Recently, two pieces made me think of the important topic of garbage, or rather how to deal with it: Corinna’s post on waste disposal in Italy and this short video, which compares Germany and the US in that aspect. Having lived in different countries, I know that every country has its own ideas, which range from an elaborate deposite system for bottles in Germany to small trash cans just for glass in Ireland to a daily garbage collection in Istanbul including ragmen that look through the waste beforehand for anything recyclable.
I grew up with the idea that US-Americans didn’t know anything about recycling, but when I moved here I found out that that isn’t true. Granted, every town has its own system and they say that Massachusetts is rather progressive, but some form of recycling exists. Since April you have to pay a 10 cent charge on each checkout bag in shops – but only in Cambridge, in neighboring Boston you get as many plastic bags as you want for free.
In Cambridge we have two different bins, one for recycling paper and plastics, one for residual waste. But here it gets complicated: Soft plastic doesn’t go into the recycling bin. My feeling is that most plastics we use are soft ones though – like bags. Also you need to clean everything thoroughly before recycling it. When I look into the bins, I notice that many people do recycle, but many others put all their trash into the “normal” bin. It doesn’t really matter. While they refuse to empty your bin in Germany when you put anything recyclable into the normal bin, nobody here cares.
Also I must admit that even New Englanders totally fulfill the expectation of a disposable society. In most cafes they serve your coffee in paper cups, I have never even seen any Starbucks here using china. When I go to the outdoor market, the merchants usually ignore the fact that I show them my cloth bag, but insist on packing my fruits and vegetables into plastic ones. I really don’t mind carrying five lemons and a pound of apples in the same cloth bag. In supermarkets they often have people who pack your purchase into plastic bags. While the service is great, the result isn’t. In the beginning I used the plastic bags for garbage sacks. I mean I still do, but by now I have got such a big supply that I wouldn’t need any more for the next two to four years. Since you can order almost everything online in the US, there are several packages in the entrance hall every day – more cardboard, more plastic jackets.
What I can’t really get my head around is that I know many people here who claim to live eco-friendly – but they drive in their car to Whole Foods (a supermarket chain exclusively featuring organic products) and buy packaged foods there. No offence, it is great to eat more organic food, but that doesn’t equate with saving the world.
My Chinese roommate in comparison really protects the environment. First of all, she figured out that there is an organic waste collection where she works. Therefore she ordered biodegredable sacks and we now collect the organic waste in a separate little bucket. Ever since we’ve had so much less residual waste. She has also gone vegan in order to live healthier and eco-friendlier. And she always uses public transport or her bike.
It is difficult to change people’s thinking when it comes to waste disposal. I know that we succeeded in Germany, but people in the US still have a long way to go. I think it all starts with your personal willingness to change something, i.e. to protect the environment. On the other hand, I can totally understand that you want to have it all – a car; the expensive, but hopefully healthy organic food; the easy online order and convenient package delivery service; saving time by not doing the dishes and instead using paper cups and plastic plates and cutlery; the cheap plastic Halloween decorations which you throw away on 1 November; etc. – because everybody else seems to have all of these too.
And slightly off topic: I still haven’t seen any wild racoons although they are said to rummage around the garbage bins in Cambridge. I am very disappointed because in my imagination they are totally cute and fluffy, which they are apparently not, but how would I know?!