Getting serious about a load of rubbish

trash reminder

The most complicated thing about house-sitting in Germany is figuring out what to do with the trash.

I’m afraid we’re collecting it all wrong, and it might upset the neighbors. My oldest son already used a neighbor’s trash can when he couldn’t find a place to throw something away. I hope they didn’t see him doing it. It felt like a punishable offense. We’re not following the rules like good Germans. I don’t think they tolerate this American trait very well.

Our landlord in Croatia gave us different colored bags for recycling there. But Croats are a little more laid back about everything. Germans are definitely more rigid about the rubbish.

I remember years ago visiting American friends on a German Army post. Our friends warned us not to mess up the garbage sorting system. I thought it was kind of a joke. Now I know it’s serious business. Mishandling trash here is kind of an environmental sin.

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The homeowners where we’re staying left us a schedule so we wouldn’t miss the paper and compost collection days, which are only once or twice a month. There are baskets in the kitchen for glass and returnable plastic bottles, a compost pot, a bin for paper and cardboard, one for packaging and a waste can for everything else. There’s a color scheme for the bins, extra rules for what’s considered packaging, and a calendar to keep track of garbage days.

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I could become a hoarder if I lived here, because I just keep creating piles of things I want to toss out. Our stack of Christmas wrapping paper and boxes won’t fit in the paper bin. I’ve spoiled the compost with leftovers I’m not sure are supposed to be in it. I haven’t figured out when the general waste is supposed to go out. Thank goodness we don’t have to dispose of the Christmas tree. I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

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In America, I rarely think about what I throw away. We have just two ways to sort it: the recycle bin and everything else. Our neighborhood felt the pain when the city switched trash collection companies. Instead of being allowed to toss as much trash as we wanted, we had to put stickers on large items and follow strict rules for yard waste. Germany makes that look like a luxury.

My generation was raised to appreciate clever packaging and not feel guilty about throwing it away. Growing up, we minimized garbage with a trash compactor. My kids are much more educated about recycling and saving the world.

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The Germany way when it comes to garbage is a little daunting. I don’t like being forced into such a rigid system of recycling, even though I know it’s better for the environment. Waste management here works well because it’s based on rules that most people follow.

By the time we leave, I may figure out what the rules are.

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