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It's the little things

When we were first discussing moving, C and I had many chats about what it means to live outside of the US. He had lived in Indonesia in his 20s for a few years, and he loved his time there. In our conversations, C said that the hardest part was acclimating to life in the US when he came back. At the time, I thought he meant that it was hard to leave his life in the tropics. Now, I understand the truth in this comment.


Arriving in Spain, almost everything was different. Where we lived (city v suburbs, apartment v single-family home, Spain v the US), how we lived (walking v driving, minimalist v consumerist, euro v dollars), who we knew (family, friends & communities v knowing no one). There was so much to learn, see, explore, do, meet that the small changes got absorbed by the larger ones so that they barely registered.


This became clear during my parents' visit in October. After dinner one night, we decided to go for a walk. Our trash and recycling bags were full, and I figured it was as good a time as any to take them out. I gathered up the bags and carried them out of the apartment when my Dad asked where our trash can was. "Oh," I thought, "welcome to Spain."


See, in suburbs where I lived in the US each home has a large plastic trash can which is filled and rolled to the curb on collection day--some places have collection once a week, others twice depending upon your paid, out-of-pocket trash service. For those that choose to recycle, you can also get a smaller can for recyclables (paper and plastic, not glass), and that will get picked up curbside as well. There are separate specialty trash bags that need to be used for yard waste because most people do not compost their leaves, grass clippings, or branches--and even fewer still compost their organic kitchen waste.


Picture copied from the website of the trash provider we used in the US.


Even when we lived in an apartment, someone would collect our trash every day. We just set our bags outside the door at night, and the maintenance staff would collect the garbage and bring it--truthfully, I don't know where it was disposed. Anyway, back to life in Valencia. Here there is no doorstep collection. Instead, there are large community trash bins every few blocks. You are not assigned a trash bin based on your address--just use one and don't drop trash on the street. There are recycling bins as well, although those are spaced out a little further than the straight-up trash bins.


It is also apparent what goes in which bin based on the color of the lid: gray = non-recyclable trash; blue = paper and cardboard; yellow = cans, plastics, aerosol cans, tetra packs, and metal lids; green dome = glass; brown = organic waste. Organic waste pick up is relatively new and scarce, I think it began in 2019, and I am hoping to see more of the brown organic waste bins around town.

These are the trash and recycling bins at the end of our street. There are several other drop-off spots for our household trash between our home and this bank of containers that we use if we are not taking out our recycling.

I found this printout online; it was a great help when we first moved, and I needed to know what we could recycle and which items went into which containers:

Centralizing our trash pick up has a few benefits for our community. First, keeping food waste away from the buildings keeps the bugs and rodents away from our homes. That's not to say that they aren't around, but they seem to be less of a problem than they were in the US, where we were storing our smelly trash inside our garages. Second, it is more efficient for us to bring our waste to a central spot than for the collections to come to each home individually. I don't know how often collections happen, but they are frequent enough that the bins are partially empty most of the time.


Third, we are not paying additional fees for collection. Although taxes are higher in Spain, we are getting a lot of social benefits for our money, including trash collection, neatly kept streets, and jobs for Valencians. It seems silly to write an entire post on trash and recycling, but I thought it was a fun way to illustrate one small difference that contributes to the lifestyle shifts we made when we moved here.

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Atlanta, Georgia | Valencia, Spain