unassuming, recycling truck, and everyone dumps their garbage and recyclables.  The organization and efficiency with which this is done is amazing.  The garbage truck rarely has to stop for more than a few seconds, and sometimes not at all.  Everyone is ready and the process has been truly optimized.

On the down-side, it can be inconvenient because you have to be home to get rid of your garbage, but on the up-side, you have more than 1 chance a week to make it.  Also, with the volume of the music being VERY high, if you miss your own run, you will be sure to hear the music of another run close by and be able to chase it down by following the ice-crea…err…garbage truck music.

Another benefit of this system is that it gives you the opportunity to get to know your neighbours better.  I have had a few chats with my normally invisible co-tenants while waiting to get rid of last night’s beer cans.

In addition, you can get to know your garbage man and recycling man pretty well.

Funny thing, the garbage men tend to be abrupt and angry, but the recycling guys are friendly and relaxed.  I guess one starts off on garbage duty (hating their life and thus angry), and then gets moved up to recycling duty (chilled out and relaxed and thus friendly).  Also, I’m sure that the jobs have something to do with it.  Sorting bottles would be infinitely better than slinging trash.

I was surprised at how frequently the trucks came.  Back home, Monday was garbage day.  You left your trash and recyclables outside in the morning, and they magically disappear when you get home.  Here, they drive by 2 or 3 times a week.  How did people manage to accumulate so much trash?

No doubt, it has partly to do with the Taiwanese obsession with packaging and over packaging items.  I once bought a bag of wasabi peas.  After I opened the first layer of wrapping, I saw that a plastic tray was the next layer.  Popping that open revealed 20 sealed plastic bags with about 4 or 5 peas inside.  This product had 3 layers of clothing.  This isn’t just applied to foodstuffs; it’s common to see everything heavily overpackaged.  With this mentality, it’s no wonder the Taiwanese garbage men are putting in lots of overtime.

Another part of the answer is simply because of space restrictions.  It’s not uncommon to have a family living in the space meant for a single person.  So,  when the garbage generated by 4 people has to fit in a space for 1, it tends to pile up quickly and has to be gotten rid of often, hence the frequent visits.

One last thing, I had to find out was where they got the music from, and turns out they are classical peices.  While some trucks use Beethoven’s Fur Elise, the most common theme song, the one in the video, is a modified version of  Tekla (von) Bądarzewska’ A Maidens Prayer.

While I find associating classical music with trash is quite odd, cèst la vie.  In Taiwan, that’s what I take my garbage out to.


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