I came across a blog post by Amy Chavez on The Huffington Post that reminded me how eco-friendly Taiwan really is. Chavez mentions the plastic tokens used on the MRT, paying for plastic bags at shops, and the popularity of eating vegetarian.
But there are many more examples of how Taiwan makes saving the environment a priority. Recycling bins are nearly always placed next to regular trash cans on sidewalks, parks, transit stations, and elsewhere. Plus, restaurants like McDonald's and Starbucks have elaborate refuse containers. At McDonald's, there a container to pour out excess soda and ice, an area to stack used cups, a container for leftover food waste, and two trash bins - one for trash (like the fry containers) that can be recycled and one for everything else (lids and straws for example). Thinking about the environment permeates many aspects of life in Taiwan, most of which become routine.
Other procedures take more time to adopt, like throwing out the trash at McDonald's, but the one thing that was hard for me to adopt was managing the trash at home. It became a full-time chore to manage it all. Most folks have to take out the trash themselves; there's no hauling trash cans to the curb here. Instead, you have to bring everything down to the curb and wait for the trash truck to arrive at its appointed time. The trucks play 'Fur Elise' to announce their arrival. Then you hoist the trash in yourself. But here's the catch, the trash has to be sorted half a dozen ways: 1) food waste pigs can eat (yes, Taiwan feeds things like leftover pizza to pigs) 2) food waste pigs can't eat (that's items like bones 3) bottles, glass, aluminium, and plastic containers stamped with a triangular recycle symbol 4) paper (cardboard boxes, computer paper, etc) 5) non-recyclable trash (like the plastic bag cereal comes in 6) miscellaneous trash (light bulbs, batteries, etc.).
But wait, there's more. The trash truck comes five days a week and different trash is picked up on different days. While food waste and non-recyclable trash are picked up each time the truck comes, the glass/bottles/aluminium/plastic and paper are picked up on alternating nights, meaning you can never really get rid of all your trash. Those who try to get sneaky are often caught as the non-recyclable trash has to be put in special plastic bags (which cost more than regular trash bags) that are stamped with a code. Violators who try to put recyclable trash in these colorful bags are often tracked down (by the code on the bag) and face costly fines. I eventually got the hang of taking out the trash, but I never look at trash again the same!