Upon hearing the cheerful melody blaring from the loudspeaker of a truck at a distance, the residents of Taipei City rush out of their houses and apartment buildings to congregate on the streets. Carrying pink and blue garbage bags in their hands, friends and neighbors chat while waiting for the truck. It may sound like the garbage is incidental and they're waiting for an ice cream truck. But that's not the case. They're waiting for the singing garbage truck!
Garbage trucks in Taiwan are smart and multi-functional. Not only do they sing, but some even teach English and deliver official documents. While taking out the trash is a mundane task for many people around the world, in Taiwan it’s actually fun. Furthermore, this system of garbage collection helps to foster an eco-friendly culture and a sense of community.
Singing garbage trucks drive through cities throughout Taiwan five days a week at set times during the evening. A recycling truck always trails behind. During these times, residents are required to wait on the streets with their trash, making sure that it never touches the ground. If you think that New York City’s “Recycle Everything” campaign is innovative, this system brings green culture to a whole new level. Garbage has to be separated into several categories in advance: kitchen waste and various types of recyclable items. Sanitation workers riding behind the garbage and recycling trucks are really strict about this. If Monday evening is Styrofoam cup collection day, they will not accept your aluminum cans. Moreover, pretending that you don’t understand Mandarin won’t absolve you from this duty either.
But few residents see this system of garbage collection as a burden. Instead, it's an opportunity to be more environmentally conscious. As this short clip from BBC News demonstrates, sorting through garbage is a fun family activity. The parents of one particular family have instilled in their children eco-friendly habits by making separating the trash a fun, nightly game. Once that is done, the entire family takes their garbage bags outside and waits on the streets along with other families. While children in other parts of the world complain when it’s their turn to take out the trash, this mother says that her kids “really enjoy doing this.”
Entire neighborhoods suddenly come alive during garbage collection time. A writer from the Washington Post describes waiting for the singing garbage truck as one of Taiwan’s “liveliest communal rites.” The streets are abuzz with activity during this time. Food vendors separate their kitchen waste diligently while chatting with shop owners. Older ladies with yellow gloves and tongs, scurry around the streets looking for bits and pieces of trash to recycle. Garbage disposal is very much a communal effort.
Singing garbage trucks do not exist in a cultural vacuum. They are part of a larger trend in Taiwan of using of marrying daily activities to the transmission of important messages. The restaurant on top of an incinerator which I visited during a sixth-grade field trip is another example. Here, diners can enjoy a panoramic view of the city while being ensured that their rubbish is being processed in an eco-friendly way. Singing garbage trucks are also a part of a culture where noise in public spaces is used to foster a sense of community. As Taiwan Today points out, when shop assistants scream “Huanyin guanglin!” or “Welcome!” or when a PA system in a park or mall blasts advertisements, these are simply efforts to make everyone feel more engaged with each other and their communities.
In an era where concern over the environment looms large, many of us are searching for more eco-friendly lifestyles. But in Taiwan, recycling is not voluntary. It’s a must— and this is dictated by a singing garbage truck. I can’t believe I’m suggesting this, but could a singing garbage truck actually be the solution to our environmental problems? What does everyone think?