“I feel like the Queen of Trash”, Francesca sighed when she told me about her struggle to get rid of all the stuff that stuffs her house. “Why are women allways responsible for trash?”
In Germany, they aren´t, at least not completely. To carry the trashcan to the bin is the one household duty every man has to fulfill. Even my father did it, who never did anything else. Though he never did it without being asked first.
“Schatz, trägst Du mal den Mülleimer runter – Honey, could you just carry the trash to the bin” is one of those sentence any stand-up comedian gets an easy laugh with. As in ingenious shortcut, it tells the audience:
– that couple has past the first ardour of love,
– that by now, the pair has lived together for some time,
– that by custom the womans role has become to do the housework
– and that there already are underground battlefields of resentment and resistance.
After the first laugh, the women sigh, while the men smile, proud of their genders strategy. No wonder Ghandi was a man.
While women don´t have to carry the trashcan, they have to make sure that the men don´t have to carry it often. To avoid trash still is considered a virtue in Germany. A good housewife will only buy what is abolutely neccessary, and find new uses for old objects.
As I´m writing this, I´m looking at a box that till yesterday contained my new external hard drive. I should do something about it, but what shall I do? “Was it really abolutely necessary that you bought me?” the box asks me each time I look at it.
“Of course”, I defend myself. “I didn´t have any more storage space on my computer, and my old external hard drive is full, too”.
“Why don´t you get rid of some of your old volumes?”, the box asks me. “Do you really need the data of projects you finished and invoiced three years ago?”
“You never know”, I mumble. “Vorsicht ist die Mutter der Porzellankiste”
“You should know. Don´t you ever learn form experiences? Nobody ever asked for this data “, the box insists.
“Irgendwann ist immer das erste mal” , I reply angrily and decide to throw the impertinent box out, this minute.
When I grab for the box, an invisible force holds me back. This is a good, strong box. Wouln´t I need a box like this next week, when I have to send my niece a birthday parcel? And wouldn´t another niece who creates the most astonishing artefacts out of trash, love the molded cardboard inside?
In the most unlikely event that I actually throw the box away, I would throw it into the paper bin, one out of six bins in our tiny flat. We do have bins for paper, glass, plastic bottles, batteries, Grüner Punkt-industry financed recycling and Restmüll-uncategorized. If we lived in a different part of town, we would have a “Bio-Tonne” for anything organic, too. Besides the bins, we collect old glass jars for the marmelade production of my mother-in-law, old books for Oxfam, old clothes for the charity market, old toys for the childrens hospital, old paint for the Sondermüll, and empty toilet rolls for any boust of creativity in our son. Before the “Grüne Punkt” was introduced in the 90ies, we would even have had a seperate bin for aluminium cans. Today, I use the aluminium cans to hold my pens or pot my plants.
No, I´m not an obsesessed trash neurotic. Some-including my spouse-would even say that I´m not serious enough when it comes to seperating trash. Even in the 80ies, when recycling became a religion in Germany, I didn´t seperate a teabag into paperclip (for the paper bin), tea leaves (organic trash) and cord (bin for what is left). Though I loved the compost heap and the discussions in our students group about the advantages of the Australian compost wriggler over the German compost wriggler. I loved the alchemy of worm shit turning into fertilizer, and fed the heap with all I could lay hands on. Till one late summer day, when my housemate came into the kitchen, screaming: ” There is a decapitated head in our compost heap!”
Palefaced, we decided to have a second look before we called the police. Bravely we went out to inspect the heap. Amongst orange peels and egg shells I saw a nest of dark hair. After the first shock, I laughed: “Don´t be silly. These are the cuttings from my last hairdressing session”.
Since the 80ies, the way Germans treat their trash, has changed from trying to recycle everything to “let those who make the future trash pay for it”. Today, the bulk of household trash goes into the Gelber Sack-yellow trash bag, because it is marked with a Grüner Punkt-green dot, as a sign that the producer pays for the trash. Rather new is the system to recycle plastic PET-bottles and cans. Now, everybody goes shopping with bags full of empty bottles. After a slow start of the system when every bottle had to be brought back to the shop it was bought in, with the receipt as proof of purchase, bottles are now accepted everywhere. Recycling machines wait for the customers. They scan the products for the recycling code, then gulp and crash the accepted bottles. In the end, they hand out a voucher, which can be turned into new merchandise.
Maybe these machines could be the way out of recession. Let every household buy its own recycling machine, and German industry would be on the rise again.
But this is another story.