Thursday, September 25, 2008

Garbage police

Yesterday morning while I was bringing my boxes down to the foyer (in preparation for their trip to the post), the garbage police showed up!

The van says "Schwarz entsorgen ist nicht fair!" which translates to "Illegal disposal isn't fair!" The door says "Kontrolldienst" which means inspection/monitoring office. The adjective "schwarz" literally means "black" and is frequently used here to mean illegal--schwarzfahren is riding the tram without a ticket, etc. I find the substitution a bit creepy because I can't help but suspect it has racist undertones.

I had heard that there were garbage police in Switzerland who would dig through bags of garbage for improperly disposed items (recyclables or hazardous materials) and for something with your name and address on it so they could send you a fine, but I'd always wondered if maybe the tales were just rumor or exaggeration. I know for a fact that your neighbors will dig through your recycling for your name and address and write you a note informing you of what you've done wrong (improperly tied bundles or wrongly sorted materials) and I thought maybe the garbage police were just an out of control exaggeration! I guess they really exist!

So yesterday they pulled up and nabbed a bag of trash on the sidewalk. The old system here was that we put our garbage into official, taxed garbage bags and left it on the sidewalk for pick up on certain days of the week. The new system, starting last spring, was that we carry the taxed bags 0-5 blocks to an official community dumpster. This was a slightly traumatic change for me, but I adapted. A lot of my neighbors either ignored the memo (and I can't blame them since I myself have developed the habit of deleting/throwing away email/mail in German because I just don't want to deal with it--I figure if it's really important they'll write again, or a colleague will tip me off to the content...) or they just don't care, and have been leaving the bags on the sidewalk. Finally the garbage police came, although I'm not sure if it was a random inspection or if another nosy neighbor called in to report the violation. So they swooped in, picked up the bag, and brought it into the van where they have a big sorting table. They opened the bag, dug through it, and appeared to find something with a name and address, then put the bag back together and moved along. I tried to get pictures of them digging through the bag, but I was also trying to be incognito and by the time I got my camera out they had moved the bag out of sight! It was still pretty exciting, though!

And I found a 50 CHF (about $50) bill on the street the other night. It's one of those weeks!



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