Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The joy of civic duty

On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays we recycle paper, clean plastic bags and old clothes. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays it's cans, glass, batteries, oil, unwanted appliances and plastic containers. On a schedule that I confess has not yet become reflexive for me, we dispose of our food scraps -- dividing them into "things that pigs don't eat," such as coffee grounds and egg shells, and "things that pigs do eat," such as everything else. And on each of the trucks' thrice-nightly runs, we unburden ourselves of our plain old trash. After all the recycling, surprisingly little falls into this last category.

It's a marvelous system, not only because of its manic environmental ambition, but also because it provokes a simply awesome display of civic cooperation in a city whose ordinary functioning might generously be described as a sort of enlightened chaos. As soon as the garbage trucks announce their coming with a musicbox rendition of Edelweiss that despite its tinniness is shockingly loud, all the neighborhood housewives, and some of the more forward-thinking househusbands, plus the odd bachelor, come scurrying down from their tenement walk-ups to joyfully fling their pre-sorted waste into appropriate, environmentally-conscious, legally-mandated bins. We get hectored a bit by the garbagemen, but they're paid to hector and can't be blamed.

On man-sized tricycles, freelance recyclers trail the trucks aggregating cardboard for sale at bulk. Who's paying the tricycle-men for cardboard when the city collects tons of the stuff for free? This is a question I cannot ask in my fractured Mandarin. And everyone's speaking Taiwanese to begin with.

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