Friday, January 20, 2023

F ³: Clean Up Time!


From the “music makes everything better” files comes this story about musical trash trucks:

Classical trash: how Taiwan’s musical bin lorries transformed ‘garbage island’, The Guardian, Helen Davidson and Chi Hui Lin in Taipei

I spotted this photo on December 26th and I suspect is the kind of story that journalists prepare in advance to be run during what is called “dead week”, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. 

Army of yellow garbage trucks blasting out classical jingles brings out a Pavlovian response to take out bins.

In an effort to improve resident participation in trash collection, Taiwan purchased trash trucks that came loaded with a tune: Für Elise, by Beethoven. A second piece, A Maiden’s Prayer, by Badarzewska-Baranowska, was added later.

In the Taipei suburb of Guting, Ms Chen, 60, sits on the steps of a Buddhist temple with her neighbour waiting for the trucks to arrive. They and the surrounding neighbours are dressed casually, some in pyjamas and hair curlers, chatting or looking at their phones.

Chen can’t remember the first time she heard the jingle. “It was many, many years ago, a very long time ago,” she tells the Guardian. “Whenever I hear the music, I always think that I need to hurry up to take out the garbage.”

Buying the musical trucks was only one piece of the solution. It’s a coordinated system which involves different colored trash bags for different kinds of trash, and it relies on community members to carry the bags down to the curb and toss them into the appropriate trucks. None of this “rolling your wheelie bins down to the curb” that many of us are used to.

It’s a team effort. 

Taiwan is an island. There’s nowhere for their trash to go if they don’t aggressively deal with it on a daily basis. And the musical trucks have been surprisingly successful.

Mr Li, a 32-year-old binman in Taipei: “Whenever I hear Für Elise, I feel like I need to take out the garbage as well.”

When I first read this story I was charmed by the idea of music making a difference in shaping public behavior. As a preschool teacher I often used familiar songs to mark transition times in the school day. (Clean up time, anyone?) But, as I read, I realized that these were not high quality recordings of classical pianists playing as the trucks rolled down the street. 

What these trucks are playing is the classical equivalent of what American ice cream trucks play. Every single day. At six in the morning.

I am not a fan of modern ice cream truck music. I love the concept of ice cream trucks. I have happy childhood memories of hearing the bicycle bell sound of the Uncle Marty ice cream truck driving down our street in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. I won’t drag you any further into my childhood memories but the important point is that old school ice cream trucks were not the brainscrambling noise machines that they are today.

I’m having trouble imagining Americans welcoming the classical trash trucks into our lives OR complying to the degree that the residents in this story are expected to do. Heck, we can’t even get everyone to wear masks during a worldwide pandemic. Responding to a perky musical cue at six in the morning? Hanging around to throw the bags into multiple trucks? 

I’m dubious about that.

Nevertheless, two things stick with me from this article:

1. The musical trash trucks are a part of a government response to a very real problem with garbage and they have had a big impact.

2. This interesting aside from a resident: 

Chen likes the neighbourly catchups the chore enables while they all wait. “If someone hasn’t come out for a long time, I would wonder if anything happened to them [and I check on them].”

I’ve heard it said that the communal mailboxes in Columbia were intended to promote neighborly communication. Would the six am musical trash drill do the same? Or even be more likely to get residents chatting? And could that be a good thing?

If you’re curious about what this looks like in action, there are a number of videos available on YouTube. And, honestly, the sound quality isn’t anywhere near as bad as I expected.

Some Friday fun: what song would motivate you to bring your trash bags down in Columbia/HoCo?

Village Green/Town² Comments 

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