R for Recycling

Wednesday 20 February 2013

I grew up in a pretty environmentally conscious house.  For as long as I can remember, I knew that plastic, glass, paper & tin did not go in the garbage.  We even had a nickname for my Dad who was the enforcer of such rules.  I carried these values into my classroom when I began teaching.  One of our first lessons and rules in the room was recycling was not optional.  If I saw paper or a juicebox entering the garbage, the perpetrator would have to pick it out and put it in the appropriate bin.

This is common practice in Canada.  While there are certainly households that take it more seriously than others, it's pretty standard to always have separated bins in public areas particularly for bottles & cans and most will be returned for deposit money.  (Recycling money was always divvied up between us kids in our family so we always looked forward to the extra $5 to spend on treats at the rink.)

[My favourite program in Canada, offered in a couple of different communities I lived in, was the blue bin/bag program.  Anything recyclable was placed in a blue garbage bag or bin and was put out with the garbage.  A separate truck would come and pick it up.  No sorting necessary.]

When we started spending so much time in the US, I was horrified at the lack of recycling facilities.  The inner turmoil I felt having to put that empty bottle in a garbage can was palpable.  I could not understand why a country so developed and advanced could be so wasteful.  Gabon, of course, was much worse.  Everything went in the garbage except for the local glass beer bottles which could be returned to the brewery.  It pained me.

Now, Norway - Norway knows how to recycle and it makes me happy.  Norwegians are very sensitive about preserving their environment - you would be too when you see how beautiful it is - and thus, have put in place a very intricate system to reduce waste.

Every household is equipped with 3 bins - 1 for garbage, 1 for bio-waste, and 1 for paper.  These bins are emptied by the local waste management department.  (I've heard that if they WM Dep't sees that you are not following the guidelines, they will not collect the contents of your bin thus leaving you with heaping mounds of garbage so it's best to just do it. )  In addition to that, there are recycling facilities for plastic, glass & tin as well as a deposit system for certain beverage containers.

Let me explain:

1.  Anything that cannot be recycled or composted goes in the garbage (white bag) under our sink.  All food waste and things that can be composted go in the green, biodegradable bag.  (The biodegradable bags are actually delivered to our door once a year by the municipality.)
2.  Usually about twice a week, the bags are bundled up to go out.
3.  Because we live in an apartment, we dispose of these in the appropriate containers in our neighbourhood (as opposed to having our own personal bins outside of a house.)

Now, that's not all.

We also divide up other recyclable materials.  The above picture is our utility closet.  It's pretty self explanatory but when those containers are full, we take them to the neighbourhood bins that are divided just as we have done in our home.  We usually do this every 2 weeks.

There are certain things (water bottles, beer cans, coke bottles) that have a deposit on them.  For example, at the grocery store every glass bottle of coke comes with a 1 kroner deposit that you pay on top of the product cost.  At the front of the store sits an automated machine that sort of looks like a vending machine which you feed your empty bottles into - it scans them all, takes them and prints out a receipt with a total which then can be returned to you in cash or can be donated to a local charity.

Myths Debunked
-Compost stinks.  Not really.  It stinks just like your garbage stinks if you leave it too long before taking it out.  If you actually had to keep the compost piles in your yard then yes, it might smell but on a day to day basis in our house, it is no different.
-It takes a lot of space.  Recycling only takes a lot of space if you never deposit it to the bins.  We live in an apartment and it's not a problem for us.
-It's difficult.  It's really not that difficult once you have a system set up.  Our bins are right there and it's just as easy to rinse out a can and put it in the tin bin as it is to throw it in the garbage.

This is an aspect of Norwegian life that I embrace fully.  Regardless of your thoughts on global warming, it never hurts to limit our waste to keep this stunning world we live in clean and healthy.


  1. Love these little glimpses into the seemingly mundane, I find them so fascinating :)

    Malta is pretty awful at recycling. There are VERY rarely recycling bins in public spaces like parks, street corners, and schools, so everything goes in one plain old garbage bin. That definitely took some getting used to, but it feels normal to me now. I think we've been on this island too long!

    Also, garbage collection occurs daily in Malta, and garbage bags are usually just placed on the sidewalk to be collected. You can imagine how unpleasant it is to side-step garbage bags everywhere you go, everyday. In the summer they stink, and stray cats get into them a lot. I miss bi-weekly garbage collection :(

    But the biggest shock for me in Malta was littering! It was drilled into my head as a child to NEVER litter. Garbage just does not go on the street, it always goes in a bin (or a pocket, to be disposed of later). I am always horrified when I see people throw garbage on the ground here (when they're walking down the street, out of their car windows, etc). Mike and I make a point of picking it up.

  2. Germans are all about the recycling, and while it is a little extra effort, I do feel so much better doing it!

  3. i find it so refreshing that stavanger recycles. when i lived in bergen, they didnt...and it drove me NUTS. thank goodness we have a similar practice in oslo with recycling :) in the US, i was brought up to recycle EVERYTHING. if it was recyclable, we threw it in a bin and it was picked up once a week and sorted out after being picked up (i guess to provide jobs). i was so used to it and moving to bergen was a strange situation for me not being able to do it (except glass and cardboard).

    oslo is starting to take it more and more seriously even though the practices are pretty good here. i just wish that recycling glass was easier. the nearest bin for us is quite a walk away from where we live, which sucks...especially when you're carrying heavy glass! :)

    the main problem i have here is the littering. overall, oslo stays clean, but there are so many people that smash bottles all over the place on weekends that it is hard to clean up (or my dog steps on it) during the week. truthfully, i think that if there were more cans for recycling glass spread throughout the city, it would lessen the problem. not stop, but lessen ;)

    im hoping that bergen has changed their ways and has adopted a recycling program since i left :)

    1. Unfortunately nothing has changed - Bergen still sucks for recycling. Well, the facilities are there, but people just don't care; I feel like the only one who does it. The number of people I see tossing recyclable things into the garbage bin makes me numb.

    2. That is surprising!

      How did you find it in Trondheim?

    3. Where I lived we had full recycling facilities, so it was no problem (aside from convincing roommates to actually walk the recycling the 100m to the bin). I think there are just a lot of lazy people who really don't want to be bothered with things...the excuses are endless!

  4. Your recycling system sounds great! In the Dominican Republic NO ONE recycles - NO ONE ! In the year and a half since I've been here I've only seen 1 place with separate bins.. IKEA!

  5. I joked that when I first moved to Germany 2 years ago, that I needed a degree in recycling. Now, every time I go back to the US I am disgusted at the waste! It is not that hard to seperate and recycle, why can't they get on the band wagon!

    1. I don't know Dena but it sure seems ridiculous. I suppose citizens in each state have to lobby their government for programs!

  6. I think that this is wonderful - you guys have such a workable system down! I've also been shocked by how terrible the (lack of) recycling is in SA. In terms of the US, the recycling situation probably varies depending on where in the states you are. In California, people are generally very green and every house is required to have 3 bins as well, one for trash, on for bio waste, and one for plastic or glass. In SA, of course, we only have one bin. It KILLS me!


  7. Thanks for posting about something so important to you, as well as the universe! Glad Norway knows how to get it done. I live in the U.S. and like you said, for the most part, the waste is copious. But as long as those of us who are aware do what we can to care for our earth and spread the word, then we're doing our part. Lovely post!



    1. Thanks Steph!

      You're right - if we each do our part, even if it's only a little, it will make a difference!

  8. Oh gosh I love this so much! The States are soooooo behind in terms of recycling.

  9. I love this! and absolutely hate how hard it is to recycle in most parts in the US. At least California is okay compared to other states

  10. Great post... and so important to remember! We have tried to get a lot better about this all. I rarely use plastic water bottles and always try to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store!

  11. We recycle here in rural Ireland, but isn't as organized-all in 1 bag, while we compost in back garden. When we were on hols in Norway we stayed in a cabin & were impressed with the way the reducing was organized. Our host left great instructions about the different bins, including the one for 'biological leavings.' Loved it-tis our new favourite phrase for anything compostable :-)

  12. totally agree with you on how bad the US is about recycling. Fortunately SF is all about recycling and we teach our students how and what to recycle. Even Barcelona had tons of recycling bins all over the city, MAdird not so much. Actually not at all. It's really a bummer and i hate hate hate tossing my plastic bottles in the trash. I'm not a huge recycling freak but it pains me to toss plastic.

  13. YES, YES! We are huge recyclers. My mom was a bag re-user before it was cool (in the 80s) and we recycled everything growing up, even though it meant driving to the recycling center.
    Our town here gives out big roll-cart bins, one for trash every week, one for recycling every other week. Paul commented today that he wishes they picked up recycling every week and trash every other week. We have been known to hang onto empty bottles and cans until we find recycling, or just take it home. Our region in England had recycling, but our farm was a bit far out, so we didn't get pick up, but we just drove our stuff to the recycling center every week. It may take a bit of effort, but why not??
    I have no patience for people who don't recycle- to me, it doesn't matter what you think of global warming, climate change, being "green", whatever- WHO WANTS MORE LANDFILLS?????? Ugh.
    We are big on composting, too. We had a compost bin in Idaho and England, but couldn't move it back here (they're super picky on dirt/plant matter coming from the UK). We were going to buy a new one here, but our house backs up to a wooded area and we've got some deer that frequent the area (plus owls and raccoons) so I just throw our stuff over the fence! Raccoons love the egg shells, deer love the celery ends and lettuce cores. We don't get the great compost dirt, but it has saved us that expense so far!
    Paul and I were both so impressed with Barcelona's refuse system- each intersection had huge skips for sorting recycling and even compost- it was so easy to just take it with you on your way out each day!

    Love this post! YAY recycling!

  14. Yes!! Recycling has been one of my fav things in Norway. We always tried to do it in Australia but it would be so discouraging to take your sorted trash down to the bins and find that someone had just callously tossed their normal rubbish on top of the paper, for example. Ugh!

    Great to run into you yesterday! Will message you next week to get together sometime soon =)

  15. What a great post! Growing up in Canada, recycling was drilled into my head. Moving away to college, I became used to the collection of food waste as well. Then we moved to Alaska, where recycling is nonexistant. If you're lucky enough to be in the certain areas where recycling is collected, you just pay the monthly fee. However, if you're not (like me), you must take your recycling to the depot, located all the way across town. Obviously people don't want to be that inconvenienced. Glass collection is another story - Because everything must be shipped out of state, it becomes very costly. Glass recycling was actually just reintroduced at the beginning of the year. It's very saddening to see plastic and glass containers in the trash. For such a beautiful place filled with pristine wilderness, you'd think the recycling situation would be better.

    As an educator at the only zoo in the state, I have invested a lot of energy into promoting recycling, especially within the schools districts in Anchorage, AK.

    Thanks again for the great post!


  16. In London we do recycle, everything goes in orange bags. There could be a much better system, with organic material separated but it is clearly better than what a lot of other cities/countries have going on. I can only echo what you and fellow Canadian Mar have said, growing up in Canada recycling is just second nature.

    I'm more bothered with the general attitude people have here with rubbish. They just drop it anywhere, leave it on buses, let it fall and don't pick it up etc. It hasn't been ingrained in the population (at least from what I can tell in London) and that is just so foreign to me.


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