23 October 2006

Garbage Phobia

I have come to realize that one aspect of moving to Switzerland has given way to irrational fear. I am obsessing over it. Much research have been focused on it. Every time I think of moving to Switzerland, it is always in the back of my mind.

How will I deal with the garbage?

I know. It's crazy. But there ya have it.

Switzerland has many rules about garbage. After all, Switzerland is predominantly a Germanic country, especially the area around Zuerich. And Germans are famous (and in some case infamous) for following rules. There are many rules about many aspects of life in Switzerland.

What makes it particularly strange that this is causing me to obsess is that rules do not bother me. Indeed, in many ways I find them very comfortable. I suspect it has much to do with my German Ancestry and the resulting German American upbringing. I was raised in a culture of rules and I understand their importance in creating a functioning society.

In addition, I acknowledge that rules about garbage are quite important. Switzerland is very focused on recycling as much as possible. Of using the smallest amount of natural resources necessary. And on having as close as possible to a zero impact on the environment. I support these goals and am more than willing to do my part.

So what is the issue? If I do not mind rules and I support responsibility to the environment, there should be no problem. Right?

Here is the problem...

I found out that Switzerland has something that many sources out there call the "Garbage Police." And the way the "Garbage Police" know to search your garbage for infractions is that your neighbors turn you in. And from stories I have read, frequently your neighbors report you without first speaking with you or trying to resolve it without the authorities becoming involved.

I was emailing one current expat and she told me a story about when she first arrived in Switzerland. She didn't have any kitchenware for a few weeks until the surface shipment arrived. As a result, she ended up getting many pizzas on her way home from work. Which resulted in many empty cardboard pizza boxes.

She knew enough to know she should not throw away the boxes. But did not know enough to know what to do with them. She ended up storing the pizza boxes in the spare bedroom for at least a month or so until she finally figured it out. She had been warned and was afraid to do the wrong thing.

What if I do something wrong? What if I misunderstand the instructions? What if I accidentally throw away something that should have been taken someplace for disposal? People won't say "Hey, Global, you probably aren't aware, but you should have done X, Y or Z?" Instead, they may just report me to the local Garbage Authorities?

In my efforts to avoid doing the wrong thing, will I become the Crazy Lady with a room full of cardboard?

Now that is scary!


Gretchen said...

When we first moved here I was totally obsessed with following the garbage rules. Now I've relaxed a bit... I wonder if that means the garbage police will find me? I've definitely had friends get scolded for putting the wrong things into the public recycling bins, so watch out for that!

Great blog! Looking forward to welcoming another blogger to the Swiss expat crowd!

Ms Mac said...

I wouldn't worry excessively about it. When we first arrived we put everything except pet bottles and glass in the garbage bags and nobody ever complained. The Swiss tend to recycle obsessively (and I do now) because of the user pays systen that is in place for garbage. You either have to buy special garbage bags or stickers to place on your bags which come in at about CHF20 for 12. You can imagine if you don't recycle cardboard, paper, tins, pet and glass things can get a little expensive. Like Gretchen, I have only ever had a telling off about garbage at the recycling plant. And that was because I didn't want to get in trouble and interrupted the lady in charge from a personal conversation.

The thing I've discovered about living with my Swiss neighbours is that if you are willing to ask for advice, they are more than happy to give it and to even go one step further sometimes and do some further research for you.

Global Librarian said...

Hello Gretchen & Ms. Mac,

Thanks for the reassurances and words of advice. Much appreciated!

Chris said...

Oh wow, is that the sort of thing that expats worry about before coming to Switzerland? Ugh - but don't worry too much, the penalty for breach of the garbage code is death by drowning in crystal clear lake Zurich (with subsequent disposal of the body, of course)! ;)

Global Librarian said...

You'd be amazed at the odd things people worry about before an enormous change. But the anticipation is always harder to work through than reality!

Heidi Dolamore said...

The thing that made me look over my shoulder in Germany was the radio/TV police. You have to pay an annual tax just for owning them. Looks like they've got it in Switzerland, too (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Television_licence#Switzerland).
Of course, students in the university dorms were notorious for not paying. So they'd send people to knock on your door and check to see if you were in violation. Yikes.