One of the things which must be different in every country is the waste logistics and recycling. When I visited the Netherlands office first time, my inner hippie was quite bothered when throwing empty cans to a normal garbage bin. When asking about it, people said "Don't worry, it will be sorted out at a later stage". However, I am not quite sure even to this day what this later stage actually is and who are the people handling this. And btw - we also throw our cans to the normal trash at home.. there's no such thing as returning them, only things you can return are certain beer bottles which are bought from the supermarket. Quite disturbing still, as I have been so brainwashed with the whole recycling of bottles and cans thing.
But where things get interesting is when handling your household waste. In Finland the way it works is that everyone has one or more containers in their yard, and you drop your waste bags there. With certain intervals the containers are emptied without having to think about it further. In the Netherlands the responsibility is put back to the people (or at least house owners).
We sort four things; normal, paper, garden&vegetables and plastics. Every self respecting Dutch person knows, what to put in each container. I thought also, until few weeks ago when throwing some egg shells to the garden&vegetables section, which I considered to be the same as bio waste. The Dutch Guy commented that maybe that shouldn't go there but instead to the normal grey bin. Which led to an interesting discussion, where I learned that indeed - the garden&vegetables -section means just that - either you put there leaves from your garden or the vegetable/fruit remains. But other things such as food leftovers and eggshells as well as tea bags should not probably go there. Oops....
The plastics are a great thing. You can get special bags from Albert Heijn for the plastic collection (btw. they are quite handy also for other things such as storing unused pillows and blankets etc). Then you just start collecting all the plastic stuff that you might have and wait for the plastics guy to come. However - again a thing that every Dutch person probably knows through mothers milk - you should not put plastics there which have been used for storing food. This is because they are collected to a central location, where they might be longer times. Learning point number 2.. Oops.. I feel sorry for the plastic collection center already.
How do you then get rid of the waste? The municipality offers a yearly calendar where the waste collection days are put in a funny order which is intended to make the interpretation extra confusing. For some days, there are squares of different colors (which is also quite handy for the color blind people). These squares indicate, that this day you should put out your bins to the street. Instead of each day panicking whether some of the colored squares fall to that day, we trust to the fact, that the neighbors do that. Once we are going to work we notice the street is full of brown/blue/grey containers or plastic bags and we just get ours out to the street as well. But - here's the downside. What if you happen to be away from home just on the one day a month when the plastic guy comes? Then you wait for 2 months. In the summer time, the cleaning of the garden is better to plan according to the schedule of the garbage guys :) Also to make sure that you are not mistakenly taking your neighbors grey/blue/brown container back, each container is numbered with your house number.
Now our challenge is that year 2011 has gone - and we are without a colored square calendar for year 2012! We also (not even the Dutch Guy) have no idea where to get it. I hope the neighbors do have it - so we can just continue following them :-)