Number Nine of the Top Ten Things We Love About Portugal

9Waste Management

Well shit. Yep, number nine is all about crap. Also known as detritus, garbage, waste, junk, filth, debris, offal,  rubbish… all of that cocô. I thought about making this category number two for obvious reasons, but the German part of me said “nein!” So nine it is.

I know this seems like kind of a crappy subject to make a top ten most favorite list. But the little surprises are the things that endear us all the more to this country, so the unexpected things get a shove up the ladder, or down the chute as it were.

weedinAfter we purchased our house in Portugal, the owner provided us with a very thorough (and extremely appreciated) list of all the things we needed to know. The names and numbers of a gardener, a painter, a doctor, the septic people, where to find everything in the house, and so on.

As I perused the three neatly typed pages, I realized there was nothing listed about garbage collection. After spending some time in our apartment in the city, we learned that you simply bag up your garbage and set it outside your front door. By morning, it will have magically disappeared. But in the country, I never spied any garbage bags sitting in front of anyone’s house. So I asked the owner about this apparent omission on his list. He told me that you simply bag the garbage up and toss it into any one of the multitudinous dumpsters sitting by the side of the road all over Portugal. Well duh. Everyone in Portugal knows that. Well, now they do.

IMG_3498The closest dumpster to us is just up the road, near our mailbox. Our property in Oregon had a long driveway, so I was used to hauling garbage up a road a little ways. It’s only a little bit further than that here, and well worth the extra effort anyway because there are no bills to pay afterward. We certainly cover it in taxes, but that’s completely transparent and I have to guess the whole process is actually cheaper because everyone participates and no one needs to make any money off it. I used to pay over $50 a month for garbage collection in Oregon. I doubt tax money earmarked for that here adds up to anything close to that much. Plus, they have large receptacles all over the place ready to accept recycled goods; they’re separated by cardboard, glass, and plastic, so recycling is easy for everyone, and very efficient.

IMG_4156Additionally, the government employs a good number of people to sweep the streets and clean up the garbage around the city. The Portuguese are of course a vast collection of an assortment of human beings just like in every other country, except of course in Africa and Asia. Because, you know, they all look alike there. What? What’d I say? (…I’m just kiddin’, relax already). So there are always going to be occasional nitwits who toss garbage into the street, despite the ubiquitous dumpsters. Plus, the famous Portuguese sidewalk bricks often look to be held together by cigarette butts. There are more smokers here than in the states: I’m guessing the anti-smoking message here is probably ten or twenty years behind the US. But overall, the city and countryside are both relatively clean.

IMG_3497I wouldn’t give them an A+, however. That grade must surely go to Singapore, where they only ban chewing gum, but the first time you throw away a cigarette butt or candy wrapper you’ll get fined $300. And the punishments go up after that. So while I’m glad Portugal doesn’t try for that grade, generally everything is cleaner than most places in the US, so it definitely gets a higher grade than most places there.

In any case, it makes my top ten because it’s so easy and efficient, and I appreciate the common sense of it all. I know free enterprise is great, but when there’s no competition anyway (we had no choice of garbage haulers in Oregon, where’s the free enterprise in that?) and it’s something every citizen must participate in (he who hath no trash, throw the first garbage bag), then having one entity to take care of it all certainly seems to work.

IMG_3499I must add, however, that the one thing we don’t appreciate about waste in Portugal is that spotting dog poop on the sidewalks is pretty common. Some of it is surely deposited by the occasional stray, and we’ve seen Portuguese with plastic gloves on doing their scooping doody, but apparently the message hasn’t quite taken hold the way it has in the US. I can only add that any Portuguese who lets their dog just poop on the sidewalk ought to be damn glad he or she doesn’t live in Singapore!

Well, that’s enough shit for one day!

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