In Brussels, I am a white-collar criminal

To those of you who have been following my blog, it won’t come as a surprise that I am quite ecology-minded. I spend a lot of time in Brittany where environmental issues are big and I chose my camp a long time ago.

We moved to Brussels almost fifteen years ago from the western suburbs of Paris... the “affluent” part of the Paris suburbs where town councils were adamant to improve cleanliness in the streets.

Those were times when they were handing out plastic garbage containers to every house and building. By the time we left, we also were given different type of plastic trash cans to sort out our wastes.

In Brittany, they had been in the vanguard of the selective sorting of household waste by opening huge waste collection sites. People loved using them. We did all the time. They also posted big plastic garbage containers all along the roads. This was a big step towards protecting the beaches and the countryside. (Even though we are still having huge environmental issues there.)

It gave us quite a nasty shock to see garbage and household refuse strewn on pavements in Brussels in bags very often torn open because they’d be lying there for days at a time.

We had been expecting a state of cleanliness equal to the one in the Netherlands which for us was perfection. Why? Because Belgium was a Northern country, sort of. Because it was very close to Holland. Because Brussels was the capital of Europe.

But you see, Brussels was quite filthy. Dogs fouling the pavements. People throwing their garbage bags all over the place to get rid of their waste instead of keeping them in their apartments until waste was collected. Lack of room, they used to say.

Some places in Belgium were quite clean, I have to admit. Mostly places in Flanders. But Brussels was the filthiest city ever... from its suburbs, wealthy or not down to its historical center.

It still is. Well, it did improve though. A lot. Dogs still foul the pavements. But their owners tend to be more public-spirited. And it is forbidden to leave trash on the sidewalks all week long since now they have finally organized precise times for waste collection, twice a week most of the time. Those times being more or less kept though.

Still no plastic garbage cans. Still garbage bags around. 

Then five years ago, I think, we were told that from now on, we were not to use the usual (brand) black plastic bags that were sold in stores. From then on we were supposed to buy opaque white plastic bags with the “Bruxelles Propreté/Net Brussel” (Cleanliness in Brussels) stamp instead.

Those bags were expensive and yet very flimsy and very bad quality. But we had to use them and we did use them. New times were set to collect the waste which was very nice and people were told they’d be fined if bags were dumped on the sidewalks any other time the way it used to be.

We felt very good about the new rules...

Then they decided to take one step forward... We were asked to start sorting our garbage, using see-through plastic bags - blue for plastic and yellow for paper. Recycling became a slogan in Brussels.

We started to sort our garbage. Even though the blue and yellow bags were just as flimsy as the white ones.

Until a nosey journalist followed a few garbage trucks and discovered that all garbage went to the same refuse incinerators. There was no sorting at all at the other end.

People were very upset in Brussels but they kept sorting their garbage out, even if a little bit dispiritedly.

Which is what we did all through the years we have been spending in Brussels.

One week ago, while I was in Brittany and Popeye in Brussels, he called me to let me know that I had received a certified letter which he could not get since he didn’t have power of attorney... (This was my first certified letter ever in Belgium!)

As soon as I got back to Brussels, I went to the post office, well not exactly the post office but the tobacconist’s where our mailman had left my letter... Yes, this is the way it goes in Brussels.

The letter was from “Bruxelles Propreté” and was five pages long.

I definitely was a white-collar criminal.

Funny? Not funny!

During the Easter week-end, we had guests and I imagine that somehow someone got careless and threw away a couple of cans of Coca-Cola in the opaque white bag plus some tea cardboard packaging. And a very small peanuts can...

How did they find out I was the culprit? Because I had willfully thrown away two envelopes with my name and address on them. Willfully and purposefully too since our yellow paper bags are always rummaged through by an old man who lives in the area and who loves the car and boating magazines Popeye reads from time to time plus the occasional French newspapers he gets on the train. (I am a tablet reader... Long live trees!)

I have caught him on the act several times and told him I would save them for him. He’d only have to ring the bell. But I guess it’s more fun to go through the bags except that everything else ends up on the sidewalk and on the street.

I hated seeing envelopes flying around with our name on them so I decided a long time ago to throw them into the white bag.

How did they find all this stuff?

Those of you who are no longer very young will remember Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”.

Well, they ripped my garbage bag open, my dear friends, right in front of my house.

How do I know? It’s written in black and white in the minutes that are attached to my fine... (Yes, I have to pay a 75€ fine plus likely legal proceedings.)

But they do not tell that they did tear my garbage bag and threw its contents all over the place while trying to find a proof I am an environmental criminal.

I remember finding the gored bag and its contents in the street gutter a few minutes after I had dumped it on the sidewalk like I was supposed to. I remember getting gloves and pouring everything back into a new bag without noticing my envelopes were missing... I am not this paranoid. Actually I was very mad and wondering who had done this...

Now I know! It was “Bruxelles Propreté/Net Brussels”! (Cleanliness in Brussels)

Saturday night was waste collecting night! I walked around the area... This is what I found a mere 50 meters away from our home... 

But this time, there was no “Bruxelles Propreté” inspector around... Just too bad!

There I am, talking about garbage in Brussels when my son’s Turkish friends are fighting for freedom of thought and expression everywhere in Turkey for the past week.

This will be my next post.



*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

When we lived in Greater Vancouver, our friend Russ S. was the head honcho for Laidlaw. Our family was diligently sorting our garbage, but Jackie S. told me that she didn't sort because she had insider information: no sorting on the other end. "It is all political," she said. Well, I still sort, and I have three different huge bins. But I can't imagine anyone sifting through my garbage to make sure it is properly sorted!

Sorry about your fine, and the whole having to be a criminal thing...that's so not fun.