Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My German Life: My Life as a Recycler

For the record: I'm a lazy person. Yep, Mom and Dad, I said it. I have always been the shirker of my family. Growing up, I'd head straight to the bathroom after meals to avoid helping with the dishes. If anyone disturbed me, I'd complain I was having a difficult b.m. and to leave me alone. I was actually reading. I'd hang out in the bathroom for an hour if that's what it took to shirk my dishwasher-loading duties. This is probably too much info for the masses, but at this point my sisters are reading this and laughing that I just told the world about this idiosyncrasy. My husband is laughing because he knows I still do this as an adult.
Seriously. I really hate cleaning. Ask anyone who has ever lived with me and they will all have stories about my ability to get out of cleaning (sorry, Beth). My laziness also extends to any activity that is tedious, time-consuming, or just plain boring in my estimation. I like to establish a framework of low expectations when I meet people. I do this with my son's preschool (and now kindergarten) teachers by failing to complete the first project they send home with him and being late at least 3 out of the first 5 mornings of school. I do this with family and friends by never calling them or replying to their emails. I do this with neighbors by forgetting to pick my son up at the bus stop. This way I can't really disappoint people because they've given up on me from the get-go. They just shrug their shoulders and figure "That's Kim, she's a real space cadet." Or slightly worse, that I'm incorrigibly lazy.
When I moved to Germany last month I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that they recycle. A lot. In fact, "the Germans like to think of themselves as the world champions of the environment" ( There are whole websites dedicated to explaining the complex process of sorting your trash in Germany; really, google it. Somehow I missed out on this information before I came to Heidelberg. When I arrived, other Army spouses immediately complained to me that the only difficulty adjusting was getting used to recycling. I thought they were just exaggerating, you know, being lazy.
We moved into the apartment and I was handed a very detailed list, outlining the SIX categories into which I was now going to sort my trash: Yellow trash, Paper, Compost, Glass, Rubbish, and Hazardous waste. Yellow trash (the bins outside are color-coded) goes in the Yellow trash bags and includes such items as aluminum foil, plastic bags and milk cartons, but DOES NOT include containers made of paper only, diapers, or adhesive tape. This sounds somewhat manageable until you actually try to do it. I do not have a disposal in my sink; all food waste must go into the Compost bin, which DOES NOT include bones, oils, cigarette butts or sanitary pads (duh!). Really, each category lists what it does include and then what it does not include.
So I laminated the list and put it next to my kitchen sink. I went to IKEA and bought more trashcans. I now have THREE under my sink, and the small compost container on my counter.
Nothing has ever made me feel as neurotic and OCD as recycling in Germany. I was informed that I could be fined for not sorting my trash. If you fail to take your batteries to the proper place for recycling hazardous waste, you are breaking German law. I wanted to freak out and run to the bathroom and hide away with my September Vogue. Instead, all these threats and the detailed nature of the list sent me into trash-sorting overdrive. I would spend thirty minutes staring at my various cans trying to decide which one the toy packaging with plastic, cardboard, staples and adhesive tape should go in. Finally I would painstakingly pull apart the packaging, putting the plastic in the Yellow can, the cardboard in the Paper can, the staples in the Yellow can and the tape in the Rubbish can. I am not lying. Ask my mother, she was there. I yelled at her for mixing it all up. I almost cried over whether or not to dump a few coffee grounds out of my french press into the sink, or to scrape them out into the compost with my fingernails.
After a few days I started to get the hang of the process and to notice it less. And then a new feeling started to invade me: pride. I began to take pride in what I was doing. I've never recycled in my life. I've never lived anywhere in the US where we had recycling pick-up, and I sure as hell wasn't going to go out of my way driving my crap to a recycle center to save the earth. But now that I have to do it, it makes sense to me. There is something so pleasing about knowing that the food my kids waste and throw on the floor is not going to a dump, but being turned into nutrient rich plant fertilizer. I really do feel so much better about the the things we throw away now.
I know I'm waxing poetic about trash, and this makes me sound like some lunatic Greenie. But for a girl who has always been incorrigibly lazy, it just feels good to put a little effort into something for once. It's just another reason I'm so glad I moved to beautiful Deutschland.


  1. That is hilarious! The Italians do it too, although Brad and I joke that they most likely just throw it all in one big dump anyway. I can't imagine these people actually managing all of that recycling. The Germans, yes, the Italians, no. Naples, anyone??? However, we now have our five Ikea trash cans in the kitchen to avoid those hefty and very pesky fines they threaten us with. I feel your pain, and two years later, I share your pleasure.

  2. I love to listen to you-its amazing how you can type exactly what you would say! I can hear you now. Made me smile.
    we recycle ONLY because it can all go in a giant blue trash can and they come and pick it up on trash day with the rest-easy.

  3. Whatever, Sis. You're all rosy-eyed now over your Garbage, but we all know eventually what happens. When the Gestapo comes to inspect your shoddy sorting and to write you a whopping fine, guess who'll be hiding on the porcelain throne reading Vogue? That would be "Princess Kim, Her Lazymess".

  4. You are so funny. Don't lose any of these. After 3 years you'll be able to put it all in book titled "My German Life." It's a lot more fun to read than Mark Twain's escapades, and he's a classic.

  5. I've known this all along. You see I suspected this laziness from way back..... like when we'd be working in the scorching sun and not allowed to finish until everyone is done? Then I look up and think is Britt done yet? Is kim d......WHERE IS KIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????
    Yes, even then, I knew it was a kind of poison that overcame your soul :)
    Have fun recyling though... from a BO (Born Organized) to a HL (Hopelessly Lazy)

  6. I recycle everything, in the city dump. Isn't that great. Good ol USA. I have been following your blog and... cool. As one of your commenter's asked. When is the novel comming out? Well maybe not exactly like that. You do have a gift for writing. So easy to read and want more.
    Thanks for taking care of my nephew
    Recycling, sounds like a "real job" At the rate we are going over here when you get back you will have it down to a sience and be able to fit right into the government run recycling mandate plan on it it's comming.

    Keep writing you are good.