Beethoven and biodiesel made from waste cooking oil; never shall they be parted.

Published January 30, 2007 9:40PM (EST)

To this day, when you hear the tune of Für Elise wafting up from the Taipei city streets, you know it is time to gather your garbage and charge down the stairs in a frantic hurry not to miss the sanitation man. Yes, it is true, garbage trucks in Taiwan frequently blare out a mangled version of one of Beethoven's most well-known tunes, popularized to generations of American children as the ice cream truck song.

That sound, and the corresponding aroma, came back to me in a Proustian flash a few moments ago when I read the news that Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration has announced that starting this summer, every Taiwanese household will be required to recycle its waste cooking oil for the purposes of biodiesel production. (Thanks to the Oil Drum for the link.)

Starting in July, when residents of Taiwan hear the mangled melody of Beethoven's "Bagatelle in A minor," they will grab their used cooking oil and deposit it in special bins attached to the garbage trucks. And they will do so with the satisfaction of knowing that they are helping to wean their nation from precarious dependence on foreign petroleum.

Even better -- according to the China Post, "since 2005, the EPA has subsidized the trial use of biodiesel on 780 garbage trucks in thirteen counties and cities across Taiwan" and plans are in place to replace all diesel fuel for sale to consumers with biodiesel by July 2008. That waste cooking oil isn't just going into a special waste bin on the garbage truck -- it's going to end up fueling the garbage truck itself.

Think about that, the next time you hear Für Elise.


Taipei resident Philip Diller adds some more detail to the Taiwanese garbage situation:

There are two rounds of trucks now. First the garbage trucks. You can only throw stuff into the trucks with regulation garbage bags -- these are "expensive" bags that you can buy most anywhere. Furthermore, if you get caught throwing recyclables into the trash truck this will get you into a heap of trouble and considerable fines. The second truck is the recycling truck -- picking up paper, plastic, glass -- and even kitchen waste (i.e. slop) -- these are often preceded by a caravan of unofficial waste haulers towing unreasonably stacked three wheelers collecting the idle "valuable" refrigerator, television or stack of newspapers -- just in advance of the city trucks.

Recycling is so efficient that the forest of incinerators planned to go on line a decade ago stand starved. One of the biggest visual impacts was when Taipei outlawed vendors giving consumers plastic bags and also disposable trays and eating utensils. If you really want a bag at check-out, you have to buy it, usually for 1 to 3 NT. That virtually made the omnipresent Wang Yong-qing signature striped pink plastic bag disappear.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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