Trash in Italy

Living in Italy Vlog

Today we are going to talk about what will possibly be the most stressful part of your vacation, or life in general, here in the Land of La Dolce Vita - TRASH.

In many cases, if you rent a villa or an apartment, or if you are moving to live here, you will have the overwhelming task of learning how to properly separate your recyclables and your rubbish.

If you are staying in a hotel, you probably won’t encounter this as much, but this will help answer the question, “What are those bins and containers used for”?

Where I come from in the United States, we have single-stream recycling. This means that we separate our recyclables from our trash, put it all out on the curb on the appropriate days, and we never think much about the process. Some states don’t even have recycling programs, and others have you separate paper, or glass, or 1-2 materials, then the rest is single-stream or trash. We do have places where you can take your recyclables, but I’m willing to bet that most people don’t even know where the nearest facility is to their home.

Here in Italy, the recycling program also varies around the country, so it is good for you to have an idea of what to expect before you check in. The basic concept in trash separation is recyclable materials, organic materials that can be composted, and trash that can’t be recycled. In some municipalities, trash pick up is once or twice a week, organic or “umido” is collected once or twice a week, and some recycled materials are collected from the curbside.

The real fun begins here. Trash bins are very small compared to America and other countries. The idea is that you should have separated your recyclables, and thus you have minimal waste. Trash and organic material go in separate bins which have a bar code on them and you place them on the curbside on their corresponding days. What makes the process even more fun is when you live in a town where the pickups don’t correspond to one or 2 days of the week, so you are constantly checking the calendar to be sure that you didn’t miss pick up this week.

Signor Trash Man scans your bin or “bidone” and you are charged for your trash pick up accordingly. Your recyclables must be bagged in plastic color-coded bags which you pick up at the Comune of your town. You are responsible for any recyclables that do not go with curbside pick up. You either have to walk or drive them to the recycling bins. In some municipalities, these bins have slots that are always open, so you can take your recyclables whenever it is convenient for you. Some municipalities have a lock on the bins and you have to use a special electronic key to open the lock. You are charged each time you open the lock. Still other comunes, like ours, have an ecocentro, or recycling center, where you have to take your recyclables and walk each material to its appropriate container to dump it. Just like stores and restaurants, they are only open certain hours and days of the week, so you can’t just “take out the trash” whenever you want. After a few times of proudly loading up the car with our recyclables on Mondays, the same day as our trash and umido pick up, we finally remember that our center is CLOSED on Mondays!

If you are moving here, they sell reusable bags and bins at the hardware stores or online that are labeled and help you keep your home organized. With recycling, every piece should be empty and clean. Rinse or wash out all bottles and containers. In our town, the plastic film that commonly comes heat sealed to plastic or styrofoam has to be separated into a different bin from the rest of the container. Tops need to be removed from bottles, plastic or glass, and recycled according to their material. Labels need to be removed, as well. Plastic bottles and milk or juice boxes go into a separate bin from other plastics and cardboard.

Did you know that there are Trash Police in some places?? They actually can look through your trash and fine you if you do not separate your trash properly! This is easy for them to monitor with the curbside pickup, obviously. In the municipalities that use the electronic key system, they can open the big container, and grab a few bags from the top. They go through the trash bags, and look for anything that shouldn’t be there. Because of the electronic key, they know who the last few people were who opened the lock, and they will share the fine. Or, if they find something that points right to you, like your address on mail or a box, then they know who to track down.

At the ecocentro, there are staff whose job is to watch each person like a hawk and make sure that they are putting each piece of trash exactly where it goes. They will actually pull out your trash and make you redo it if you get it wrong!! Every comune has a booklet that describes exactly what goes with what, when, and where. Our booklet is almost 20 pages long!

All in all, each of us should be trying to make a difference to improve the environment. The convoluted process here can be annoying, and is by no means perfect, but I do think that it makes us more mindful of how we purchase items, and how we dispose of our waste. Working together, we can all keep enjoying La Bella Italia for generations to come!

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