Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sorting Garbage in Swabia

We live in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg, in the area called Swabia.  Entertaining and informative books have been written about the Swabian people and their quirks, characteristics, dialect, and habits.  Swabian frugality is legendary, and they are also known for their orderliness, even more so than the average German.  If I ever write a book about immigrating to Swabia, I think I'll start with the garbage sorting.

In our kitchen we have three garbage containers. Three different garbage containers, with three different purposes. And there's another one in the hall. Each of these containers has a corresponding bin in the garage, and those are set out on the curb on collection day.

First, there's the gelber Sack (yellow sack). Into the gelber Sack goes all kinds of plastic and foil packaging waste: yogurt containers, foil tops of containers, tin cans, tin foil, deli meat wrappings, Zip-lock bags, empty tea candle holders and milk containers, etc.

Then there's the Biomüll (biodegradable waste). That's a small brown bucket with a lid, lined with a paper bag and newspaper on the bottom to absorb moisture.  Into this container goes food and garden waste, paper towels, toothpicks...anything that can biodegrade.

There's also a small Hausmüll (regular garbage) container for things like used tissues (though I think those could go into the Biomüll), diapers, cigarette butts, dental floss, and basically anything too gross to go into one of the other containers. One can purchase from the city (for 5 EUR each) specially marked small additional bags to put next to the garbage bin on collection day if one has more garbage than one should.

The last container we have in the house is for Altpapier (waste or scrap paper).  Newspapers, magazines, store receipts, junk mail, small pieces of cardboard, etc. go in here.

It doesn't end there. One can't throw glass bottles or jars into any of the above containers. Once a week or so I walk a bag of these items several blocks to the public recycling center, where I throw them one by one into containers separated for color. This must NOT be done on Sundays or holidays, however, due to the noise disturbance of crashing bottles.

Crates of beer bottles can be returned to the store where we bought them and put into a machine that spits back Pfand (the money we paid on deposit when we bought the crate). The other day we got about 14 EUR back in Pfand for returning several months' worth of stored up empty bottles.

For years I've had to ask Martin which garbage to use for various waste. Sometimes he's not even sure! In Esslingen rules for the Biomüll are stricter than here - egg shells can go in, but not eggs. Raw meat scraps can go in, but not cooked. Luckily for me, it's easier here in Horb and I have lists printed showing me what goes where in case I'm in doubt.

I should mention that "garbage day," which was so easy in Wisconsin, requires electronic reminders if there's any hope of us remembering what to put out on which day.  The gelbe Säcke are collected every 4 weeks on a Monday.  The "regular garbage" is collected every 4 weeks on a Tuesday. Biomüll is collected every 2 weeks on a Wednesday, and the Altpapier is collected every 4 weeks on a Thursday.  It would be nice if the collection all fell on the same week, but it doesn't. So our garbage schedule this month looks like this:
 Oct. 5  Altpapier (paper)
 Oct. 10 Biomüll
 Oct. 15 gelber Sack (plastic)
 Oct. 16 regular garbage
 Oct. 24 Biomüll

Woe unto you if you put out the wrong garbage; they won't take it, and you're stuck for another month with your old garbage in a container that's already full plus the new stuff.  If that happens, I think it would be best to go on vacation for 4 weeks, which of course you can't because then you'd miss all the other collections as well and be no better off.

This is the way it is here in Swabia, and there are no apologies or reasons to complain.  I've been somewhat familiar with the system for enough years to never take for granted the simplicity of garbage collection in Wisconsin, which would make most Swabians snort and shake their heads: two containers - one for garbage, and one for all recyclables. Garbage is collected every Friday, recycling every other Friday.  Among the Swabian quirks and characteristics, one will not find "simplicity."  :-)

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