When Chen Jien-ting (陳建廷) was transferred to the food scraps division of the sanitation department in 2005, he detested the land that housed the composting facility. Now the piece of land he once described as a “backwater” has been transformed into a “peach blossom land (桃花源),” a kind of utopia.
Chen was among the 25 senior garbage collectors and recycling operators recently recognized for their outstanding service in Taipei. Chen’s recognition came after 21 years of service in Tainan City’s cleaning squad.
The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) began acknowledging the contribution of senior garbage collectors and recycling operators in 2002.
This year, a total of 200 were rewarded, including 25 who were acknowledged for their outstanding service and 175 for their reliable performance.
Since the nation began its recycling program in 2005, the amount of garbage produced has been reduced substantially. Statistics showed that while 0.708kg of garbage was collected daily per person in 2004, the number was 0.539kg this year.
The recycling rate in 2004 was 24.01 percent. That figure grew to 40.82 percent this year.
Over the course of the years, the job description of garbage collectors and recycling operators has become more diversified. They include garbage collection, resource recycling, gutter cleaning, cleaning of environmental black spots to prevent mosquitoes from breeding and disinfection of the environment.
Chen said it was one of the lowest moments of his life when he was transferred to the food scrap division after serving in his old job for 18 years.
When Chen joined the EPA in 1987, he was collecting garbage and cleaning the streets in Tainan City.
He was made a captain in 2002. When Chen was transferred to the food scrap division, he described the land that housed the composting facility as “full of wild grass and filthy water.” The soil was high in salt because of its proximity to the sea.
The 40-minute motorcycle ride from his home to the composting facility was unbearable in the early stages of his new assignment.
“I cried on my way to work and back home,” the 49-year-old said. “I did not ask for the transfer and I felt frustrated because I had performed very well at my old job.”
It was pride that kept him going, he said, adding that he wanted to prove to others that he could do it.
But bad luck struck. Chen found out that he had tongue cancer. Following an operation and regular check-ups, Chen said he has brought it under control.
Chen said he decided to make the most of it. He and his team won the outstanding service award in 2007 for turning the land that he once disliked into the “peach blossom land,” where now you can see bees, butterflies and fireflies.
Chen said after he retires, he would like to buy a piece of land so he can plant trees and flowers, and grow vegetables and raise chickens.
Peng A-wen (彭阿紋), meanwhile, was recognized for her outstanding 22 years of service at Taichung City’s cleaning squad.
The 55-year-old joined the team in 1985 after the business she and her husband ran went belly up.
Before she came aboard, she sold fruit, drove school buses, delivered newspapers and worked at a department store as a sales clerk.
“I never saw a garbage truck before, because my employees would take care of the garbage,” she said. “I was sick to my stomach on my first day of work when I saw rotten rice filled with maggots.”