New York City’s trash hour is ruled by rats, but in Taiwan, it’s the gossip’s hour. On Tuesday, the New York Times wrote about the country’s sanitation practices, which involve bright-yellow trucks playing classical music that summons residents who bring their garbage directly into the truck — no piling up on the curb allowed. It’s a neighborly routine that has helped to keep the streets clear of litter, the household recycling rate high, and waste-per-person rates low. (Before Taiwan implemented this system, they also had to deal with a rash of trash rats.) But more importantly, it’s also kept petty gossip plentiful. When the trucks roll up, everyone in the neighborhood gets to see each other and gab. As one resident told the Times, “I enjoy taking out the trash because it’s a chance to catch up with my friends.”
Oh, to enjoy taking out the trash because it’s a chance to catch up with your friends! Instead, I have to regularly pause in order to let the rats — whom I love as individuals but hate the power they have as a collective — cross the sidewalk as they run in and out of trash piles. The sanitation system in New York City has long been flawed, with garbage put directly on the sidewalk rather than contained in any way. Many neighborhoods are also neglected, with poorer neighborhoods often overburdened with processing an outsize amount of the city’s trash. Imagine instead of piles of trash sitting in the snow, we could have trash gossip time. (The trucks in Taiwan play Beethoven, but in my fantasy, the garbage trucks would play the light tune of “The Middle” by Zedd.)
As the Times explained, the model is also designed to encourage more reflection about what gets tossed out. Taipei residents have to buy government-issued trash bags, which encourages throwing away less trash, and more than 4,000 garbage collection points were set up around the city. One waste-management expert told the Times that the country’s practice of hand-delivering trash makes residents more aware of their output and “forces you to come face-to-face with your own trash production.”
It’s an isolated time when the challenge of in-person gatherings has left many of our communities frayed. Taiwan’s approach to trash collection seems like a fantasy — neighbors, gossip, and an end to rat supremacy! — but it’s also a model to aspire to: no trash and lots of trash talk.