So today was Earth Day. Here’s a little bit about how it works over here. Recycling is mandatory. Trash is picked up every two weeks (at best). You are charged for garbage by weight. And you pay for the water that runs off your roof.
We have 5 trashcans by our garage. One for paper. One for compost. One for recyclables. And two cans (the smallest of the lot) for everything that can’t be recycled or composted (the garbage trash). (I have four corresponding trash cans in the kitchen too.) The bins are equipped with an RFID chip, weighed and scanned by the trash truck. You pay a yearly fee to rent them from the city and a per kilo of fee for garbage.
Compost, recyclables and garbage are picked up twice a month. In case you didn’t catch that—garbage is only picked up twice a month. (So you’re screwed if you forget to push the bin to the curb; you can’t just throw your trash in someone else’s can when they’re paying for it.) Paper is picked up once a month. Yard waste (like tree branches) is picked up every three months. Branches have to bundled and there is a specific size they have to be.
The rain gutters on our house run into the ground and to our basement where the water that runs off our roof is metered and charged as wastewater.
You pay a deposit on glass bottles, ranging from .08€ to .20€ depending on size and country, plus a deposit on the plastic crate they come in. Not that strange except that most soda bottles also carry a .25€ deposit. Any other glass gets separated by color and put in a set of recycle bins in each town.
Contrast this to San Angelo where we used to live. No city-wide recycling program. We had an old-school metal trash can—like Oscar lives in. (I seriously didn’t know these still existed until we moved there.) People didn’t bag their trash and the West Texas wind would whip it up and scatter it everywhere. The city had moved to switch to the big wheeled bins with lids. They even secured a contract, but city council caved and cancelled it when people complained: “We like living in the past! We want trash blowing all over our fine city!”
(Okay they didn’t actually say that, but that’s what I heard. The only valid complaint was re: elderly citizens not being able to push the bins to the curb. Trust me, not an issue. Our 81-year-old neighbor does it for our entire street. Then again, he’s German. And Germans aren’t Americans. And what happened to helping your neighbors?)
Point is: going from there to here was a shock. I don’t consider myself a big environmentalist, but it now sickens me to think of all the things we used to casually throw away. Once all the recyclables are separated out, there really isn’t much left. The small garbage bin is plenty big.
So today, maybe try to do something good for the environment. I know it’s not always easy to recycle in the U.S. (How I wish we had the German system.) But maybe you can take a walk and pick up trash. Sign up for paperless statements. Go online to cancel or decrease the frequency of the catalogs you receive. Or park and walk instead of driving. It doesn’t have to be something big. It just has to be something.
Happy Earth Day!