Often when I think about the cultural differences between the U.S. and the UK (especially when I’m coming up with topics for this column!), I reflect in a “high brow” way. How do people act, speak, treat each other? Music, television, culinary, and artistic differences?
But the reality is that the differences in lifestyle sometimes come down to the most basic things. Would you like to know the first thing I asked our neighbors after meeting them and exchanging pleasantries? “How does the trash collection work?” Yes. As basic as that. We had a nice laugh about how little I knew about living here (and that I didn’t even call it by its proper name: rubbish bin).
So how does the trash collection work? I’ll outline the similarities and differences below. (I should note that trash collection works differently around the U.S., and I’m sure it differs widely around the UK, too. I’m comparing my personal American experience with my personal British experience.)
-Recycling and general trash alternate collection every other week. So one week the recycling is picked up, the next week it is regular trash. The schedule is printed in my village’s monthly newsletter and available online. A small bin for food scraps is collected weekly as well.
-Size. Our bin for general trash is half the size of the bin we had in the U.S. (which was picked up weekly). So we have about 1/4 the size to work with, since it’s only collected every other week. At first we were worried we wouldn’t be able to fit everything, but we recycle so much that it hasn’t been much of a problem.
-Prevalence of recycling. I’m embarrassed to say that my town in the U.S. didn’t offer recycling services. Instead, I had to drive my recycling to a collection site. Very inconvenient. Here, my recycling is picked up every other week, and I can combine everything into one big bin. No need to sort. Very easy.
-A large trash truck (that looks just like the one in the U.S. that collected my trash) comes every Thursday morning to get either my trash or my recycling. It’s usually a team or 2 or 3 men, one driving, and the others collecting the bins and dumping them in the back of the truck.
-My trash in the U.S. was collected by my town’s public works department. Similarly, my trash here is collected by my local council.
-Heavy or large item disposal is available. My town in the U.S. had what we call a “dump,” where for a small fee you could get rid of larger items that didn’t fit or weren’t appropriate for regular trash collection. Similarly, the nearby town here offers a Saturday morning collection, where we bring any large items to be placed in big collection bins. This was especially nice for after the holidays, when we had some large boxes to dispose of.
And yes, my husband and I still argue about who should take out the garbage, regardless of which country we live in.