Business / Tech

Southeast Asia looks to Taiwan as recycling pioneer

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Once dubbed “garbage island” for its overflowing landfills and filthy streets, Taiwan now has Asia’s highest rate of recycling and is a role model for the region, analysts said on Thursday.

With untreated waste causing marine pollution and clogged drains triggering fatal floods from Bangkok to Manila, Southeast Asian cities should look to Taiwan’s success in reducing and recycling waste, they said.

“Taiwan didn’t do anything mystical; it just developed good policy based on the experiences of others,” said Nate Maynard at Taiwan’s Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research.

“If Southeast Asian countries adopted the same core principles, then they could develop their own models that work.”

Reducing waste is becoming a global priority amid growing calls for more aggressive action on climate change and plastic pollution, particularly in urban areas, which the United Nations projects will house 60 percent of the global population by 2030.

Environmentalists asked leaders at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit to create a “sustainable and ethical circular economy” that reduces the harmful impacts of poor waste management amid rapid growth.

“Countries should be thinking about reducing consumption of plastic, redesigning products to reduce waste, and more recycling,” said Penchom Saetang at advocacy group Ecological Alert and Recovery Thailand.

“We have seen the devastating impacts of improper waste management on communities. The price we pay in terms of loss of health, land and clean drinking water is incalculable.”

Taiwan’s reforms were kick-started by residents in Taipei who protested the city’s inaction on waste management two decades ago, resulting in “pay-as-you-throw” taxes, in which charges depend on the amount of trash produced.

Pre-sorted waste is also handed to musical garbage trucks that make the rounds five nights a week. citizens and businesses are encouraged to generate less waste, with stringent penalties for violations.

“Taiwan did all this at a time of relatively lower economic development, and without a long history of environmentalism. The movement was driven by grassroots efforts and public protests,” said Maynard.

Taiwan now recycles about 55 percent of its municipal solid waste — the second-highest rate globally, said Grayson Shor, a circular economy consultant to the U.S. government-funded American Institute in Taiwan.

Its per capita daily waste generation has fallen nearly 20 percent in two decades, with landfill sites being converted into parks and community centers, he added.

“Taiwan has been able to do this as a result of its green technology and design innovations in public education,” he said. “It is … easily transferable to other Asian countries.”

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