Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Maastricht: Red Trash Bags

The best thing about living in a new country, is that all the mundane, routine tasks are suddenly a new adventure.
It's exciting to cycle to the store and jump daintily off your bike. It's such fun to discover yet another cereal packed with sweet chocolate flakes. It's a thrill to greet the cashier with a friendly "hoi" and an adrenaline rush to see if this time round, she'll hand you the receipt when you ask for "het bonnetje alstublieft" instead of saying "bless you".

The worst thing about living in a new country, is that all the mundane, routine tasks are suddenly a new adventure.
It's frustrating to get lost on your way to the store (yet again) and to struggle with your bike chain in the rain. It's annoying to decipher whether "rundvlees" is something you can eat or something used to patch a tyre. It's awkward when you ask for the receipt and the cashier thinks you have something stuck in your throat. And it's downright embarrassing when you can't remember where you have left your bike (again) and you have to haul your newly bought rundvlees all over town in search of it.

Therefore it was not surprising that a feeling of imminent doom immediately settled in the pit of my stomach upon noticing the red trash bags lined up on the street one morning. I eyed the identical red humps cautiously, turned a corner and peered down an adjacent street, only to find another ten red bags squinting back at me. The feeling of doom increased exponentially, because my very own trash bag, strikingly smurf-blue in colour, was teasingly beckoning to me from amongst the sea of devilish red.

Since I was late for work (time flies when you're frantically shuffling on high heels to anxiously peer down half a dozen other streets), I brushed off The Feeling with the logical explanation that people in Maastricht must just really love the colour red. 
But when I returned that afternoon, all the trash bags had disappeared except for a sad little blue one that stood motionless in front of my door like a shell-shocked child too shy to knock.

Taking pity on the bag, I took it by the sleeve and hauled it up the stairs. Then I jumped onto the internet in search of an explanation as to why my little blue trash bag had suffered such unjust prejudice. After reading through the numerous websites, Facebook discussion groups and articles, letters, notices and a smattering of dissertations and hypotheses on the subject of waste separation and collection in Maastricht, I was dually convinced that I needed a red trash bag. 

Nowhere, however, did any website mention where I could find such a bag. My local store seemed like a good place to start though, so off I went. At the trash bag section I stood staring in disbelief at the display. The shelf contained ample trash bags in all shapes and sizes: Big black bags, small blue bags (not unlike the one I had at home), see-though bags, white bags, green bags. But no red bags. Nothing. Nada. Helemaal niets. 
So I did what any frustrating foreigner in a new country would do. 
I bought a black bag.

It took a day for my black bag to suffer the equally cruel fate of merciless rejection.
I knew I needed some inside information, and I needed it now (there was an open can of tuna in the trash, for goodness sake!)
So one misty evening, I roamed the dark streets of downtown Maastricht in search of a local inhabitant who possessed the required wisdom. After an exchange of hushed whispers, promises of a South African braai, nervous glances and knowing nods, the secret was finally revealed.

The next day I was back at the same store, this time armed with insider knowledge and the Dutch for "one red trash bag, please." 
I boldly walked up to the cigarette counter inside the store, my heart hammering inside my chest. The cashier seemed to sense what I was there for because she leaned forward as I approached. I furtively glanced around and when convinced that I was out of earshot, I said in a hushed tone: "Een rode vuilniszak, alstublieft."
The lady nodded stealthily. The message was loud and clear.
"Groot of klein?"
Feeling braver by the second I intrepidly demanded a big bag: "Groot."
Quietly she ducked behind the counter, pulled open a hidden drawer at her feet and there it was: a red trash bag. 
A big, red trash bag.

The Red Trash Bag

That is how I learned the secret of residual waste disposal in Maastricht. It was a hard and treacherous road and therefore I have boldly decided to reveal the unwritten secret to other new inhabitants.

Now all that is left to do is to distinguish between residual, hazardous, course domestic, kitchen, and garden waste. Buy different containers for each type of waste, sort the waste and take the rest to selected recycling deports. 
Maybe a Ph.D. student can write a thesis about the process.
I, on the other hand, have wasted enough time on the topic of waste.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there! I just moved to Maastricht for work and really enjoyed reading your posts! Definitely has given me an idea of where to start. I definitely feel your pain with respect to waste disposal...I think I'm starting to understand it! Nothing has been easy in getting adjusted, but the blogs have certainly helped! Thanks again!