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In Taiwan, finding a place to dispose garbage is harder than finding the money to do it

A "Garbage War" raging for the better part of a year is finally dying down in Yunlin, with 30,000 tons of waste piled in the Central Taiwan county now being gradually sent to incinerators in other counties and cities.

But it was only Yunlin's most recent trash trouble, which has continually arisen over the past three years.

Lin Cheng-jou, head of the county's Environmental Protection Bureau, sighs and explains: "The problem with garbage is like an amoeba: it breaks out every once in a while in a new form. Even now, we've only given it a temporary fix."

There are currently 24 waste incinerators operating in Taiwan, capable of processing 6.5 million tons of garbage every year. The country produces around 4.3 million tons of waste annually, so these incinerators should be more than enough to handle it all.

However, it doesn't work out that way.

The incinerators are distributed unevenly across the nation. A lot of counties and cities such as Yunlin, Nantou and Taitung don't have one within their borders so have to rely on those elsewhere. It's this diffused garbage handling that has become the source of the Garbage Wars fought between local governments every year.

Incinerator Bottom Ash Processing Contractor Dropped the Ball

Yunlin's most recent war started in December 2016 when YT Group, which helps process noncombustible bottom ash that accumulates inside incinerators, was indicted for illegally dumping the product.

Bottom ash needs processing before it can be reused. YT Group handles one-third of all bottom ash in Taiwan, namely that from 10 incinerators in Kaohsiung, Tainan, Taichung and Pingtung.

If the company were to go out of business, these incinerators would have nowhere to send their bottom ash. Therefore, the government acceded to environmental authorities' appeals and allowed the company to continue processing bottom ash despite the indictment.

The incinerators, however, has to take the processed bottom ash back for reuse on their own.

Kaohsiung has the highest incinerator capacity in the nation, with four incinerators handling 1.5 million tons of waste every year, a quarter of which is from other counties and cities. One ton of waste can produce 0.15 to 0.2 tons of bottom ash, meaning that Kaohsiung produces some 250,000 tons of bottom ash a year.

After the YT Group indictment, Kaohsiung came up with a way to solve its bottom ash problem. It decided not to charge other counties and cities for waste processing, instead requiring them to take away 1.8 tons of processed bottom ash for each ton of waste they commissioned Kaohsiung to burn. The Taipei City Council followed suit in January.

"At the time, we thought the 1.8-ton requirement was too much as 1 ton of waste produces only 0.15 to 0.2 tons of ash," an unnamed Environmental Protection Administration official said. "It would be more reasonable if counties and cities were required to take back ash equivalent to 40 to 50 percent in weight of the waste burnt."

However, Yunlin was in urgent need to dispose of its waste and quickly acquiesced to Kaohsiung's demands.

"Once Yunlin said yes, other counties and cities could only follow," the official said.

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