Waste Around the World: How to Dispose of Trash Outside Your Comfort Zone

Travel abroad can be a great experience for anyone looking to grow as a person or just gain some maturity and knowledge. Many cultural issues must be considered when you’re in foreign lands if you wish to be respectful of the country and people you’re visiting.

One element that many people overlook when they’re traveling abroad are the cultural differences in attitudes and practices with regard to waste disposal and removal systems. Some countries take recycling and composting much further than the U.S., while others struggle with finding ways to remove all the trash they create, by any means whatsoever.

To help you stay savvy proper dealing with waste overseas, here are four steps to keep in mind about trash.

1. Be aware (and respectful) of cultural differences

While some countries have similar trash disposal practices to ours, it’s not uncommon to run across others that differ greatly. The reasons are broad and varied.

Some countries, such as China, have to deal with disposing of imported trash from other countries in addition to what’s generated by their own populations. When you’re traveling, it’s important to keep in mind that you’re a visitor, and only that.

Try to avoid cultural insensitivity through well-intended attempts at “improving” other cultures on your trip.

2. Do your research first

It’s important to look up laws and regulations of the region you’re going to be visiting. Waste disposal laws should be no different.

In some countries such as Ireland, Americans will find steeper recycling regulations than they’re accustomed to, while visitors to nations such as India might be taken aback by the seemingly complete absence of policies on the matter. Regardless of where you’re going, the traveler should know in advance what he or she is getting into before boarding the plane or ship.

3. Look for symbols

Once in the country of interest, a vacationer might be confused by some of the local markings and sign postings. This will be especially true of foreign countries in which there’s a language barrier between the locals and the traveler.

One thing to look for is pictures or printed symbols on bins such as the recycling symbol, or pictures that indicate what type of waste should be placed in the receptacle. Because of the global tourism market, most countries now have some sort of system as this in place, at least in the large urban centers.

4. Ask away

If you’re still unsure about where and how to dispose of trash, be prepared and unafraid to ask a local for help. After all, cultural and global experiences are nothing if not opportunities to interact with and learn from others!

Savvy travelers should have little difficulty figuring out how to navigate the ins and outs of cultural situations in other countries, and waste disposal or recycling should be no exception. And with a little planning ahead and a keen eye for detail, this shouldn’t be a problem for even a novice world explorer.

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