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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): The trash situation over here

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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Location: United States

After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The trash situation over here

Most places you least either pay for a trash service from one of the trash companies servicing your area (like we did in Colorado) or your property taxes pay for it (like in Florida) or perhaps something else in between?  The Germans and the Belgians do things a bit differently.....and it takes some getting used to for Americans!

In Germany, if you live off post, your local municipality will run trash collection.  In Germany, you had better have at least a college diploma to figure out how to sort your garbage or risk them not picking it up!  Most German localities will get you to purchase these special stickers, which you stick on each of your trashcans.  You mean there is more than one?  Yes, sometimes.....Germans are avid recyclers, and you will quickly get in the game or be shunned by the neighbors.  And these trashcans are regulation can't just buy ANY trashcan!

I remember living in the Vilseck area and having a HUGE plastic trashcan with a fliptop and wheels where we could ONLY put biodegradables.....that means, your meal leftovers, potato peels, coffee grounds and other organic substances.  I don't need to tell you that this thing smelled riper than the roses after just a few days.  I hated dealing with this thing and you can imagine what the inside looked couldn't put a bag in there, and it was always a race to see how fast you could close the lid after opening it.  So, I looked to see what my neighbors were doing, and other than the urinal my next door neighbor had mounted to the back of his house in full view of our back yard.....I noticed a pile in the far back corner of his was a compost pile I figured out after I moseyed on over there and poked it with a stick....yes, it was towards our side and not the other side...thanks.  I saw his wife dumping their stuff there.  Of course, I decided right then and there to make one too.  I added our kitchen junk and our grass clippings and all the overripe apples that fell into our yard.  I even started a garden, but I just couldn't bring myself to dig into that pile other than to turn it, as I had read somewhere, which just involved sticking a shovel in there and turning portions of keep it fresh?

We also had to sort out paper, glass and plastic.  After doing this for a few years, we moved back stateside and promptly forgot everything, other than the paper sorting for some reason.  Our next big stint in Germany was on post.  We had big dumpsters down the street.  We had three for paper, two for plastic, a funny contraption for glass and the "other" dumpster.  Honestly, I was ashamed to be an American by the filth that my neighbors made at the dumpster.  Don't wing it over the fence and hope your load makes it in...especially if it was doggie-doo...hey, let's at least CLOSE the bag....I guess I should've been happy they even picked it up, another problem for another blogpost perhaps...the trials and tribulations of living on post!

Many times I'd go out and also see perfectly good furniture sitting out there.  We had this German guy with a trailer, regularly making the rounds of all the dumpsters, picking out treasures to take home.  Inevitably, he'd come while I was out there, and I'd always avert my eyes....I was embarrassed by the mess!  Over the weekend was obviously the worst!

On a positive note, many of my fellow Americans neighbors did not know that many of the items they buy in their German stores come packaged in returnable bottles, so we would regularly load up a crate and fill it with yogurt glasses, soda plastic bottles and of course beer bottles and the occasional rack of beer.  If the container says "Pfand" on the label somewhere, it is worth something (although you won't find that sticker on beer's just assumed those get turned in).  We found so much of that stuff, that my husband was able to support and pay for his beer habit just by turning in these misdirected bottles and jars!  I am totally being serious here! 

The Germans do bottle turn-in so high tech go to your local store and look for a machine where people are putting their bottles in. You put the bottles in one at a time or by the rack, and the machine will scan the bottle and determine how much it is worth.  It keeps adding up the money, and when you are done, push the green button and get a ticket.  This ticket has a euro amount on it, and you can turn it in at check-out to either get the money back or get that amount off your next purchase.  It's very simple, and honestly, I wish more would use it instead of throwing money away. 
Just to give you an idea, this group of guys returned 140 CASES of beer!  I included the link to show you what the machine typically looks like and how easy it is.  Look for a sign that says "Pfand Rueckgabe".

Here in Belgium, we have less recycling going on...the Belgians are not as diligent as the Germans unfortunately....but, that does translate into less work.  What makes it so ingenious I think, is that each municipality or area charges you by the BAG.  So the more trash you have, the more you personally will pay for that privilege.  You go to a local grocery store and buy either the white "everything can go in there" bag (you buy a pack which costs over 8 euro) or the blue recyclable bags that take plastic and metal basically.  As you can probably tell, the blue bags are much cheaper.  Of course, that means we try to stuff as much as we can into the blue bags which get picked up every other week.  Paper, doesn't go into any bag but also gets picked up every other week, rotating with the plastic.  You just have to stack it neatly by the curb.  The white bags get picked up once a week, and like I said....anything goes in there, although I like to take non-recyclable bottles (which are almost all bottles except for beer bottles) to the local recycling center...each community has can also take bulk and yard trash there, as there is only one pick up a year for that kind of stuff.  Many also use the recycling center on SHAPE which is open every weekday (closed for lunch).  I've noticed some REALLY cheap people using the "everything" dumpster over there for their regular everyday garbage...I guess the DH goes to work every day with the trash in tow as part of his routine....I've seen people do it in Germany too when they didn't want to buy the stickers for living off-post. I don't know...I do a lot to save money...but that's a bit excessive if you ask me...and probably wrong!

And that about wraps up the garbage!  Funny, how no one ever talks about it....but everybody has it and deals with it on a daily basis.  If there is another place that has an interesting trash collection method, I'd love to hear's been that kind of day!

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Blogger Catherine said...

We live in an off-post gov't 'hood in Italy where recycling in The Law. In fact, there are big red & white signs next to the dumpster/recycling areas more or less stating 'This area is under surveillance, anyone caught not sorting trash could be removed from housing.' Really?? Kicked out, huh? We 'have' to sort organics, glass, paper/cardboard, aluminum, glass and plastic. Most of the time, the metal & plastic go in the same bin. The whole organic thing is gross and I don't deal with it. The whole sorting/recycling thing, though, has brought our regular trash down to 1 bag/wk for a family of 3. Not too shabby.

January 3, 2011 at 5:29 PM  

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