Sound Off! – Trash Cans

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen people walking the streets of Taiwan while casually unloading a piece of trash right on the street – without so much as a single thought about it. I’ve even stopped people to ask them to pick up the trash they just threw, and they responded as if I’m a crazy person. Who would even think of putting a piece of trash in their pocket or holding it in their hand until a proper place to dispose of it could be found? Just about no one….

Shao Hui's

Restaurants like Shao-hui’s may have individual trash cans at each table

But in all fairness, the reason that most people don’t think about it is because there is a distinct lack of trash cans in public places in Taiwan. I know because I’ve searched for them and finally gave up and just threw whatever I was holding on the ground, out of frustration. While some places have trash cans inside, and certainly in restaurants you may dispose of whatever you want right on the table as you’re leaving, finding an outdoor trash can is so rare that I only have photos of a single example:

Blogger Grill Party

On the other side of the wall behind the people is a blue trash can. This is the only outdoor trash can that I am aware of in my entire neighborhood. This includes a High Life and two 7-11 stores. Why is there a lack of outdoor trash cans?

I believe that the answer is simple. In Taiwan, citizens stand outside each night and wait for the trash truck to come by so they can toss their trash bags into the truck. It’s my guess that no one wants to take responsibility for tossing someone else’s trash. It’s hard to find a trash can even in public parks – which I find inexcusable but the situation is totally acceptable to local people who don’t know any other way.

What about you? Even been stuck walking around with an empty drink bottle or paper food wrapper because there was no proper place to throw it away? Have you ever been forced to discard trash on the street because there was no other alternative?

My last question to all our local readers is: Would you be willing to participate in a neighborhood cleanup action, where the streets were swept clean and the trash collected and properly disposed of?

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  2. I also have this problem. I think there are two reasons for the lack of public trash cans: (1) public trash cans would actually discourage people from throwing away trash at the right time — people would drop off their home trash in the public cans, and they’d quickly fill and overflow. You’ll note the warnings on the few public trash cans that exist about a fine for dropping in home garbage.

    (2) The public service system is set up to send street sweepers out every morning instead of to regularly empty public trash cans.

    It’s worse in some rural areas I’ve seen where there’s less regular clean up — you’ll be walking down some small street on the way to a temple and see clothes, even rotting couches, cigarette boxes and bags of trash scattered along the roadside.

    A-gus last blog post..More signs of the times

    1. A-gu » where we live the sweepers come so infrequently that there are islands of trash in the streets. add the stray dogs to that and it gets really bad in some areas.

  3. Hi MJ. As you would know this is a really big problem here in Thailand and I have blogged about it as well. The reason most do it the same as you stated, the lack of trash cans.

    When mum and dad where here just a month ago they couldn’t believe that in Bangkok there just aren’t any trash cans to put rubbish. I had to insist they throw the rubbish at a base of a tree or light pole. Back in Australia you don’t do it.

    The other problem is that parents of young kids don’t tell them this is a bad thing, they don’t say a word. So no-one is teaching that it is wrong.

    We have a good garbage pick up system and most people have bins, mine is used by others near me but I don’t mind too much except when they don’t use garbage bags and throw dirty smelly shit into the bin, really pisses me off.

    Bruntys last blog post..A concert and cheap phone cards, Thailand.

    1. Brunty » i yelled at at Thai guy here the other day. he was 4 feet away from a trash can and he threw something on the ground. i said “hey! what are you doing? this isn’t Thailand! throw that away over there” and he got quite embarrassed and did pick up the piece of trash and throw it in the can. as you said, his mother never taught him. stupid! in the US we used to say “your mother doesn’t work here – who’s going to clean that up?” it’s really true – people don’t stop to think about who is going to clean all that crap up. i’ve heard jokes about the next typhoon taking it away. it’s all just great fun with no responsibility!

  4. In Tainan there is almost no public trash cans either. As I have been raised not to through trash on the street, I still can’t do it … though I admit sometimes I am just frustrated also. 7-11s here though have usually a trashcan inside. And as they are on almost every corner, I do usually just walk in and through my empty bottle there. In return I usually buy a new one 🙂
    About the reasons for no trashcans … I agree with previous comments. I guess they are afraid people would misuse them. But I am not sure what would actually be cost effective … having people sweep the streets or sending a garbage truck to empty it …

    Helens last blog post..Blending in to local business environment

    1. Helen » the garbage pickup already exists. this is about people not wanting the responsibility of emptying the cans and putting new bags in the cans.

  5. MJ,

    just toss your small trash or bottle into an empty motorcycle helmet hanging on a scooter’s handle bars. 🙂

    The lack of public garbage cans is amazing to me. I wound up carrying my stuff in a bag until i could find a garbage can to toss it in. i think it has something to do with the government taxing the garbage bags. If Taiwan set up a lot of public garbage cans, I bet a lot of cheap people would toss all of their household trash into it to save 2 NT a day!

    owshawngs last blog post..The Recession Hits Home

  6. 7-11 and the other convenience stores used to have trash cans outside. They moved them inside (and many other places got rid of them entirely) when the govt started the fine system (as in money not as in good) for incorrect separating of trash and recycling. If some random person throws their bottle into the wrong bin outside 7-11, it’s the 7-11 that gets fined. Hence the lack of trash cans.

    cfimagess last blog post..Bamboo

  7. We have the same problem here of people throwing their trash on the ground all over the place. The difference tho is… there are LOTS of trashcans outside here.

    Many of cities and towns around here are getting new “solar powered” trashcans that will even compact the trash when it gets to a certain level so they don’t have to be emptied as often.

    Yet… people still throw their trash on the ground here 🙁

    1. mike01905 » there is just no excuse for that behavior in the US anymore. my guess is that most of that thrown trash on the street is from recent immigrants. when i lived in Lynn that’s how it looked to me.

    1. Boyd R. Jones » i think the other’s comments are correct Boyd – it’s about not wanting to take responsibility for the trash.

  8. I heard that it cost NT$17,000 to set up a single public garbage can (this was in the nineties).

    Recently, I saw a woman standing in front of an MRT Station (there are garbage cans inside), dumping a makeup wrapper on the ground. I picked it up and suggested she “ought to love her country”. I think patriotic blackmail works, because she said “sorry”.

    Unless I’m wrong, shopkeepers in Taipei can get a fine for not keeping the sidewalks in front of their shops clean. So, in a way, there is a neighborhood cleanup in place, in Taipei at least.

    Do you still have a typhoon blog?

    Patrick Cowsills last blog post..Taiwan Hospice Headline

    1. Patrick Cowsill » wow, that’s whacked – costs money to set up a trash can! good call about the “patriotic blackmail” (great phrase!). i told that Thai guy that he wasn’t in Thailand and that this is Taiwan. once i actually said “your mother doesn’t work here” like i used to say in the ‘States and i was surprised how well that worked!

      i’m going to do a cleanup at the end of summer. i want to make a statement and show the local people that it can be done and that it’s worth it.

      yes, the typhoon blog is here:

      thanks Patrick.

  9. Hi,

    I live in Banciao. My neighbourhood is quite clean (to my standard), maybe those disposals are recyclable, so the ah-ma (old grandma) picked them before I see them. Only dog shits a lot in our park and the streets:(

    Personally I always carry my rubbish till I find a bin when I am outside.

    I was a London student (England). You wouldn’t find any bin either in the street, when I complained this to my British classmate, he told me that the terrorists (IRA) put bomb in the bin, so they removed the bin.

    1. Hsu » so what’s the excuse in Taiwan? i don’t buy that “terrorist” BS either. i’ve been in airports that had clear plastic trash cans so the contents were clearly visible. thanks for your comments Hsu.

  10. “Unless I’m wrong, shopkeepers in Taipei can get a fine for not keeping the sidewalks in front of their shops clean. So, in a way, there is a neighborhood cleanup in place, in Taipei at least.”

    I was at the Tree House Museum in Tainan last weekend. The exhibit focused on the Dutch era, from 1624 – 61. They mentioned how much cleanliness meant to these early Taiwanese pioneers, stating that people in the Anping township were fined if they failed to keep the area in front of their homes and businesses clean. The tone was that this policy caused the Taiwanese a lot of stress – they couldn’t understand why the Dutch would want to waste so much of their time cleaning.

    It seems the regulation has stuck, to become part of Taiwanese culture.

    Patrick Cowsills last blog post..Bali, Taiwan / Canadian Racism

    1. Patrick Cowsill » i wish it stuck here in Hukou. one place has so much dogsh*t and pee out front (because they feed and shelter the strays) that it smells horrible. people walk down the street and just blow off whatever they’re unwrapping. i think the main point is that mothers aren’t teaching their children not to litter. that’s interesting about the Dutch and the point made regarding the stress on the local people. i’m sure the Japanese era was one of cleanliness too. maybe now the condition of Taiwan is the result of rebellion against the standards of former colonials?

  11. ” maybe now the condition of Taiwan is the result of rebellion against the standards of former colonials”

    I think the condition of Taiwan now is the standard of the Chinese colonials.

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