Garbage duty hurts my head.

Today’s image brought to you by the Awesomeness that is The Oatmeal. If you aren’t familiar, stop reading this and go educate yourself!!
 Ok, so the situation here isn’t quite this extreme, but Germany has a bizarre system. I’m 95% sure that everyone who goes to Germany writes about this at some point, but now it’s my turn. I currently have four garbage bags in my kitchen. And that’s not counting the pile of bottles lining the windowsill. The German garbage system is tricky. This is how I’m interpreting it:
In the courtyard of our house, we have nine garbage containers. Four are blue: say “AltPapier” and therefore are for Old Paper. The first time I had a bunch of paper, I bagged it up, took it down, and opened the can to find all the paper just chucked in there. Mine was in a plastic bag. Crap. But I was running to work and didn’t have time to think about it too much. Common sense would have said, “open the bag, dump the paper in, and throw the plastic bag in another bin.” But I panicked. So I just threw the whole thing in. Fail one.

Then there are three bins for straight up garbage. I’ve been told that this includes metal things, but I have no idea if that’s true. I also was informed that the lids to yogurt are included in that. Well guess what, I am not pulling out all the yogurt lids that are currently at the bottom of my yellow “packaging” bag. Not happening. 

Next you have one bin for “bio” waste. That one is pretty easy. However, I did not initially notice the label on that bin, as it’s in the same container as the three “garbage” bins, and “bio” is written on the top in chalk. So the first pile I took down was just a mish-mash. Fail two.

Then there is the magical yellow bin. It has two signs on it saying “stop! plastic only!” in German and English. I’ve been trying to remember if the English sign was there when I moved in or not. I have no idea. But I’ve been too freaked out to take down my yellow bag. Not to mention, I only had one and none have magically showed up in my mailbox like someone told me they would. The government provides these bags, so you cannot use anything else for plastic/packaging material. Or they will shoot you. I assume, anyway. I did however, discover that you can pick them up at the Rathaus in town. So now I have more and I guess I can’t avoid taking down that bag anymore…. tomorrow. I swear. 

Then there’s the bottles. Oh, Pfand. You are a mystery to me. So the deal is, that most bottles in Germany are returnable and you pay a deposit on them. Easy enough. But last week, when I loaded up my purse and wanted to take some of my 83842 Coke Light bottles back, the machine wouldn’t take them. And naturally, I chose early Saturday evening to try this, so there was a line and I couldn’t take my time figuring this out. I know I paid Pfand on them, and I’ve taken them back other places (ex: Yorma’s), so why did the machine kick them out? Strictly because they don’t have the symbol on them? I thought the other machine was only for glass, but maybe they go in there? Can anyone answer this for me? I have a Coke Light mit Lemon addiction issue and the situation is getting out of hand. How do I get rid of the damn things? I can’t keep going to Yorma’s everyday and dropping off two at a time. Which I totally did over the weekend. Don’t judge me. 

But I had a point to all this. Why does this system work in Germany?

I remember a few years ago at home when they decided we were going to get an additional recycling bin. So at home we have 1) a garbage bin, 2) a yellow recycling bin for bottles, cans, glass, etc., and 3) a blue recycling bin for paper. And man, were people having a fit. 
“It’s so hard to separate all this! I don’t have time for this! rabblerabblerabble!”

When I was home a few weeks ago, just looking around amazed me on garbage day. Half the bins weren’t even separated. Really? Is it that difficult to determine the difference between a MAGAZINE AND A BEER BOTTLE? Really? They aren’t even the same shape. Maybe if the recycling company drew pictures on the sides of the box it would help people. Cripes. 

Cut back to last summer: I’m working at the International School for three weeks at the summer program. And I’m watching this 7 year-old girl carry her lunch garbage over to the 3 buckets in the corner of the cafeteria. These buckets are all white, and all the same size. There is no difference besides the contents. She looks at her plastic container from her spaghetti, looks at the buckets, and deposits it with the other plastic/packaging materials. Then she looks at her apple core, and deposits it with the other bio waste. Then she takes her water bottle and skips on out to the playground. 

They teach them here. It’s that simple. Use your brain. Look at what it is, what it’s made of, and put it in the right place. If a 7 year-old can figure it out without parental supervision, hopefully soon I’ll be able to determine what the difference is between normal garbage and packaging materials. Agh.

4 thoughts on “Garbage duty hurts my head.

  1. As a native German a tip from me. Take “two” plastic-bags together for the garbage so no one can see the garbage in the bag to identified what you “throw away”. Make a tight knot around the bag to seal. … that's it. There is no NEED to sort all your garbage, except paper and glass.

    Maybe you will say, this garbage sort is a law. Believe me, I lived in different cities around Germany and I never ever sorted the garbage. You have to know, at the end the garbage is thrown back together. and your sort was – as we say in German – “Für the Katz” (for the cat …)

  2. Thanks for the tip, native German!

    I'm using the double-bag trick, but I do want to figure this out. As I said, it makes me crazy when people don't do separate things at home, and I feel guilty not doing it in someone else's country! Even if they do throw everything together in the end and it's “Für die Katz”.

  3. For the double bag-trick you need colored bags. Go to ALDI, NETTO or another discounter they have blue or green bags. Don't use the transparent or white ones.

    And don't feel guilty. That's one of the ugliest habits the German has, make others feel guilty!

  4. Pingback: Gingerbread Rules & German Tales | Heather Goes to Deutschland

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