Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - Page 12 News List

A new way of thinking about litter

Social media has proven successful in mobilizing Taiwanese to help clean up their beaches

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff Reporter

Public support at Gongliao was an eye-opener for Daniel Gruber.

Photo courtesy of Jason Huang

Daniel Gruber, an English teacher from Hawaii, has just finished a cycling trip around Taiwan on his bicycle. What made his journey different for the thousands of other circuits around the island, whether on bicycle, scooter or car, was that along the way, he decided that he would collect trash, making his own very small difference to the problem of litter on Taiwan’s beaches. During 12 stops that took him from Kenting to Taipei, then south again to Kaohsiung, Gruber called on locals and anyone concerned about pollution to come help him.

The events, publicized mostly through Facebook under the name “Re-think” (RE-THINK, 重新思考), drew a strong response, with 15,000 Likes so far for something that Gruber said started out more by accident than design. The final event was at Chijin (旗津) in Greater Kaohsiung yesterday, but Gruber says there has been considerable interest in maintaining the momentum, with a similar cycle tour held as an annual event and chapters of Re-think located around the island.

As a keen outdoorsman, Gruber has spent a lot of time on Taiwan’s coast engaged in a wide variety of watersports. He also is a keen hiker and cyclist. All this activity has given him a love of Taiwan’s natural environment, and a horror of the ugliness created by the vast quantities of litter that disfigure many of these locations. He wanted to do something about it.

“I grew up with a very strong-willed grandmother who owned a lot of property in Wisconsin. When we went walking, she would always take a trash bag with her. As a kid I never understood why she would pick up other peoples’ trash … I said, people are just going to throw more trash. You need to yell at them and tell them not to throw trash on the property. She always told me to ‘show’ not ‘tell.’ If you show people what to do and make an example, they will follow you. And that is the philosophy I have followed my whole life,” Gruber said, speaking in a telephone interview with the Taipei Times from a train station in Miaoli, where he was waiting out the winds of tropical storm Trami.

Gruber said that as a matter of habit, he would try and pick up trash whenever he was surfing, snorkeling, or hiking. A photo taken of him collecting trash on a trip with friends while snorkeling off the coast of Kaohsiung made a big splash on the Internet, generating a lot of comment. “People started contacting me and asking why I was doing that,” he said. From this spark, Gruber formulated the idea of using social media to not just generate awareness, but to actually get people to participate in collecting trash. Together with Jason Huang (黃之揚), he set up the Re-think Facebook page and started planning.

“I wasn’t going to let the popularity [of the site] fade away. I didn’t want people just to push Like and then forget … I wanted people to actually come to a beach for one to three hours. On the first event [on Aug. 11 in Kenting], we got a huge number of people to come out. It was amazing the dedication these people had to the island,” Gruber said.

Gruber did not consult his Environmental Protection Agency or other government bureaus, but rather his Facebook followers, when he planned an itinerary of stops around the island where beach cleanup events could be held. There was a strong response from the public, culminating in a hugely successful cleanup at Yanliao Beach (鹽寮海灘)in Gongliao, New Taipei City on Aug. 18.

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