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The complexities of garbage

May 10, 2011

燃えるゴミ/燃えないゴミ combustible garbage/non-combustible garbageEvery country and every city within each country handles garbage in its own special way. I never appreciated this until living in Japan, where the complexities of garbage disposal reach monumental proportions. Despite the completely inconsistent rules from city to city, every system I was ever exposed to came down to 燃えるゴミ (moeru gomi, combustible garbage) vs. 燃えないゴミ (moenai gomi, non-combustible garbage), though what constitutes either category is often radically different depending on city boundaries, and there are often many other categories, all of which must be taken out on different days of the week or month.

Everywhere I’ve lived in the U.S., we’ve had to separate out certain types of plastics, tin cans, glass, and paper, though all those things inexplicably go into the same bin on garbage day. Plastic and aluminum bottles can be recycled separately at supermarkets to get cash back, though in big cities we’d often just leave these bottles on the curb with the rest of the recycling and those who needed the money would take them. In Paris, it’s even simpler than the U.S., for the most part: separate glass and paper, throw out the rest.

In Israel, at least where I live, garbage disposal is pretty straightforward. Everything gets thrown away in the same place except plastic bottles, which are disposed of in giant wire collection boxes that strategically line the streets, and paper/cardboard, which goes in special blue bins the same color as the ubiquitous blue recycle receptacles used throughout the U.S.

אשפה רטובה/אשפה יבשה wet garbage/dry garbageHowever, I saw a notice outside our house today announcing the implementation of a new garbage system that I’ve never heard of before: אשפה רטובה (ashpa retuva, wet garbage) vs. אשפה יבשה (ashpa yevesha, dry garbage). As weird as it sounds, the change was framed as an exclusive privilege: מזל טוב, נבחרתם! (Congratulations, you’ve been chosen!) Great.

According to the announcement, “wet garbage” consists mainly of kitchen waste, while “dry garbage” is everything else. I think. It’ll take a few weeks to get used to it, though here’s hoping it doesn’t rival the more time-consuming systems out there. The friendly cartoon garbage man resembles the innumerable friendly public service cartoons all across Japan, so I feel compelled to do what he says even if it proves to be a major hassle.


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