Lanyu calls on tourists to take garbage back to Taiwan  

'Don’t take away the happiness of Lanyu and leave only garbage!' Local activists asking tourists to carry their trash back to main island

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LANYU (Taiwan News)--Taiwan’s remote Orchid Island (Lanyu) is now struggling with a growing amount of waste due to the increasing number of tourists.

Since Lanyu’s tourism industry started booming a decade ago, more than 130,000 people travel to the small island each year, and leave behind around 1500 tons of waste per year. To reduce the amount of garbage, local activists are now calling on tourists to “carry one more kilogram,” and to “take back your own garbage.”

Despite the hard work of the activists, the situation has worsened since the Kenting-Lanyu-Green Island-Taitung ferry route was launched.

Island hoppers or travelers visiting for a one-day have begun to burdened and even destroy the ecology of the Island. The local government currently treats over 120 tons of garbage every month, which is almost double in comparison to amounts of years' previous.

These conditions have resulted from the combined effects of increased tourism and the failing of the local social system.

Situated 76 kilometers from the southeast coast of Taiwan’s main island, Lanyu is home to the Tao, an indigenous group that migrated to the island 800 years ago. The island consists of six tribes (settlements) and practices a nonhierarchical social structure, which is respected by the county government. 

In the past, the male heads of families and members of the fishing communities of the six tribes were called upon to resolve disputes. For a dispute to reach a final resolution, all parties involved would have to reach a unanimous consensus.

After the KMT assumed control of Taiwan and introduced modern governmental mechanisms to Lanyu, the town offices gradually became administrative centers.

With the increasing number of tourists each year, many young Tao have abandoned their fishing and farm work to engage in the tourism business. 

Appalled by the amount of waste that was accumulating on the beautiful island, a local shop owner named Lin Cheng-Wen began a campaign eight years ago to recycle waste oil and PET bottles, without any financial support. He provided large green net bags for each tribe to gather recycled waste, and then used a machine to compress bottles and cans into cubes and ship them back to Taiwan.

In the beginning, Lin had a hard time convincing locals among the six settlements to sort their waste and recycle due to their lack of recycling awareness. To persuade them, Lin told locals that recycling would not only reduce environmental impacts but also generate income if they would sell the waste back to the recycling center.

Locals gradually came to an understanding and followed Lin’s idea of putting recycling waste in the green net bags for processing. But some people accused Lin of recycling purely for money.

Lin was disappointed and stopped collecting the green bags after years of single-handedly collecting the waste produced by tourists and locals.

“Lanyu’s environment is not a single person’s responsibility, ” Lin said. He later established the “Lanyu Environmental Education Association,” a local NGO dedicating to protecting the ecosystem, promoting the traditional ecological wisdom and sustaining the development of the island’s culture.

His ideals and devotion attracted friends and volunteers to join his team. They turned the association site into a shed made from recycled PET bottles and named it “Kasiboan,” which means “place to gather garbage” in the Tao language. The site has become a new tourist attraction on the Island.

Kashiboan is now used as a venue for events and workshops, environmental volunteers hold a variety of activities that promote sustainable tourism and encourage tourists to take action to protect the island’s environment.

Much to Lin’s relief, although he stopped collecting the waste years ago, the local government has now taken over the responsibility of collecting recyclable waste on the island and adopted the methods that Lin successfully promoted among the six tribes, using the green net bags to collect recyclable garbage.

Like many other Tao residents of Lanyu, Lin misses the old days when life was simpler and the islanders were content with their lives as fishermen. “Don’t take away the happiness of Lanyu and leave only garbage,” Lin said.