How (NOT) To Implement a Recycling Policy in Your Town

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 bagswith 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.

Unresolved Questions

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?

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  • BillBill

    Author Reply

    Thanks sooooo much for clarifying all this. I was planning on staying up late to continue translating the instructions. I totally missed the paper towels NOT actually being paper.
    Our landlord has been particularly concerned that we understand all the nuances of the new system and has brought us calendars and collection bags. Now I’m just wondering what to do with todays garbage that’s not sorted!!!Mahhhh!! oh, and I missed the whole 10pm part. And I also have to make sure that the rest of the family doesn’t screw up.
    but it’s OK cos’ hey, we’re exactly where we want to be!!
    .-= Bill´s last blog ..Marta’s Lungolago =-.

  • Is it clear to you now? Because I am in a daze. Seriously, if you are confused, give Paola a ring 🙂

  • paolapaola

    Author Reply

    It’s May 1st. The bins are on the patio. It’s chilly outside and I need to go out and figure out which one is which,set them up somewhere in the house, print labels to attach on top of the cans. This morning I had a couple of cigarettes which I lit with matches. As I am making coffee I am thinking ” which bin?” so for now I have a stash of trash on the counter that I need to sort out. Exactly what I want to do at 6 am. Bill, give me a call. I will give you a copy of the labels. By the way I think all of Soriano is Zone A ( although 3 different zones are listed). I saw Ivan yesterday and he works at City hall, maybe he knows something we don’t know. Marisa, the farmer across the street is panicking about the whole thing. Will she be fined if she doesn’t recycle the normal leftovers because she feeds them to the pigs? Does she need to prove it? How??? I am just looking forward to the stories and drama. One more question…can you imagine 10,000 people going to City hall to pick up new garbage bags because they ran out. I WILL make a video of it!

  • What a weird new system. In Urbino, the garbage collectors collect the garbage everyday. It’s not required for one to recycle, however, if one chooses to do so plastics, glass, and cans must be separated. When I found this out, I gave up as we didn’t have any space for all the different types of garbage. :-/
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Surprise news! =-.

  • I have just laughed out loud. Great post. I thought I was on top of recycling – you know: this is for the compost bin, this is for the paper bin, this is plastic, etc. But my, I was a tad confused in Soriano. The minute I saw all those bins in my cute little home, I was so impressed. Wow, these Italians are leading the way in recycling. So I read the advice written by you or Paola. Then I re-read it. I thought “Yep, I’m on top of this”. Then I made a coffee with the little cofffee pod and got confused. “Do I take the coffee grounds out of the pod to dispose of them separately?”.

    Hmm. 10/10 to the people of Soriano for their intentions. 5/10 to Jane for understanding how to follow these intentions.

  • Ah, but the point is, Jane, that they have gone so far that most people have already just given up. The effect is that they are starting to get a problem with people illegally dumping on the side of the road. “Frying pan into the fire”. Last week when coming home I counted the ratio of bags to houses on a stretch of road, and only about 10% of the homes were ‘participating’. So that begs the question: Where does THEIR garbage go?

  • BB

    Author Reply

    And what happens when you have only three of the five bins? Where, oh where have the green and yellow bins gone? Phone a friend? Rely on Rita to sort it out? What to do…