Tag Archives: trash

What will it be, me or … the trash!

Germany is ahead on some very important issues, like green energy. I am rather proud of “my Germany” in that respect, and yet I sometimes wish it were not so. Because with being ahead comes responsibility and having to set a good example at all times.

What´s wrong with that? Noooothing…. Except when it is a tiring, boring, time consuming and reiterative exercise, which could be avoided if we spent a little more time thinking about it in the first place. Maybe if those in the position to make decisions for change, spent a little more time dealing with the consequences of their in-actions, change would come very quickly.

Like the rest of my family.

In the meantime:

I sit in front of several bags of clothes, shoes, books and other materials and agonize. I want to move into a new house. I have to lighten the weight, but I can´t just dump it all in the next trash container. I have to act responsible.

There are so many things to consider. Would a charity be happy to have the clothes – clean, but well worn? And I can´t let them ship the stuff to Africa, because I cannot contribute to the downfall of a fragile african textile industry. Why do relatives keep buying new stuff, when I could equip them with an entire wardrobe for their little ones? Do I have the heart to tear it all up and turn it into carpets or paper? Why did I accept many second hand clothes in the first place? Waste not want not, can be: Didn´t waste it, but didn´t want it either!

What about the books? Old computer and software manuals for hardware and software that nobody uses anymore (don´t say have – because I still do of course, even if I don´t use it). Novels I read only the beginning and end of – somebody else might like it. Childrens books hardly scribbled in or with only one torn page, but in various languages.

What about the accounting details, some 10 years old or older? The print is so faded that I can only tell that is was a shopping list from Spain. But it is a shopping list from Spain. What good times we had there, what nice things we bought.

Do you understand now why I feel a bit desperate when my family walks in with a bunch of beautiful leaflets, picked up at the shopping mall. They are all about history, evolution, dinosaurs and the Senckenberg Museum. I can see myself leafing through them in ten years. Ach.

Before paper made from trees came along, it was made entirely out of cloth. Collecting “Hadern” was business, but they were becoming rare during the 18th century as cloth leftovers were needed for other purposes (cheap clothes!), so new technologies were developed to use plants and trees as paper producing sources. And got us stuck with more problems.

And don´t ask about the electronic “trash”. When does it cross the line? When is it replacement pieces and when does it become unusable and when does it transition to museum pieces? I am glad that my attic has a cement flooring, so I don´t have to worry about it buckling under the weight of our precious resources. But my new place does not have an attic, so something will have to give, and I don´t want it to be my mind.

I see a ghostly myself standing next to me, as in one of the notorious german soap ads of years gone by. Instead of telling me that my wash needs to whiter than white, it whispers: “Look at that itsy-bitsy pyjama. Do you remember when your kids wore it? Can you really throw it away and with it the memory?” Arghhhh, of course I cannot!

That is why we should not let our daughters watch TV. The image of the perfect, organized and industrious housewife is burned into the young, malleable minds and resides there to haunt us for the rest of our lives.

Three of the Four @smangane

Three of the Four @smangane

Germans became so good at separating and recycling that heating plants that used trash to provide heat, ran out of trash to burn. Or collected plastic were exported to other countries for separation and often just ended up in somebody else´s incinerator or land dump. Computers still are exported to countries, where they are rid of their precious metals without respect for health issues. Although these beginnings were and are not so smooth, once a German subscribes to an idea, he will stick to the enforcement come what may. So despite these initial hickups the basic idea is not scrapped and here we are thirty years later and with four trashcans to a family.

When it all got too much in the early days I could take a break in England or Italy. Throwing everything into the same bin, became the hidden pleasure and luxury of a holiday. Alas, those days are over. When I arrive in London now, the first leaflet that greets my eye explains how to separate my paper from cardboard (don`t let the Germans read this – they don´t separate the two YET), or telling me that Glass will be picked up every 2nd Monday and my eco-trash (garden cuttings and such) every second Wednesday.

Of course I can´t do anything else than mark the days in my calendar and follow the rules. Because I know that it is for the good of mankind, because I don`t want to leave mountains of junk or trash to my kids, because I will have done my moral duty. Because I think ahead. Because I will start producing less trash from now on.

And because if I don´t who will?



Filed under Germany

Trash or treasure?

“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.


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Filed under Germany, World