I’m a big fan of recycling, and I was really happy to hear that our town, Soriano nel Cimino, was planning on implementing a recycling program. Better yet, it would include garbage pick-up. Cool! The fact is, that much of Italy is full of litter, many towns have garbage bins that overflow, and the concept of responsible dissposal isn’t quite what I am accustomed to. So this is fantastic, right? Ummm… not so much.
There is a popular joke that compares the strengths and weaknesses of various European societies. It goes like this:
Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics German, the lovers French, and it’s all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, and it’s all organized by the Italians.
If you are really familiar with these societies, this is quite funny. The point here is that Italians are famous for being extremely disorganized, and that little problem often causes good ideas to turn into incredibly complicated nightmares. The complexities cause people to ignore policy, and that causes the government to couple new programs with stiff non-compliance penalties. So you end up with a bunch of complicated, impossible to understand or follow laws that have insane fines for non-compliance. Such is my fear for our new recycling program that starts tomorrow.
The Way It Is Today
Before I get into the disaster that begins tomorrow, let me tell you how it is now. There is no garbage pickup service. There are public bins all over town. Residents generally keep a tiny trash can in their homes, and take the trash out daily. This is good, since Italian homes are generally very small, so they don’t have room for large trashcans. Some of the public locations have several bins, including various recycling containers. It doesn’t matter much, because it is common that all bins get dumped in the same truck, anyway… but we’ll not go there for now. The downside of this is obviously that some people have to walk a little to take their trash out, and the bins are unsightly… especially when they have not been emptied for days.
Soriano’s Recycling Extravaganza
Step right up and get a front-row ticket, ‘cuz this is gonna be the greatest show on earth! Tomorrow morning everything changes. All public bins go the way of the Dodo. Garbage pickup service begins.
Each home must now keep FIVE garbage cans in their home:
The standard can is for fruit, veggies, leftovers, coffee, tea bags, paper napkins and towels (only if dirty with water), etc.
Then you have a can with GREY bags that are provided by the city. This is for most (but not all) plastic tableware, saran wrap, feminine pads, light bulbs, pens, cigarettes and lighters, rubber bands, feminine pads… I won’t do the whole list.
Next are the Light Blue bags, which are for other plastics that do not belong in the GREY bags. These include plastic bottles, Styrofoam, plastic bags, veggie and fruit nets… again, I won’t go into the whole list, but be careful not to confuse plastic for the GREY bags with plastic for the Light Blue bags. That would be non-compliance. See below for the penalty!
Then we have the Green Bin, which is for cans, glass, lids (what kind?), and foil.
Finally, we have the Yellow Bin. This is for papers, newspaper, magazines, milk cartons, etc. Be careful not to throw paper towels or napkins in here!!! Those are for the Standard Can.
No Need To Remember All Of This. We Have Labels!
Law requires all products to have a label that will assist you, so if you are not sure if a paper towel should be thrown in Grey Bag or the Blue Bag, just go back to the packaging of the paper towels (you still have it, right?) and see which of the above symbols it has. Then compare that symbol with the bins and bags you have, and you are all set. Don’t forget to do this for every little item you throw away, because a mistake is punishable by law.
Don’t Get Your Days and Times Mixed Up
Now they won’t have an army of trucks running around each day. Instead, there is a pickup day for each bag or bin. We will have pickup service five days a week, and each day has a corresponding bag. Be sure not to put your blue bag out on green day, or your yellow bag on grey day. These are serious offenses, of course. But wait! That’s not all! You are allowed to put your bags and bins out between 10:00 PM and 4:00 AM. Not before, not after. If you have any plans of going to bed early tomorrow night, forget about it.
There are more questions, of course. So Paola made a call to the City Hall office that deals with these things. The city will provide us with a certain number of bags. Will they provide them regularly? We don’t know. What if we need more? We don’t know. Are they rationed? We don’t know. What if my bin is lost or stolen? We don’t know.
The Old Lady and the Storm
Soriano is a hill town. Tiny streets, winding curves, cobblestones and lots of hills. I can imagine a winter storm (often) that would wash these bins all down the hills. They will be everywhere. They will be thrown together… it will be a mess. The hills are filled with elderly women that have lived there for ages. How will they find their bins? We don’t know. How will this be dealt with? We don’t know.
Penalty of Non-Compliance
Ok, I saved it for the end. It is all so much more complicated than what I am saying here. And Italians are great at ignoring laws, so you must strike fear in their hearts. Should you elect not to comply with the above, you are to be fined €500.00. That is roughly $700.00.
Is it just me, or is a disaster in the making?