We've been in Cortina for about 7 weeks now (oh, plus about 15 months) and finally, finally, we have mastered the art of Italian recycling.
This is not a joke.
For the first 15 months we were here, we lived in The Savoia and we would toss our plastics, papers, glass, tin cans and several empty wine bottles into a crate that we kept on our balcony, and when that full, Ryan would trot downstairs with it and dump it into the bins behind the building. Aside from a few times when the superintendent, Angelo, pulled us outside to point and gesture frantically at the recycling/trash bins and speak rapidly in his very complicated Italian dialect, we thought everything was going very smoothly. The recycling man came every Monday morning around 5 am and emptied the bins with a gigantic crash, and that was that.
Well, finally, we have discovered the error of our ways. When we arrived in September, to our new house in Chiave, we kept doing what we had been doing for all those 15 months before - seasoned Cortina veterans that we are. One evening several weeks ago, I was in the kitchen baking cookies and I happened to glance out the window, which overlooks the recycling area, and I noticed an older woman (who lives in the building next to us, but has full reign over all of Chiave) going through the recycling bin and pulling out all of our plastic items, looking at them with disgust - like how DARE they make focaccia bread that comes in a plastic tube - and then tossing them into a huge blue bag that she was holding in her other hand.
So. What did I do? I hid. Yes. I hid underneath the window because I didn't want her looking up into the kitchen, see me watching her, and then giving me a lecture on how to recycle because I am not even the one who takes the recycling out! From my spot on the kitchen floor, I could hear her calling "Franco! Franco!" to our landlord, who must have gone over to her, because then I heard her describing to him what complete idiots we were, the kind who have no clue how to recycle their plastics. This conversation went on for 20 minutes, which of course is practically nothing in Italian time, but when you are sitting on the kitchen floor, it's a little bit longer. But I figured that listening to their conversation, and piecing together how wrong we were to throw our old water bottles in with our old wine bottles, was good for my Italian.
In the end, I had it figured out that plastics don't, in fact, go in with the glass and aluminum, like they usually do. Also, I overheard them wondering, "plastica in Inglese?" and I wanted to jump off the floor, fling open the window, and yell down to them, "plastica in Inglese is PLASTIC! I know that one!" In any case, I felt a lecture coming on one day soon. When Ryan got home from practice that night, I told him never to take the recycling out again.
So we let it build up for a while, until a few mornings later when I returned home from the store. I was heading up the stairs to our door when I heard someone calling "buongiorno....BUONGIORNO!" I turned, and there she was, the Signora of Chiave, ready to teach me about recycling. "Oh! Buongiorno, Signora!" I said, and out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that she had left all sorts of different bags on my steps. Well, she marched right up those steps, picked up the bags, stuffed them into the grocery bags that I was holding, and explained:
You have to put your plastics in the blue bag. There is no bin for the plastics, they only go in the blue bag. The blue bags are big, so you don't want to put them out every week. You have to wait a few weeks until they fill up, and then you can put them out. That way you don't waste a whole blue bag on a few plastics and you don't run out of blue bags. You have to put the glass and the tin in the "normal" recycling. You have to put trash in one bin, and you have to put uneaten food scraps (called "secco") in the same bin as the trash, but in a completely separate and biodegradable bag. You have to put the paper in the yellow bins, and things that you might think are paper or cardboard, such as old milk cartons, are not! They're secco! Why, you might ask? No, you don't ask why, because as we say rather frequently.... this is Italy.