When Taiwanese hear Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” or “Maiden’s Prayer“ by Bądarzewska-Baranowska, it is time to take out the trash. Because that’s when the rubbish trucks in Taiwan come and take the household waste away. For the people of Taiwan, this is also an important moment of social interaction in the night. Read all about the urban phenomenon here.
Classical melodies such as Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and Bądarzewska-Baranowska’s “Maiden Prayer” are ubiquitous sounds in much of the world, present in piano lessons, children’s toys and advertisements. But in Taiwan, the famous jingle is a call to action and a signal for the nightly ritual of trash collection.
Beethoven: a musical call to action 貝多芬：以音樂呼籲採取行動
“I enjoy taking out the trash because it’s a chance to catch up with my friends”, a resident of Taipei told reporters.
Taiwan’s garbage trucks are canary-yellow, often followed by smaller white recycling trucks. At night, they announce that they are close through cheerful jingles, immediately transforming quiet neighbourhoods into something akin to a neighbourhood block party. Residents of all ages leave their homes to bring down the trash, some arriving by bicycle or scooter, some taking the chance to walk their pet.
This strategy of waste management is decades-old in Taiwan. Here, “trash is not allowed to touch the ground” to keep cities as clean as possible. Therefore, residents have to hand-deliver their trash to the truck. Once, Taiwan used to be known as “garbage island”, but now it is surprisingly clean.
台灣的垃圾車是金絲雀黃色的，其次是較小的白色回收車。 晚上，他們通過歡快的叮噹聲宣布他們很親密，立即將安靜的社區變成類似於社區街區派對的東西。 各個年齡段的居民都離開家去倒垃圾，有些人騎自行車或踏板車到達，有些人則趁機遛寵物。
這種廢物管理策略在台灣已有數十年的歷史。 在這裡，“不允許垃圾接觸地面”，以保持城市盡可能清潔。 因此，居民不得不親自將垃圾送到卡車上。 台灣曾經被稱為“垃圾島”，如今卻出奇的干淨。
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Fostering community through garbage collection in Taiwan 通過垃圾收集培育社區
The simple, but efficient use of melodies by Beethoven and Bądarzewska-Baranowska has resulted in cleaner streets, but also in an improved sense of community in many neighbourhoods. People wait for the chimes and then even queue up to have trash picked up. This time is used for small talk, meeting new neighbours, or even striking up a romantic relationship in some cases.
In more upscale neighbourhoods, building managers usually take care of the garbage collection. This means that the managers of neighbouring buildings get a chance to chat and exchange gossip or ideas. The residents who do not come down are arguably missing out on an important part of the evening.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwanese neighbours have been more careful, maintaining a distance in the pickup lines and interacting less. However, many of them appreciated seeing familiar faces, exchanging some gifts or are just having an excuse to get a bit of fresh air during their nightly garbage run.
以貝多芬和特克拉·巴達捷夫斯卡-巴拉諾夫斯卡歌曲旋律號召行動，簡單而有效的使街道變得更乾淨，同時也改善了許多社區的社區意識。 人們等待鐘聲，然後甚至排隊撿垃圾。 這段時間用於閒聊，結識新鄰居，甚至在某些情況下建立浪漫關係。
在更高檔的社區，建築經理通常會負責垃圾收集。 這意味著鄰近建築物的管理人員有機會聊天和交流八卦或想法。 沒有下來的居民可以說錯過了晚上的一個重要部分。
在 COVID-19 大流行期間，台灣鄰居更加小心，在接送線路上保持距離並減少互動。 然而，他們中的許多人喜歡看到熟悉的面孔，交換一些禮物，或者只是在夜間垃圾奔跑中找個藉口來呼吸點新鮮空氣。
From Garbage Island to clean streets 從垃圾島到乾淨街道
Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, used to be known for litter-strewn streets and overfilling landfills. The situation became particularly dire in the 1990s, with many angry residents demanding a better waste collection system.
This resulted in the government initiating a waste-management overhaul. Residents had to buy blue government-issued trash-bags, a kind of tax on producing garbage as well as an incentive for throwing out less. This “Pay as You Throw” system had 4,000 garbage collection points around the city. Illegal dumping became harder and fines for illegal littering increased.
These measures worked well: In 2017, Taiwan had the world’s second-highest household recycling rate. It has also become a world leader in producing as little waste as possible per person. According to Nate Maynard, a Taipei-based expert on waste management, the face-to-face interaction with their own trash forces residents to be more mindful.
In many other countries, people don’t even know when the waste is collected or who takes care of it. In Taiwan, however, Beethoven’s music announces the opportunity to interact and to personally get rid of any trash. Many residents know the truck drivers and have even become friends with them, inspiring a sense of fun in the usually tedious task of garbage collection.
台北，是台灣的首都，曾經以到處都是垃圾的街道和過度填埋的垃圾填埋場而聞名。這種情況在 1990 年代變得尤為嚴峻，許多憤怒的居民要求更好的垃圾收集系統。
這導致政府啟動了廢物管理改革。居民必須購買政府發放的藍色垃圾袋，這是一種對生產垃圾徵稅，也是減少扔垃圾的一種激勵措施。這個“隨收隨付”系統在全市有 4,000 個垃圾收集點。非法傾倒變得更加困難，非法亂扔垃圾的罰款也增加了。
這些措施效果很好：2017 年，台灣的家庭回收率位居世界第二。它還成為了人均產生盡可能少的廢物的世界領導者。台北的廢物管理專家內特·梅納德 (Nate Maynard) 表示，與自己的垃圾面對面的互動迫使居民更加注意。
Who chose the music? 那麼是誰決定歌曲？
It is still a mystery why Beethoven’s “Für Elise” and the “Maiden’s Prayer” are the songs of choice to announce garbage collection. There are several rumours going around, such as the daughter of a health official learning “Für Elise” on the piano or pre-programmed jingles being part of the truck technology.
The New York Times has called these jingles a “Pavlovian call for action” for the Taiwanese. Like the sounds of ice cream trucks in other cities, Beethoven and Bądarzewska-Baranowska have certainly become part of the soundscape in Taiwan. Deviations such as other melodies or English language lessons rather than Beethoven did not prove successful. No one came out when the southern city of Tainan tried replacing Beethoven.
While some neighbours complain that the music is too loud and others resent the idea of having to organise their everyday life around trash collection time, the system is there to stay, say city officials. They cannot think of a better way to make trash collection efficient and even fun.