My garbage can phobia began exactly 10 years ago. We had just moved to the village, and recycling was still a concept struggling to be born.
In the old days, the large metal community garbage bins were out by the smelly water treatment plant. Situated above ground they were clearly labeled—glass, paper, everything else. Of course, a few fussy people rigorously separated aluminum, tin, plastic and food scraps, but it was with gay abandon that the rest of us pitched a tuna can, a banana peel, a yoghurt bucket and an old jam jar into a big, solid, green plastic garbage bag and threw it all neatly away.
Twice a week you would roll out your private galvanized garbage can full of your personal trash and garbage men in trucks rolled around the countryside and picked it up. Once every couple of weeks you would bundle up your newspapers and put out the bottles. It was a private and orderly world.
Then came the advent of the plastic community trash bins located in garbage hot-spots. This inevitably bred a certain sort of citizen: the self-appointed Garbage Policewoman—in my case she was profoundly Swiss, of a certain age, and lived in a sniper-vantage-point third-storey apartment. She had excellent eyesight, mobility and wind-proof hair.
Yes, so I got busted throwing an old apple crate and a little short piece of garden hose into the general container. Filled with an acute sense of civic duty, this particular person defended the integrity of her trash-bags-only garbage bin. Severe and lasting trauma was the result.
Since then, garbage sorting has been streamlined. In the village recycling headquarters over by the volunteer fire-truck shed and the community defibrillator, there are: above-ground containers for old clothes, garden trimmings, oil, coffee capsules and batteries; and underground ones for metal, plastic, glass, paper, and kitchen miscellaneous.
To make matters even more emotionally challenging, some party-pooper has plastered the glass deposit chutes with the Alcohol Help Line telephone number.
The municipal council has supplied each household with a personal compartmentalized heavy-duty plastic carry-bag to walk your garbage to the recycling station. It is illustrated with a cross-eyed friendly-looking wild boar that walks on his back legs and wears red running shoes. He cheerfully balances an empty wine bottle on his snout, carries a heap of newspapers on his head, jumps on a plastic bottle to flatten it, drives a snail pulling a compost bucket, flips batteries into a little box and juggles metal cans. There is also a helpful list of things that cannot be put into the garbage, and a map to get you to the cantonal dump.
So, if you need to pitch your old apple crate or a bit of garden hose or all those pre-Christmas cardboard delivery boxes that are starting to accumulate, I would suggest you do it quietly at night and make sure that no one is looking.