“At Yanliao, they sent one truck and a couple of guys to pick up the trash we had collected and sorted,” Gruber said. “When they arrived, their jaws hit the ground. We had collected probably around 2,000kg of trash in an hour and a half … They were very shocked.”
Huang said the degree of government support had varied from place to place, but even those who provided the most support did not really believe they would be able to clear away as much trash as they did.
Liu Shih-ming (劉士銘), deputy director of the Northeast Coast Scenic Administration (東北角海岸國家風景區), told the Taipei Times that his agency wholeheartedly supported organizations such as schools or corporations for beach cleaning and similar activities. “If they wish to show their concern for the environment through action, we are happy to give whatever support we can,” he said. “There are quite a lot of such activities, and this speeds up the recovery of the beaches, especially after tropical storms, which wash up huge quantities of trash,” he said. The Northeast Coast Scenic Administration was one of the more pro-active agencies Re-think dealt with, and was the agency responsible for issuing permits for the successful Yanliao cleanup, Gruber said that organizing the permits for the cleanups and for backup from sanitation departments had been a labor-intensive process. In addition, he and his team tried to follow up on the disposal of the trash they had collected, using social media to check in with locals who kept an eye to make sure that sanitation teams did the right thing with the trash.
Gruber said that he is committed to keeping Re-think a grassroots movement. “Without any [sponsorship] money involved, we are getting people to take off work, travel around the island. Many of the people involved now are not even from the places where the activity is held. They are taking trains, they are buying supplies, spending their hard-earned money and time and I don’t want to tarnish that,” Gruber said.
Gruber said that in collecting trash, he is not criticizing Taiwanese for their sometimes casual attitude to garbage disposal. “This is an international problem,” he said. Liu of the Northeast Coast Scenic Administration emphasized that much of the trash washing up on Taiwan’s beaches is brought in by ocean currents and does not necessarily originate on the island. But for Gruber, where the trash originates is not really the issue. In the same way, he would like to believe that his being a foreigner is not central to the success Re-think has had.
“I would like to say it doesn’t matter [that I am a foreigner], but I think it does. People in Taiwan like to talk about what foreigners are doing, whether it is good or bad. So the fact that a foreigner was seen doing something good without expecting something back, and it might also reflect a little bit of shame, that a foreigner is coming here to do these things,” Gruber said.
“People say ‘you should not have to do this, it is our job.’ My response is ‘Well, don’t let me do it alone, because I will do it alone. The thing I am trying to tell people is that this is not just about Taiwan, it is about the world. This problem exists around the world. We can’t wait for the government to do things. We have to band together as citizens and create a joint effort.”