A few weeks ago I listend to a 99% Invisible podcast about how garbage is handled in Taiwan. I found it absolutely fascinating. And to be quite honest, I’ve been thinking about garbage ever since.

A few years ago, Portland changed its garbage pick-up system. To accomodate composting food scraps and to encourage recycling and composting, garbage service was dropped down from every week to every other week. Recycling and yard waste/compost continued to be picked up weekly.

This caused a bit of an uproar, but now it seems normal. In our house we decided to take things a step further and we only get our garbage picked up every four weeks. At first I thought this would be quite a challenge and I’ll admit we have some months where it is. But we are two people and I really wanted to send less to landfills. I set out to learn all I could about ways to recycle even more and we are rigourous composters now.

I also think a lot more when I buy things about the packaging. Because all of that adds up and through these efforts we’ve done just fine.

But what has intrigued me is the reaction of people when you tell them you only get garbage picked up once every four weeks. We get asked about smell, but since food scraps go out weekly, that’s not a problem, our actual garbage is quite dry (with the exception of meat wrapping). And most people act as if they couldn’t possibly do this.

And then I listed to the above mentioned podcast. Wow. Each night people meet a garbage truck in the road and dispose of their own garbage. There aren’t many public garbage cans, so if you buy a coffee, you take the cup home and throw it out with your garbage. The society changed, it is a cleaner place and people got on board.

In the US our garbage is something to be hidden; out of sight, out of mind. We put out our wheelie bins in the evening, a truck comes along early the next day and it’s just gone. But maybe that’s part of the problem? Maybe if we had to be home and meet a truck and take it out ourselves we would think differently.

This all reinforces my opinion that the only way to get people to do the right thing—when it comes to ecological and climate issues—is to make it difficult and/or expensive to do the wrong thing. Portland made it harder by only collecting garbage every two weeks; people were forced to think more about how much they throw away. And Taiwan took that even further.