Taiwan was once known as ‘Garbage Island’. Now it’s a model of recycling success

In the ’80s and ’90s, Taiwan had one of the world’s worst urban waste problems. Its landfills overflowed and mountains of rubbish clogged street corners, earning it the unflattering moniker “Garbage Island.” Fed up with the accumulation of waste, people across the country demanded action. They burned trash in the streets and rallied at dumping sites, making it clear to the government that change was necessary.

Over the next two decades, the government overhauled the waste management infrastructure of the island from root to branch, investing in waste trucks and recycling plants and switching from landfills to incineration. New regulations compelled companies and consumers to share the physical and financial burden of recycling and garbage collection, establishing personal accountability and incentivizing people to produce less waste in the first place.

Today, Taiwan’s 55% recycling rate is among the highest the world, up from virtually zero three decades ago. For comparison, the U.S. recycling rate is 34.7% and the European Union’s is 46%. The average Taiwanese person produces 850 grams (1.9 pounds) of waste daily, down from 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) 15 years ago. In the U.S., the average was 4.4 pounds per person per day in 2013.

Taiwan has made massive improvements, but it’s not stopping there. This year, Taiwan committed to banning all single-use plastics — including bags, disposable cups, utensils and straws — by 2030.

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Taiwan was once known as ‘Garbage Island’. Now it’s a model of recycling success

In the ’80s and ’90s, Taiwan had one of the world’s worst urban waste problems. Its landfills overflowed and mountains of rubbish clogged street corners, earning it the unflattering moniker “Garbage Island.” Fed up with the accumulation of waste, people across the country demanded action. They burned trash in the streets and rallied at dumping sites, making it clear to the government that change was necessary.

Over the next two decades, the government overhauled the waste management infrastructure of the island from root to branch, investing in waste trucks and recycling plants and switching from landfills to incineration. New regulations compelled companies and consumers to share the physical and financial burden of recycling and garbage collection, establishing personal accountability and incentivizing people to produce less waste in the first place.

Today, Taiwan’s 55% recycling rate is among the highest the world, up from virtually zero three decades ago. For comparison, the U.S. recycling rate is 34.7% and the European Union’s is 46%. The average Taiwanese person produces 850 grams (1.9 pounds) of waste daily, down from 1.2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) 15 years ago. In the U.S., the average was 4.4 pounds per person per day in 2013.

Taiwan has made massive improvements, but it’s not stopping there. This year, Taiwan committed to banning all single-use plastics — including bags, disposable cups, utensils and straws — by 2030.

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