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With our more than 110 employees in whole Taiwan, we are accepting resource recyclables and waste all the way from Kaohsiung to Taipei. In addition to our head office in Taipei, we serve customers from all regions in our plastic recycling plant in Nantou and our industrial service plant in Taoyuan.

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Discover the world of REMONDIS with its approx. 900 branches and associated companies in over 30 countries across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

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Working for the future: An interview with Jim Tai, General Manager of REMONDIS Taiwan

Jim Tai is the current general manager of REMONDIS Taiwan. Under his leadership, the two main businesses of REMONDIS Taiwan: plastic recycling and industrial services have played a major role in Taiwan’s recycling industry. At this moment, REMONDIS Taiwan is also poised to venture into new waters.  

In the face of numerous challenges and opportunities brought about by the government’s net zero policy, what should Taiwan’s future look like? What plans do REMONDIS Taiwan have in store, and how to prepare for them? In this post, we dive into the thoughts of the man who made all this possible through a series of Q&As: Covering past experiences to futures plans; from thoughts on the industry to suggestions for policy makers. Without further ado, let’s begin!

—— Before joining REMONDIS Taiwan, you have already acquired a lot of experience in different industries and foreign businesses, could you share with us these experiences?

After graduation, I joined the packaging development department of Unilever. At that time, the company went by another name, specializing in cleaning supplies like detergent and face wash. I worked at the office which was close to home. As a foreign business, the benefits were relatively good, so with a work-life balance as my primary consideration, I started working for them.

Packaging development is the design management process of packaging from the moment a product is produced to the moment it is discarded. Throughout its lifecycle, the quality of the product must be maintained, our job is to ensure that. Starting as a researcher, I later joined the quality assurance department, managing the optimization and improvement of processes within a production plant. After successive projects in new plant design development and international product outsourcing, I started to think of changing jobs, and so after some deliberation I joined Coca-Cola, concluding my time at Unilever as a mid-level manager.

My title was also manager at Coca-Cola, later ending an 11-year tenure as director. The main job was commercialization, with all the processes involved between a product being developed and reaching the consumer in a commercialized form being my responsibility, including production, technology, logistics, system introduction, etc. I experienced the early development of tea products, and the later process of introducing functional beverages and pulp juice. After that I joined REMONDIS Taiwan.

—— What was REMONDIS Taiwan like when you first joined?

The time background when I first joined was one of generational transition: the first general manager was a entrepreneur who came back from the US, who in accordance with the government planned policies and experienced the wild west phase of the early environmental protection industry; the next general manager stabilized the company through the chaos, setting the foundations for REMONDIS Taiwan’s current development, but due to various internal and external factors, the company’s future had challenges ahead.

I should say, when I first joined, we were very unlike a foreign business, which surprised me. Seeing so many factories and companies beforehand, I was not entirely at a loss of what to do. At the time, the entire operation and processing systems were different, even headquarters were unsure how to manage us, so I traveled to Germany for some field training.

After learning the way HQ do things, I had some inspiration coming back. “Before changing Taiwan’s environment, one must first change his own.” Seeing the colleagues hard at work in the industry with a sense of mission, but under not-so-ideal working conditions, I vowed to start from the inside, with the first goal of improving the employee’s wellbeing.

——Taiwan’s environmental protection industry is long-developed, but often overlooked industry. What was it like back then?

I believe the early developments of the industry were a bit deformed. Even though the various regulations in place were set with good intentions, the course of democratization brought with it many who thought they could make a fast buck, as well as those who had unrealistic expectations of the industry.  To gain a larger voter following, the government vowed to solve the waste problem immediately.Following, the government would lower the barrier of entry into the industry, which meant accepting companies who were either unfamiliar with how the industry operates or were completely unprofessional. With regulations and law enforcement still developing, creating gaps in oversight, in turn creating gray zones, the result is numerous cases of law violations (e.g., illegal dumping), and opportunistic behavior (e.g., joining for government subsidies and exiting as soon as the money was received). In the end, local implementation was a mess, and the reputation of the industry suffered for decades.

This situation is not unique to Taiwan. European countries, like Germany, also had an illegal dumping problem in the early years. It was with years of effort, coupled with the people’s propensity to follow laws that slowly improved the situation. But the culture is different everywhere, so there is no universal applicable solution. 

    We’ve always wanted to guide the environmental protection industry onto the right path, and introduce new ideas. Starting from around 2014, 2015, through the influence of governments, the European Chamber of Commerce and Trade, the German Trade Office and even inviting several local government chiefs to tour our advanced facilities in Germany, we hoped to forge a connection between Taiwan and Europe.

All in all, I am optimistic about the environmental protection industry in Taiwan, but let’s not deny, the current system and operators within the industry still need some improvements, and these problems will have to coexist with us for a while. 

——The Government plays an important role in the industry’s development, are there any specific suggestion you could share with us?

I don’t think there’s a need to go too much into detail. Before we control anything, we should be reminded that the laws and businesses surrounding the environmental protection have its basic principles (e.g., it is unrealistic to hope for a zero-waste environment). After all, it’s not a piecemeal approach but a systematic formulation of the entire system. The government should look at the development of the environmental protection industry from two angles: First, the maximum amount of external substances tolerated by the environment should be determined (e.g., max. NOx emissions from a thermal treatment plant). Second, is the oversight of the material flow from production all the way until disposal from any kind of goods. For different environmental conditions (e.g., areas with different levels of pollution like South vs. North Taiwan), we should each have respective maximum tolerated standards for substances, so that as the substances come in, producers are able to comply with these standards and the environment can accept the external substance. For example, before waste enters the landfill, there are treatment methods for both non-organic and organic components necessary. The policy makers only need to maintain oversight and ensure when waste enters the natural system, it enters peacefully, and interacts with nature peacefully. Leave the rest for the industry to handle. 

    In summary, the government’s role is to determine the basic requirements for the environment and people. You can’t raise the bar indefinitely for how clean you wish the air or water to be; slogans like “zero pollution”, or “zero plastic” are unrealistic. With the development of technology, there will only be more and more types of substances emerging that we’ve never seen before, that is why I believe we can only do our best at maintaining a balanced environment. 

——You have been in the industry for almost 10 years to date (2022), are there any thoughts or suggestions for the industry?

We can look at the waste management industry in Taiwan from the public sector and the private sector. For the public sector, they should realize this is a service industry, with the customers being the people, so they need to find someone to provide said service. The government should be thinking, if facilities and the entire industry are planned out and designed with providing service in mind, what’s needed is a system that could serve for at least 20 years, and is able to handle the waste and wastewater of the entire city so that they go towards where they’re supposed to be. If you only look at what plant to build, or what technology to use, you will never keep up with advanced systems which are putting the long-term service thought into all their investments. Thinking from the perspective of providing service, implementing standards that match land, sea and air needs is enough for the government, further supply of public goods can be left to the professionals in the field. Only this way can you attract the specialists that truly wish to invest their technologies, capabilities, and management talent into the industry. The result of focusing on short-term goals is that the problem of illegal dumping and regulation skirting will keep on persisting. 

For the private sector, we must be conscious of the fact that this industry is not an extremely profitable one. Because it’s a service industry, the work continues 24 hours non-stop. You will not see profit margins of 20, or even 10 percent. There is nothing glorious in essence, and you won’t see those same profits as from stock speculation. We are a civilian industry where the business is nearly the same as selling basic commodities. Doing a public listing on the back of some hot topic of the day would not do any good, either. Only when we have this realization can we operate continuously. Over-association and hyping up a certain topic are equivalent to setting off fireworks: after the bright flash comes the darkness of reality. “Green gold”, and “garbage to gold”, these slogans are only true when someone is willing to pay for them. There is no doubt that products from recycled materials is possible, but we must also invest the resources required to achieve that. 

——For any industry, it is comprised of domestic players and foreign firms, could you explain to us some of the difficulties foreign firms face within the industry?

There are pros and cons of being part of a foreign multinational firm. Advantages are we can import advanced technologies and management practices into other countries for development, but the disadvantages are soon to follow. Taiwan has very strict rules considering the investment of foreign firms and their position within the industry. Especially in the environmental protection sector, any action you take will be seen and magnified by others through the lenses of a microscope, so we are always careful to watch our step. We are in a sensitive industry, where its past image is relatively poor. Now, no matter officials or the media, without further context, will always see us first as ”the bad guys”. This was a huge challenge when I first entered the industry. It took a lot of effort to slowly transform our image in their eyes to a positive, law-abiding, technology-leading one. I mentioned earlier inviting local officials to our HQ for a tour of our advanced systems, from this aspect I am like a missionary. It’s actions like these that built up trust gradually from environmentalist groups and policymakers.   

Despite being able to offer governments advanced information and regulations for reference, when it comes to government tenders, foreign firms are unable to compete with domestic players. The reason is that many tenders close bids after three months, for these multi billion dollar tenders, we must report to HQ in Germany and other local offices before we could make our move. This process takes up to half a year or more, so the most we can do is provide only basic information for the tender. In general, when the government needs us, we can provide good support, but when foreign firms like us need the government to support our efforts, we never win bids due to the reasons stated, these are the challenges foreign players face in the industry. 

——About these problems foreign firms face, do you think there is any way to overcome them?

We’ve pretty much given up on government tenders these past few years because domestic players always have their diverse channels of communication. So, we hope by constructing our own private treatment system through existing and new businesses, we let the Taiwanese people know, even though we are unable to acquire government projects and greatly expand our scale, our serious attitude towards operation will always result in the most stable output. “We don’t strive for first or biggest, we insist in only the best.” this  is what we aspire to do as a foreign firm.

——Do you see any major opportunities in the industry’s future?

There is great potential for the Taiwanese environmental protection industry going forward, this comes from the net zero carbon emission policy and the public’s call for stricter regulation standards on waste. Both reflect the human demand for higher standards of living conditions. That is why I say this is a civilian industry: As long as we pursue a better lifestyle, there will always be a need for the industry.

——Are there any lessons we can take from Germany?

I have worked at several foreign companies: Dutch, US, and German. German firms, especially in this field have their ambitions, goals and direction clearly defined, but simultaneously they operate their business with a spirit of sincerity, pragmatism, and steadiness. We don’t hastily make decisions but will constantly assess the direction we take our business. When evaluating a business, we look at all aspects. After spending a little more time to understand the core of the problem, we establish a continuous investment and improvement plan for the problem. Approaching customers and locals alike this way, ensures they can have a clean environment, and a stable lifestyle.

That is why after I came in, it took nearly 8 or 9 years to invest in a second factory in Taiwan, and this factory can continue to contribute to Taiwan for decades. Only through steady, practical means and careful evaluation can one find opportunities. This is what I learned from Germany: We must face the next two generations with persistence and seriousness, because the problems we solve are not limited to one.

——What are the plans for REMONDIS Taiwan in the future? Any new projects, goals or expectations?

For a long time, the company’s development focus was in Europe. Before proposing or operating anything, we think ahead 2 generations: If one generation is 30 years, that means thinking 60 years into the future. If we can picture the influence of a substance 60 years later, then any decision will have its relative concerns and plans.

REMONDIS believes strategy and slogans will change over time, but the human wish for existence and procreation is permanent. Therefore, our strategy in Taiwan is simple: looking ahead 60 years, we focus on our current business first and do our best to prevent plastics from flowing into the ocean, while achieving higher-quality utilization of our products (e.g., cosmetic packaging industry). Next, for any waste that cannot be reused as a material, we will recycle its energy to make SRF, this is the business of waste-to-energy., SRF can also provide energy for our plastic recycling business.  The last part is biowaste, for which we are determined to convert it into biomass energy (similar to natural gas) and biomass raw materials (e.g. organic fertilizer). Biowaste is essentially an endless production process on the surface of the planet, humans just haven’t comprehended its entirety: the number of plants is hundreds of millions of times larger than we are, but they have established a complete biological cycle system. We are only using their ways to improve our own standards of living. This is our core strategy and thinking for developing biowaste into bioenergy in the future. It can be said that we "use agriculture to support industry and use industry to give back to agriculture".

In the end, it all goes back to the net zero emissions target. My idea is very simple, that is to stop digging up the carbon in the ground and let the carbon already on the surface to circulate continuously. In the future, the carbon can slowly return to the soil through sustainable agricultural practices. Within five years, my dream is for the production process (including direct and indirect) of plastic recycling products to achieve net zero emissions. The ten-year goal is to achieve net zero for all products produced by REMONDIS Taiwan. It is hoped that this goal can be achieved by the energy production from our businesses and the use of carbon offsets within our regulation system.

——Finally, is there anything else you wish to say?

May Taiwan always enjoy green mountains, clear water and blue skies!

And that concludes the interview with Jim Tai, General Manager of REMONDIS Taiwan! We hope that after reading this post, you can resonate more with our goals and aspirations through the lenses of our top management. If you are interested in the future business development of REMONDIS Taiwan, or have any other questions related to our operations, don’t hesitate to contact us.
As always, we will be more than happy to answer them!


REMONDIS Taiwan Co., Ltd.