Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

Der Müll

In German, nouns are capitalized (the Bread, the Milk, the Juice), and nowhere is this more deserved than in the case of Der Müll - The Garbage.

Garbage is a big deal here. Or rather, producing as little of it as possible is a big deal here. Look, I'm from Portland. I am fluent in recycling, and this has still been an adjustment for me. In the US (and in the UAE, to a lesser extent, where we do have some recycling capabilities but also access to an essentially bottomless dumpster), recycling was more a post-consumption issue. When you're finished with something, you either recycle it or throw it away.

Here in Germany, more and more I find myself thinking about this issue pre-consumption. For example, there is one brand of milk here whose carton is not easily collapsible. I don't want to buy that kind anymore, because it hogs all the room in the recycling bin.

This is also one of those countries where plastic bags are not provided at check-out. You bring your own reusable bags (or those fancy pop-up baskets - love those!). If you're willing to endure the shame, you can buy some sturdy plastic bags from the store for around 70 (Euro) cents each.

But back to The Garbage. We are living in the upstairs of a house. Our landlady and her husband live on the ground floor. Her daughter and grandson live in the basement. Altogether, there are six adults and three children living on this property. Here is how big our common Garbage can is:

And you guys, I'm not even sure that it's collected once a week. I think it might be once every two weeks. So yeah, we think long and hard before throwing something away in our house these days. It's actually easier to recycle something than to throw it away mindlessly. Isn't that the way it should be?

There's just one problem: diapers. Those pile up fast and there are too many of them to fit in the bin along with the other trash. What to do? Well, our first Sunday here at church, an American woman who had just moved here mentioned driving around town with bags of trash in the trunk of her car, looking for a random dumpster she could throw it in because her bin at home was already full. We kind of laughed with her...and then thought, "brilliant!!!" We went home and did the very same thing because it's the only way those diapers are getting thrown away.

But guess what? There aren't even random dumpsters here! Sometimes you can find a medium-sized can at a gas station, but that's about it. When you do find one, surreptitiously throwing a bag of trash in there feels like disposing of a body - you're worried someone might see you and trace it back to you.

So now we are hyper-aware of all the Garbage we produce, and meticulous about throwing it away elsewhere, if possible. In the UAE, we'd get home from a road trip and clean out the car by bringing in all the refuse to the kitchen Garbage bin. Here, I try to clean out the car anywhere else but at home.

While we have Garbage on the mind, check out these photos of Americans swimming in a week's worth of their own Garbage. We really do produce quite a bit of waste!


My new German BFFs wear lederhosen without shirts