Dealing with waste- the Dutch way!

25th May, 2014

In November we received the waste calendar from the Hague municipality (Gemeente Den Haag) and became bonafide residents of Den Haag! The waste collection calendar is an essential handbook every family has to possess and will be hung either in the toilet (a favourite spot with the Dutch to hang calendars, our house also has a nail in the bathroom to hang calendars ) or in the kitchen! It carries the schedule for waste collection for the whole year ( bio, non-recyclable and paper), including the 4 days in January when the city collects Christmas trees, post the festive season!

The people of NL are pretty rule bound about how you deal with your cast away stuff. The bio-degradable waste goes into a green bucket ( provided by the city) and the non-bio-non-paper waste goes into a regular black waste bag. Both have to be put out in front of the apartment block, once a week after 10PM in the night and before 8 AM in the morning ( of the weekly collection day ) and the empty bins are to be picked before 6 PM the same day! Phew.In addition, people living in houses or in ground floor apartments get two big bins to deal with their biomass from the yard!

I have a healthy respect to the point of being scared of small rules. Wednesday mornings unfailingly I jump out of bed, rush helter-skelter to tie up and pack my waste correctly and put it out before 8 AM and then only sit down for my morning lime and honey with the newspaper on the laptop!

Next comes the monthly paper -waste collection. The paper waste gets collected once a month( have to remember the date and I start reminding my husband a few days in advance to keep track as well) and to my horror I found that we are the only household placing it in a plastic covers ( we don’t seem to have cartons to throw away, maybe because I am storing all of them for the day we have to pack to move back) whereas all our Dutch neighbours put out their paper waste in cartons.and every week I live in mortal fear that the discerning waste collectors will leave my inappropriately packed paper waste behind..leaving me to slink down there sheepishly and bring it back into the apt!

Lo and behold! that is what happened to me this week, they actually left one bag of my paper waste behind, which I went and picked up and plan to dispose of with the non-recyclable garbage it makes me feel like I have failed an important test of living here!

Well the waste saga doesn’t end there, batteries have to be returned to stores which take them back, similarly with bulbs, medicines have to be disposed of elsewhere ( haven’t found where as we haven’t yet needed to do it) and bottles have to go into bins placed in every street – one for white bottles and another for coloured! There is the constant tinkling sound of breaking bottles when you approach the bins as people are throwing in the numerous wine and other bottles!

However, I must say here that I prefer the Indian way of re-cycling bottles where we wash bottles and reuse them rather than throw them into a bin after one use, to be recycled ( that is energy intensive too)what is wrong with reusing bottles? Anyway I haven’t had to throw away my salsa or honey or pickle bottles. They are in the good- old- fashioned- Indian way, neatly washed, dried and lined up on my shelves with condiments and powders and what not!

But I must concede that the Dutch way is far superior to the US way where the bottles are also thrown into the regular bins – none of which is recycled! There are recycling bins, but in some locations only and it is not mandatory. So it depends completely on the individuals whether they want to make the effort to throw things into a recycling bin or just throw it into the regular bin.

As for discarding old clothes, there are separate bins for it in some specific locations in town from where they get picked up for charity (mainly overseas). I am told that to dispose of furniture one has to call up the municipality who will come and pick it up. The more interesting option is to contact Kringloop, a non-profit group here ( something like Goodwill in the US) which will come and pick up all the furniture and household goods that one wants to give away and sell them through their second hand good stores and use those funds for charity!

In addition there is a small additional charge when we buy any electronic item, with my completely inadequate dutch, I understood that the amount is the payment which goes to the government, to deal with the electronic waste.( whatever little I understood from what the shopkeeper told me in Dutch) Having said that we are sitting on a DVD player which stopped working because we do not know how to dispose it ! That will be our next learning

Mastering the half a dozen waste disposal mechanisms doesn’t make a good resident; you also have to pay taxes for waste collection!

Jokes apart I must admit I completely admire the discipline with which the people deal with waste and the commitment to recycling that the country exhibits. Having seen the waste crisis in Thiruvanathapuram (my hometown) during the last two months I was wondering what it will take for Indian cities to begin to recognize that dealing with waste is the first step to recognizing our responsibility towards ourselves and the planet.

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