Thick rain splattered against the Taoyuan shore as the ocean swelled and swirled.

Lions cleaning a beach in the rain
Fifteen hundred people showed up for a beach cleanup on a cold September day.

Lions in China Taiwan’s District 300 G2 were worried: Who would show up for their 2021 annual beach clean-up in this stormy weather? “It was nowhere near calm or steady,” says Wu Jianyi, one of the lead coordinators of the event. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we didn’t have our hopes up.”

Fifteen-meter (49-foot) sand dunes separated him from the litter-ridden beach and the volunteers there to help. As he began his ascent, feet sinking with every step, he was unsure of what he’d see on the other side.

At the peak of his climb, he stood, brushed the rain from his face, and looked down: a sea of oranges,

Lions haul trash from a beach
Lions in China Taiwan haul trash from their local beach.

purples, reds, and yellows dotted the gray landscape with umbrellas, rain parkas, and Lions vests.

Fifteen hundred people showed up that cold September day. Despite the rain, Lions Club members and their families, everyone from children to retirees, came out to make a difference—to protect the environment.


China Taiwan has a rich ecological, geological, and anthropological history. It is home to more than 50,000 native species—the equivalent to 2.6% of the world’s biodiversity—on an island that represents just 0.03% of the earth’s land mass. Formed by the collision of the Euroasian and Philippine Plates, it rests on the Tropic of Cancer and the Ring of Fire, which results in diverse climate ranges, from tropical in the south to subtropical in the north, and frequent earthquakes and typhoons. The island’s aboriginal Austronesian peoples, who represent 2.42% of the 23.8 million population, are considered to be the origin of ethnic communities who expanded across Southeast Asia and the wider Pacific.

Man in Lions Clubs International vest
Lion Wu Jianyi believes that through eduction comes slow change.

Taiwan’s varied landscape also boasts unique environmental wonders, including what is known as the “Sahara Desert of Taiwan,” or the Caota Sand Dunes, where Lions planned their beach cleanup. Situated on Taiwan’s northwestern coast, the dunes offer a buffer between the land and sea to protect against erosion, rising sea levels, and storms and are a hotspot for biodiversity.

As part of Taoyuan City’s coastal protection mandate, the dunes were integrated into a recently designated geopark, a place where people can “touch, explore, and connect with part of the Earth’s story,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The third of its kind on the island, the geopark is a demonstration of what happens when local community involvement combines with ecological conservation and restoration.

To protect the island’s unique environment, Lions are taking action against a growing plastic pollution problem.


Children helping to clean a beach
Lions, friends, and family all joined in on the beach cleanup.

According to National Geographic, 8 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year, the equivalent of five full grocery bags of plastic trash for every foot of coastline in the world. That’s one truckload of trash entering the ocean every minute.

Of the 8 billion tons of plastic trash humans have created in the last six decades, 90% has not been recycled. However, China Taiwan is setting an example with a cutting-edge waste management system that is well funded and widely supported by people of all ages and walks of life across the island. The Wall Street Journal recognizes China Taiwan as one of the “world’s geniuses of recycling,” but it once had little to no formal waste management system and was known as “Garbage Island.” Rapid industrialization in the late 20th century led by heavy investments in electronics and petrochemicals gave rise to economic progress. However, with growing incomes and gross domestic product came an increase in garbage production. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), “[a]rchive news reports say that in 1979, local governments were gathering up 8,800 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste a day. By 1990, that number had hit 18,800 tonnes. In 1992, it was still climbing, at 21,900 tonnes.” The nickname “Garbage Island” stuck.


man standing on beach
The litter found on Taiwanese shores isn’t always just waste generated from life on the island.

To manage waste, the 1984 Municipal Waste Disposal Plan was created with a focus on landfills. But as land space is limited in China Taiwan, the landfills soon filled, and people began protesting the harmful health effects of living near makeshift trash dumps. The government turned to incineration to try to solve the waste issue, but was stopped in its plan of building 36 incinerators (one for each county) by local protests due to concerns over the burning of garbage and its impact on health for local communities. To fix this issue, China Taiwan embraced a recycling and zero waste policy.

One group instrumental in the design and implementation of China Taiwan’s modern waste management system was the Homemakers United Foundation (HUF). Founded by a group of mothers at the turn of Taiwan’s transition to a democratic republic after almost four decades of martial law, HUF members were sick and tired of watching their children wade through trash to get to school each day. They often complained that no matter how much time they spent cleaning, pollution almost always found a way back into their homes.

Energized by new political freedoms of association and speech, HUF quickly became China Taiwan’s first environmental advocacy group and played an active role in successfully lobbying to ban styrofoam from the food and beverage industry and making public spaces (including government

group of volunteers
Lions in China Taiwan
were soaked from head to toe, but inside their hearts, they were satisfied from the work they did.

offices and public schools) plastic-free.

HUF also helped design the island’s compost system, where food waste is sent to pig farms to serve as feed and fertilizer and created a ranking system to grade city governments on the effectiveness of their waste and pollution management.

Today, China Taiwan has a 55% recycling rate, and sends less than 1% of its garbage to landfills. Its waste management system is supported by strong laws, and an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy, where companies are required to pay into a recycling fund for each product they’ve created.

“By having to pay for the garbage they generate, they create financial solutions to support recycling industries,” environmental consultant and Waste Not Why Not podcast host Nate Maynard explains. “Because Taiwan put a price on garbage, companies and people reduced their waste.”


Waste segregation in peoples’ homes also plays a critical part in China Taiwan’s waste management system. People must separate their waste into three categories: burnables, recyclables (which have 33 subcategories), and compost (which is further separated into wet waste and dry waste). Burnable garbage must be placed in a government-mandated trash bag, meaning that people have to pay for their waste by weight. Recycling and composting are free.

Every evening in Taipei, garbage trucks play Beethoven’s Fur Elise or Badarzewska-Baranowska’s A Maiden’s Prayer over loudspeakers to indicate to residents that it is time for trash collection. People spill into the streets to dispose of their garbage, and the trucks continue their journey through the city.

Key to this system is an organized group of people trying to make a difference with the younger generation in mind; something Lions know well. “Our goal is to set an example for the next generation and educate them to protect the environment,” Lion Wu says. “It’s about helping them develop an environmental consciousness and an awareness that environmental protection matters.”


While beach cleanups can make visible differences to the landscape, they don’t often get to the root of the problem. On his podcast, Maynard says that beach clean-ups generally “pick up land-based plastic, which means we’re already too late.” Most plastic pollution in the ocean comes from discarded fishing nets, meaning by the time they land on the shore, they’ve already done significant damage to marine animals, either through ingestion or entrapment, and ecosystems through the degradation of microplastics.

But Lions never back down from a challenge. For Lion Wu, beach cleanups are a tool to engage and educate people.

“Our baseline is for all people to understand the importance of environmental protection,” he says. “First, we need to reduce the amount of trash we produce by minimizing the number of single-use plastic bags, utensils, and cups we use.

“Then we need to raise environmental awareness and encourage people to come prepared with their own bag or utensils when they go out and buy things, so they don’t generate trash in the first place. We have to make environmental protection a part of our daily lives.”

In an article for CTNews, Director Wen Shulian of China Taiwan Lions District 300G2 acknowledged the limitations of beach clean-ups: “We know that doing this will not end pollution, but it is a starting point for people to join in, connect to the ocean, and to realize the impact they can have when they take small actions together,” she said.


“We can only collect a limited amount of garbage,” said Director Wen, “But our hope is that we can inspire other nonprofits to do the same thing. We hope they can use our model to make a difference.” The more people who participate in beach clean-ups, the more people will see plastic pollution as an issue. And the more people deeply affected and connected to the issue, the more people willing to make a change in their own lives, resulting in greater impact both locally and abroad.

Wu believes that through education comes slow change. Part of the solution for reducing waste is to educate people and raise environmental awareness. Large activities like beach clean-ups help people feel connected to the environment with their actions.

“When people are doing beach cleanups, it activates the volunteers to learn about critical issues that are facing us,” says Lion Nancy Messmer of the Clallam Bay Sekiu Lions in Washington State, who partners with other local organizations on large-scale beach cleanups along the U.S. Pacific coast multiple times a year. “Inviting volunteers to clean beaches builds a commitment to clean, healthy oceans and rivers and prevention of future marine debris.”

Maynard echoed those sentiments. “Researchers have found three key benefits of clean-ups: people have more meaningful experiences, they’re more confident in environment knowledge, and they’re most likely to attend future beach clean-ups. So, the value of a beach clean-up is going there, getting the interpretation, realizing the environmental impact humans have, and then changing your life to reduce that impact.”


Trash in the ocean is a global challenge with global implications. In the same way ocean currents flow through different regions, so too does trash. Plastic waste can be ferried through the water by winds, tides, and currents, moving across the world through the oceanic and atmospheric forces that connect us.

Buoyant plastics move along the surface, where they can be blown across by wind or pushed and pulled by the tides; whereas microplastics sink into the water column, moving through the oceans currents or settling into deep waters causing harm to the foundations of ecological systems.

In places where currents meet, the Earth’s Coriolis Effect causes water to slowly rotate, creating a funnel where anything, including plastic waste, can be ferried from one place to another. In other words, the litter found on Taiwanese shores isn’t always just waste generated from life on the island.

“All four sides of Taiwan are surrounded by the ocean,” says Wu, “So it is very easy for us to be affected by the ocean currents and the flow of trash. If we don’t continuously protect our environment, and do it well, then we will live on a garbage island.”


On that rainy day along the Taoyuan shoreline, Lions showed how dedicated they are to protecting their island community. It was the largest activity District 300 G2 had arranged in the last few years, and the one they felt was the most successful.

“I feel like I was giving it my all and doing my best for the earth,” says a local Lion who participated. “It was a really meaningful experience for me.”

Lions carried away five tons of trash from an eight-kilometer (five-mile) stretch of the Caota Sand Dunes that day. “Even though it was raining hard, many people willingly came to participate,” says Wu. “They wanted to do something for the environment. People were soaked from head to toe, but inside their hearts, they were satisfied. No matter how wet they were on the outside, inside they were content.”

The experience reflects why Wu became a Lion. “I wanted, with like-minded and values-driven people, to do good things for society, for the public benefit,” he says. “Taiwan is our home. We are a part of Taiwan, and we are a part of the Lions Club, so we want to give priority to this place, to serve this place.”