A Facebook post by Taipei Deputy Mayor Lee Ssu-chuan (李四川) on Sunday prompted a public debate on whether more public trash cans should be set up.
People commenting on the post said that Taipei having so few public trash cans is inconvenient for its residents, to which Lee commented: “I feel the same, thanks.” As the debate heated up, Lee on Wednesday said that the Taipei Department of Environmental Protection would assess the issue.
Taipei Mayor Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) said a survey by the city’s Research, Development and Evaluation Commission in 2020 showed that 70 percent of residents favored more public trash cans. His administration would implement garbage disposal policies based on professional assessments, he added.
Many public trash cans were removed per order of the administration of then-Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) in 2015, reducing their number to about 1,800 from 3,100. City officials at the time said illegal disposal of household trash bags frequently caused the cans to overflow. In 2020, another 500 trash cans were removed, with officials citing COVID-19 prevention as the reason.
Ko on Tuesday said that instead of adding trash cans, the city government should educate Taipei residents. People should reduce the amount of trash they produce and take what they produce during the day back home, Ko said. He on Thursday added that managing public trash cans is costly, as they need to be emptied every two hours, adding that it is impossible to install a surveillance camera at every trash can to ensure that people do not dispose of household waste.
Former Taipei deputy mayor Vivian Huang (黃珊珊) said Taipei’s garbage bag fee policy, as well as recycling efforts, have been successful. However, she said there was a painful transition period after the number of public trash cans was reduced, but residents increasingly disposed of all their garbage at home, making Taipei cleaner than many global cities. Taipei should not reverse course on its trash can policy based on popular opinion, she said.
A borough warden said more public trash cans would encourage people to dispose of their household trash in them, as they would seek to avoid buying garbage bags. Residents expressed differing opinions online, with some voicing concern about increased workload for cleaning workers, trash overflow and sanitary problems, while other residents, as well as city councilors, said that the illegal disposal of trash by a few people should not dictate a policy that affects the convenience of all residents.
Issues regarding public trash cans are common in major cities. Local authorities have dealt with them differently, based on their priorities. Tokyo has removed most public trash cans for security reasons after a terror attack on a Tokyo subway station in 1995, and the policy is widely accepted by its residents. A Bloomberg report in 2019 said that Japanese culture valuing cleanliness contributed to the policy’s success. It also said that the Japanese government implemented policies to promote low-waste lifestyles, including removing paper towels in public restrooms, while urging people to bring their own. Trash cans have slowly been reintroduced at train stations and in parks, mostly to reduce littering by foreign tourists.
NBC in 2019 reported that Washington had deployed “trash detectives,” who sought to identify people who disposed of household trash in public trash cans by rummaging through the garbage, and was running campaigns to educate the public about correct disposal.
Taipei’s garbage disposal problem is not about the number and locations of public trash cans; it is about educating the public about reducing waste. The issue needs to be discussed comprehensively among city departments, as well as the private and nonprofit sectors, to encourage residents to adopt low-waste lifestyles.
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