The word “disposable” is often overused when applied to everyday items.
A large percentage of the public fails to “reuse, reduce and recycle,” the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said, and it wants to foster a public spirit of resource conservation. To promote that goal, it is trying a number of creative approaches, including taking a traditional festival and giving it an environmental twist.
The “Green Dragon Boat Festival” competition in Hualien last week might be described as a Taiwanese version of Junkyard Wars — a US reality TV show where teams battle with machines made out of material found in the junkyard — The Green Dragon Boat Festival includes a race with dragon boats made entirely of recycled materials.
PHOTO: MEGGIE LU, TAIPEI TIMES
An annual occurrence in Hualien for 11 years running — except at the height of the SARS scare — was inspired by a team of tourist hotel employees, who on a beautiful spring afternoon in 1997 noticed a surfeit of used toothbrushes produced by the hotel’s guests in just one night, Hualien’s Parkview Hotel sales and marketing manager Rebecca Jan (詹雅真) said.
“We had a full-house that night,” she said. “And with two to four guests in each of our 345 guestrooms, we collected a small mountain of toothbrushes afterwards.”
The brushes were not the only pile that stunned the Parkview staff — shower caps, razors, miniature shampoo bottles and other items were discarded in equal abundance.
As it was close to Dragon Boat Festival, someone on the staff suggested that employees divide into teams and race miniature Dragon Boats made out of the junk in the Parkview swimming pool.
“After roaring success and popularity, the competition soon snowballed from an employee activity into a public extravagana. Soon enough, we attracted the attention of Hualien’s Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB), which started to sponsor us from the second year on,” Jan said.
The competition went national three years ago after the EPA came into the picture and the festival expanded into a day-long event.
This year, 22 finalist teams from all over the country submitted boats made out rubbish — from soda cans and colored plastic straws, to imaginative pompom threads and billboard figurine cutouts — competed for the NT$50,000 grand prize and the glory of earning the title “Junk Alchemists.”
Third-place winner, 10-year-old Cindy Chen (陳心), who donned a green dress on competition day made out of weaved strips of real estate advertisement flyers, told the Taipei Times that in the past three years she and her family had participated in the competition, thousands of flyers had been given second life.
“My parents would collect drink bottles and flyers for months before they assemble the papers into a full-sized boat,” she said.
The fair also drew thousands of fairgoers — many of them children — who came for the energy-saving workshops, white-elephant sale, cotton candy and live rock music.
“This is the first year we come to the fair, but I am quite impressed — the government should host such activities more frequently to promote public awareness of environmental protection,” said Lee Chuan-li (李傳禮), an Ilan resident who came with his wife and grandchildren.
Although Lee said he did not learn anything new from the energy-saving workshop, he acknowledged that it was a good first step for “new recyclers.”
“Children nowadays rarely have to recycle or reuse anything they own — when my children were young, they were creative in making makeshift toys, like dollhouse made out of cardboard or Ang-a-Piao [a Chinese marble game] played with old buttons,” Lee’s wife, Chen Man (陳滿), said.
“Because of poverty, in those days things were completely exhausted before they were discarded; looking back, people were more appreciative of resources they owned and were very environmentally friendly by today’s standards,” she said.
But beyond the fluff and flair of hosting crowd attracting events such as the race, Hualien’s commitment to recycling is serious, Hualien County Deputy Commissioner Chu Chin-peng (朱景鵬) said.
“Hualien’s recycling rate has always ranked among the top in its category [rural-concentrated cities and counties],” Chu said, adding that at with impressive 34.78 percent last year, the county hopes to break the 36 percent benchmark this year, which is significantly higher than then 29 percent the EPA requests that rural counties achieve.
“If you consider that only 40-some percent of garbage is recyclable and that daily collection in most areas in Hualien is impossible because many of its garbage collection teams consist of two workers or less, that figure is laudable,” said EPA director of the Recycling Fund Management Board Lin Chien-huei (林建輝) said.
Asked what advice he could impart to cities where recycling rates are low, Chu said the success of Hualien’s environmental efforts depends heavily on two factors — expansive community involvement, and bottom-up green concept promotions.
“We have a very large number of community volunteer groups who help sort out our garbage, which makes up for our shortage of EPB’s garbage cleaners on staff. The volunteers also bring home the message of environmental protection, which is important,” he said.
Green concepts are incorporated into public school education at all levels, he added.
Even the race itself is educational, having led people to “environmental epiphanies.”
“Although the fair is only a one-day event, environmental protection is not a concept — it is a long-term commitment,” Jan said. “Even more important than recycling is the concept of reduction — if half of the hotel guests brought their own shampoo, Parkview would save 150,000 plastic bottles in a year.”
Jan’s view were echoed by this year’s winner Chen Yi-nan (陳義男), whose team built a 3m long boat out of 2,000 cans collected from nearby schools and recycling pounds.
“We were astounded by the amount of trash we were able to get our hands on. Although everyone was awed by how beautiful and strong the boat turned out, looking at 2,000 cans made us realize that it is extremely wasteful for manufacturers to make the cans in the first place — only to contain a mere 355ml of fluids once,” he said.
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