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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

an Earth Day look at Garbage Day Around the World

This year, Earth Day happens to fall on my neighborhood's weekly garbage collection day. Such a coincidence inspires a unique moment of reflection. But before I make my own reflection, let me give you a picture to ponder.

"Trash Can Line," released to the Public Domain by "Hyena"

What comes to your mind when you see this picture? Perhaps relief that society has come so far in our recycling efforts? Contentment that people everywhere are placing increased focus on minimizing what is sent to landfills? Or does something else come to mind?

For me, it's the something else.

Way back on Blog Day One, I mentioned the impact that my father's stories of life in Africa had on me. One of the most life-shaping stories he ever shared was not really a story at all. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't even remember telling me this, because it was merely a brief, passing comment, uttered over a soon-to-be-tied garbage bag. But it stuck with me for decades. And it went a little something like this:

It would take my village in Africa an entire year to generate the amount of garbage one family in America generates in a week.

Wow. Really. Wow. Whether it will end up in a landfill, or be recycled, reused, or repurposed, isn't it shocking, when you think about it, how much "stuff" is brought into our homes, only to be sent out later, in one collection container or another?

Now I know none of us needs another commentary on the importance of minimizing waste production, separating recyclables, etc. Instead, in honor of Earth Day, and in keeping with the multicultural theme of this blog, I thought it might be interesting to share...

what Garbage Day looks like around the world

So I asked a few fellow bloggers, and this is what I learned:

Marie-Claude of Marie's Pastiche: In our province, Nova Scotia, Canada, garbage is collected twice a month, with recycling and compost collected on alternate weeks. They are also beginning to put into place a maximum of bags accepted, and they will soon be required to be clear bags, to ensure recyclables, compostable items are not thrown out with regular garbage.

Phoebe at the Lou Messugo blog: In my town in the south of France, household waste is collected twice a week (3 times in the summer months), packaging is taken once a week for recycling, glass is recycled once a fortnight and garden waste once a week. This is from our home. We can also take unlimited quantities of green waste to the dump where it is composted. If we have something large to get rid of like a fridge/TV we call and it will be picked up within a week to be disposed of correctly.

Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings: On Guam, trash once a week and they were just beginning to offer curbside recycling in select neighborhoods. Trash service was very expensive there, and they are strict about how much they would take because there are only so many places to put waste on such a small island. Unfortunately, this seemed to result in a lot of dumping in the jungle, and a lot of burning trash. Where I am now, in Maryland, trash is picked up twice a week and recycling once. On the first trash day of the week, we can put out yard waste and on the second, "heavy trash" like appliances and furniture. Along with recycling, we can do "ecycling" (electronics). Nowhere I have lived offers composting - I wish that was as common here as in other countries.

Ute of Expat Since Birth: In Netherlands (next to The Hague area): yard waste (incl. composting) every two weeks (in a big container every household gets from the Gemeente) and weekly trash every two weeks (also in a container from the Gemeente). We recycle pretty much: plastic, glass, paper, electronics (of course!) etc. and have extra collecting points where to bring them. Also: every two weeks they collect paper (we get a pretty big container for that too, but we try to not fill it up in two weeks).

Thereza at Howling Yoga Books: In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the garbage truck comes once a week only for waste. Recycling is treated differently. People who live on the streets or need extra money collect recyclable items and sell them to places (cardboard, cans, soda bottles, etc.), then the city doesn't need to take care of that. There are always people on the streets looking for such items to sell, especially at the beach where people consume a lot and there are not many trash cans unfortunately.

Amanda of MarocMama: Here in Morocco they do pick up garbage maybe a few times a week but it's everywhere. There's no real recycling pick up, though most houses reuse containers and jars. We also separate out our bread from the garbage and it's fed to animals so it doesn't go to waste. People throw a lot of garbage outside, on the street, etc. One of the saddest things is seeing fields of plastic bags on a beautiful Moroccan backdrop. I live in a very urban city though - in rural areas I believe that waste is regularly burned in small batches.

Thanks to the great bloggers from Multicultural Kid Blogs for sharing this brief and interesting look at garbage day around the world.

Happy Earth Day!


  1. Thanks for including my comment. What an interesting post this made! I find it horrific how much stuff we use and chuck away, your dad's comment is very poignant.

    1. Yes, Phoebe, this was an interesting post to put together. I have become surprisingly interested in learning more about garbage collection around the globe since beginning this project. No better time than Earth Day! Thank you for participating!

  2. Great post, and what a cute cover picture! Thank you for putting together a compilation to give us a bit of a worldwide view of garbage collection. A healthy planet also depends on how we deal with the garbage we generate.
    Speaking of that, I wonder which part of Africa your dad referred to. My family and I visited Kenya two years ago. While the Masaai Mara tribes keep the land clean, life in the slums was very different... We had to go a long way to get deep in the slums, where we built a school. On the way to our project site, there was trash everywhere. Lands and rivers being polluted. And even if they don't have much materially speaking, there are no trash cans either, so everything gets thrown on the floor. We did our part, regarding to our own trash with the meals we brought, by bringing our garbage back to the Community Center we stayed in; hoping they had proper garbage collection there. My hope is that by setting up an example and providing one more school to the area, their awareness about caring for the planet will be raised.
    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Ah yes, your experience in the slums in Africa sounds very similar to slums in much of the third world, sadly. My father lived in remote regions of Senegal and Gabon. I imagine part of the difference in those remote areas would be due to a deeper respect for the earth and the land, but equally relevant is the fact that food in a village wouldn't come in packaging, minimal items would be purchased from stores, etc. Anywhere people live off the land, there is little waste. Meanwhile, my street is right now filled with collection bins of all types. Agh.

  3. I find myself weekly overwhelmed with the garbage generated....and though I try to minimize, sometimes I am stumped for a better way, and other times I am seduced by convenience. Thanks for putting this post together, it's certainly a subject worth noting and thinking about. Happy Earth Day!