SMMart Waste Management Pays off in Taiwan

Some 99.99% of Taiwan's MSW is properly treated, with recycling at over 40%. Angelina Jao explains how the country is determined its sustainable materials management systems can do better.

align="middle"> By 2011, Taiwan was properly disposing of 80% of its industrial waste and 90% of its medical wastes

According to a recent report by Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration, the country's rate of properly-treated municipal solid waste has reached 99.99%, with recycling at over 40%, and enterprise waste recycling as high as 84%. But Taiwan is determined its sustainable materials management systems can do better.

by Angelina Jao

Achieving zero-waste is a common goal shared by municipalities across continents. For Taiwan, an island nation of 23.2 million people, leveraging sustainable materials management (SMM) systems is seen as the way to achieving this goal.

According to a July report issued by Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), the country's rate of properly-treated municipal solid waste (MSW) has reached 99.99%, MSW recycling is over 40%, and enterprise waste recycling is at 84%. Latest figures show nearly 3 million tonnes of recycled materials across 33 regulated categories nationwide, an increase of nearly 34,200 tonnes from the previous year.

Taiwan is determined its SMM systems can do better. By 2013, the restructuring and consolidation of 118 agencies and their associated databases will be completed, and the EPA will be renamed the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. Its export-driven high-tech economy is dominated by resource-hungry industries, including semiconductors and integrated circuits, optoelectronics/photovoltaics, communications technology, consumer packaged goods (CPG), plastics, and textiles. Using 220.8 million MWh of electricity annually, exporting $325.1 billion worth of products, Taiwan has a $466.8 billion GDP (18th in the world) and the world's fourth largest foreign reserves. It imports over 98% of its energy and raw materials.

The EPA sees SMM as the next phase of Taiwan's integrated waste management evolution, and has adopted the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) definition. In late 2005, the OECD stated, "Sustainable Materials Management is an approach to promote sustainable materials use, integrating actions targeted at reducing negative environmental impacts and preserving natural capital throughout the life-cycle of materials, taking into account economic efficiency and social equity." The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) uses the term "Sustainable Resources Management".

Government programs

Central to SMM (SRM) is control; without it, resource-efficient economic growth would be impossible. The national EPA and its local EPAs work with municipal administrators, industry, academia, NGOs, and other stakeholders on systems to control how resources are used and recycled into new products or incinerated.

The EPA was founded just 25 years ago, in August 1987. By 1990, the 179 new landfills that had been built the previous six years were already rapidly nearing capacity, filled mainly by enterprise waste which greatly exceeds MSW.

The administration needed more mechanisms to bring the breakneck pace of economic growth closer into balance with social and environmental needs. By 1989 the EPA and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) had created the Joint Waste Reduction Task Force. Programs were implemented targeting industries' waste minimisation, resource reduction, recycling, and reuse. Large corporations were required to pass through IWM requirements to their satellite locations. Multiple programs were implemented by the Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) of the MOEA, the agency responsible for industrial development programs throughout Taiwan, to ensure stakeholders understood the requirements.

Since extended producer responsibilities and sustainable materials management concepts in general were novel to most enterprises in 1990, the IDB encouraged adoption by employing public awareness promotions, awards programs, sector-specific educational training courses, and technical assistance. By the end of 1995, the joint task force had established the National Center for Cleaner Production, to provide deeper life-cycle analysis of CPGs, benchmarking comparisons of selected manufacturing processes to find greater SMM efficiencies. MOEA also co-sponsored nearly 80 R&D industrial waste reduction projects.Financial incentives were also used to help industries engage in SMM at a faster rate.

As a result, within seven years solid waste was reduced by 26,653 tonnes/year, CO2 reduced 58,186 tonnes/year, wastewater reduced 1.3 million tonnes/year, and electricity conserved at 487,000 MWh/year. Today, 14 categories of 33 items (13 types of containers and 20 types of commodities) are "regulated recyclable waste".

The 4-in-1 Recycling System

How has Taiwan been able to achieve these benchmarks since the EPA's founding 25 years ago? The head of the EPA, Minister Stephen Shu-Hung Shen explains: "[The] political will of the people is very strong. NGOs are very strong, and model good environmental stewardship action to the general public."

According to the minister working with NGOs to build consensus is important to changing behaviour, and if people understand the importance of coming to a consensus and adjusting their daily behaviour to protect the environment and the economy, then change will occur. To achieve SMM policy goals, and build buy-in and consensus, the EPA developed a unique, all stakeholder-inclusive, comprehensive mechanism, the '4-in-1 Resource Recycling System'. The first of the four steps saw community-based NGOs organised to promote the source separation of waste.

The second step involved the development of a private recycling industry and the purchasing of recyclables from communities and Municipal Garbage Collection Teams encouraged

The third step saw Municipal Garbage Collection Teams separate and collect MSW and recyclables, and provide a preset portion of the proceeds from the sale of resources to participating organisations and workers.

In the final of the four steps a Recycling Management Fund was established and to efficiently regulate recycling activities, the EPA established the Recycling Fund Management Board (RFMB) in 1998. The EPA sets fees which not only manufacturers, but also importers, must pay into the Recycling Management Fund, which supports program costs (including actual collection and recycling work, subsidies for education, auditing, and certifications).

In past years, the Fund has managed an average "collection, disposal and treatment fee" (CDTF) of $208.5 million/year.

Law Enforcement

When the EPA evolves into the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR), the Waste Disposal Act and the Resource Recycling Act will likely be combined as the ministry leverages its new formidable database.

Since 2000, specific industries have been required to use the EPA's user-friendly online waste tracking and reporting system, the Industrial Waste Control Report System (IWCRS), to report waste within 24 of it being shipped, received, or completely treated. The Waste Disposal Act stipulates that all garbage trucks must pass specifications and maintenance tests, and have permits for transportation and disposal, as well as GPS tracking systems, transmitting the truck's location every 30 seconds to the IWCRS. As of 2011, 5872 trucks had passed the test out of an estimated 7000 in operation nationwide. Industrial hazardous and toxic waste trucks are closely monitored, and employ barcode scanners to check manifests and compare data between generators and transporters' disposal routes. If a truck leaves its route, or enters a water source protection area, alarm systems will automatically dispatch inspectors, who have PDAs connected to the system, for immediate on-site investigations. In 2010, 432 suspected violations were discovered, and 58 citations were issued. The IWCRS is the most visited website of all Taiwanese government websites â approximately half a million businesses, nearly all major industrial waste generators, use the reporting system.

On Dec. 30, 2011, the EPA brought its Illegal Dumping Management System online to create a database of dump sites around using GPS satellites to discover unreported sites. Database auditing and mining assist inspectors in discovering violations, which trigger on-site inspections of waste generators. Stiff fines and penalties are stipulated for corporations and individuals who violate the law, including up to NT$15 million ($500,000) in fines and three years to life imprisonment . The EPA mandates over 10,000 on-site inspections annually, but acknowledges that more inspectors are needed, and has implemented an education, training, and certification system to address any possible false reporting.

SMM Results

As a result of enforcement policies, significant improvements continue to be documented. Between the 2004 implementation of the waste separation policy and 2011, MSW collected dropped 38.4%, recyclables increased 96.6%, and most impressively, kitchen waste collected increased 171.1%. The rate of recyclable materials collected has been calculated by the the EPA to be at 40.4% in 2011 and 10.74% for kitchen waste.

To build on this, by September new regulations for registering, managing and CCTV monitoring of resource recycling will go into effect to improve the 10,000 formal and informal recycling centres around the nation.

In 2010, about 16.8 million tonnes of general industrial waste was reported by industries (generators), haulers (transporters), and treatment, storage and disposal facilities (TSDFs).

The Waste Disposal Act requires 25,861 generators, 4963 transporters, and 865 TSDFs to make online reports on the IWCRS, although over 466,000 firms now use the system. These generators represent 22% of the total generators on the island, and generate 80% of the waste annually. The remaining 20% of waste are generated by small-quantity generators. As of 2011, 80% of industrial waste and 90% of medical wastes have been properly disposed.

Benefits of Technology

The EPA's system provides savings and efficiencies to generators, by allowing generators to self-audit, even enabling parent companies control over reported data of its subsidiaries. Reporting functions are robust, including statistical analysis of temporary storage, permitted quantities, disposal quantity trends, GPS tracking inquiries, as well as automated alert systems.

The IWCRS also permits waste disposal facilities to track quantities as well as condition of post-treatment materials for possible reuse. All waste is accounted for and properly treated. The system audits waste manifests against permits for disposal, treatment, and recycling. Illegal dumping is now nearly under control, with a shrinking number of cases being pursued by the EPA. "We have removed the illegal economic advantages of the violators," states Shen.

The Promise of Zero-Waste

The effectiveness of SMM has resulted in 84% of industrial wastes being recycled, and the remaining 16% treated by the waste generators themselves, or through contracted professional services. Proper treatment of hazardous wastes is now at 60%, and the EPA and MOEA are evaluating ways to improve this rate. In March, the EPA announced a new NT$20 million ($674,000) fund to award grants for R&D into recycling methods and carbon footprint calculations for recycling methods for waste bio-plastics, e-waste, and each category of spent battery - all products posing particular challenges to the recycling system.

It was only in 1984 that Taiwan first began construction of sanitary landfills, and not until 1991 were the first incinerators built. Today, 21 government-owned and three privately-owned waste to energy incinerators treat approximately 20,000 tonnes of MSW daily, generating 8000 MWh/day of electricity. All 150 incinerators in Taiwan are gradually being transformed into regional biomass energy centres. The remaining landfills are being shut down after reaching capacity, and future byproducts of incinerators will be used for land reclamation.

Taiwan's SMM policies have transformed from earlier 'end-of-pipe treatment' to the current 'zero-waste' mechanisms, and rates continue to improve by strategically progressing through step-by-step measures for 'source reduction' and 'resource recycling and reuse'. However, Taiwan's achievements in waste recycling are resulting in over-supply of incineration capacity, and private operators which won contracts based on low bids are seeking other feedstock to replace high-calorific waste like plastic and tyres that are being recycled out of the waste stream.

The treatment of hazardous wastes (HW) needs to improve as well; the latest numbers from the EPA indicate that in 2010, the top three types by volume are: electric arc smelting furnace ash, copper sludge, and waste solution. The EPA is evaluating what can be done to retrofit current mass burn incinerators for better combined heat and power (CHP) energy returns, as contract terms near their end.

The recovery of additional challenging materials, such as copper, from the waste stream is another area the EPA and MOEA are evaluating. According to EPA officials, the former models of Build-Operate-Transfer or Build-Operate-Own are also under evaluation.


A combination of the Waste Disposal Act, the Resource Recycling Act, strategic policy mechanisms, and leveraging technology to give enforcement teeth, has already yielded significant positive results in Taiwan. The present and near term sustainable materials management landscape includes a new generation waste to energy systems to replace aging mass burn incinerators operating well below capacity, mining landfills for recyclables, and projects to determine how to capitalise on recovered materials such as copper.

As Taiwan's extensive stakeholder consensus-building programs take root in the remainder of its society and recycling rates continue, policy-makers are seeking greater efficiencies in the next generation of technology.

The reclamation of hundreds of dump and landfill sites will continue to be a priority, as will upgrading waste to energy facilities, collection trucks, and recycling systems. Multinationals, particularly in consumer packaged goods and electronics, have already experienced benefits resulting from Taiwan's SMM policies. This trend is projected to continue across other industries.

Angelina Jao is a Masters Candidate at Harvard University

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