The nation's recycling efforts have attracted international attention, with representatives from other countries coming to learn from Taiwan's experience, Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) Minister Winston Dang (陳重信) said yesterday.
Dang said the improvements in the trash disposal system were a success story.
Two decades ago, the streets were heavily littered and air and water pollution were significantly worse, he said.
The was EPA quickly established around that time, he said, and immediately set to work drawing up environmental protection measures. Since then, the quality of the environment has steadily improved, while the economy has continued to grow, Dang said.
Dang, who previously worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency, came into office in May when the EPA was engaged in a heated debate over environmental impact assessments for three proposals: a Formosa Plastics Group steel plant in Yunlin County, a Changbin coal-fired power plant and the Suhua Freeway.
"Environmental protection is very difficult work and oftentimes shows very little results," Dang said.
But the nation's success in boosting its recycling rate, which ranks first or second in the world, has captured the attention of many countries that are struggling to improve their recycling programs, he said.
Taiwan's success is a result of taking a different attitude to garbage, Dang said.
While other Asian countries try to figure out what to do with their garbage, Taiwan has learned to see it as "resource." This means recycling as much as possible and creating a multi-stage process that has proven very efficient.
Although it began recycling later than Singapore, where recycling is at 51 percent, Taiwan's overall recycling rate is now 61 percent.
The recycling rate for domestic waste is 36 percent, compared with 32 percent in the US, which also launched its recycling program before Taiwan.
Countries including Germany, Japan, China, the Netherlands and South Africa, as well as South and Central American countries with diplomatic ties with Taiwan, have recognized the nation's achievements and dispatched teams to study its recycling program and legislation.
Japan and China have already implemented recycling programs modeled on Taiwan's system and seen positive results.
Each year, 4.5 billion plastic bottles are recycled in Taiwan, Dang said, adding that the energy saved from this alone was enough to light up all of Taipei City for a month and meant a significant cut in greenhouse gas emissions.
"But this contribution is overlooked by both Taiwan and the rest of the world," he said.
Dang praised NGOs working on the environment, saying they had been highly effective in raising public awareness of the need to protect the environment and to recycle.
He also said that a "Keep Trash off the Ground" campaign had significantly reduced litter on the streets.
"We will keep working to achieve the goal of zero waste," Dang said, adding that the EPA had been tasked with finding more means by which to move society toward sustainability, including encouraging a switch to renewable energy.
Dang said that environmental technology had advanced significantly over the past decade, adding that such technology would help achieve a balance between economic development and environmental protection.
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