Coming from Hawaii, sustainability, or at least the push for sustainability, is the status quo. We have banned plastic bags. We have readily available water fountains for using refillable bottles. Most of our single-use plastics have been replaced by biodegradable alternatives, and using your own metal straw is all the rage.
Although Europe may be thought of as safe haven of progressive and liberal ideals, it isn’t on the same sustainable wavelength as Hawaii quite yet. Recycling bins are easy to find, which is an awesome place to start, but I found that many other eco-friendly lifestyle habits were not a social norm yet.
For example, here I have “Exhibit A”: bananas put in a cardboard box thoroughly coated in plastic wrap (as if the natural coating of the fruit wasn’t good enough).
Options like these felt absolutely repulsive to me, but to many European consumers it was something completely ordinary.
At first, it was quite disheartening to know that the positive changes happening in Hawaii were so minuscule in comparison to the larger trends of consumption across the globe. The more I considered the issue though, I realized that this was merely an opportunity. Europe had shared so much with me—how to properly make coffee, the efficiency of public transportation, the Spanish language, the intricacies of fine art—and now it was my turn to share something with them. Even though I stood out, I did what was sustainably friendly, and when people asked me what I was doing, I shared with them why.
And now I’ll share what I said with you too:
- Bring your own bag to the grocery store! This isn’t as normal in some parts of Europe (especially Spain) as it is in Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean it should stop you. I would always leave a small cloth bag in my backpack that way I always had one for quick grocery store runs after class.
- Stick the sticker directly on the produce! Some European grocery stores may function differently than in the US. Sometimes you are supposed to weigh your produce at a special scale that prints off a sticker barcode for you to bring to the cashier. Normally, people will put their apples in a small plastic bag, and then weigh it, and then stick the sticker on the bag. To save plastic, skip the bags and weight your apples directly on the scale. When you have your sticker, stick it directly on one of the bunch, and go to check out like that. Problem solved.
- Don’t buy the plastic wrapped bananas! Even if they are cheaper, fight with your wallet and buy the more eco-friendly option.
- Bring your own water bottle! Warning: this can be a dangerous task sometimes. During my time abroad, I encountered several restaurants and cafes that were not a fan of my Hydroflask (even though I had already paid for something else from their menu). Most food establishments in Europe will not bring you tap water in a glass, or if they do they will bring it quite hesitantly. They REALLY want you to buy bottled water, which is not exactly the greatest option in terms of waste production. In the few instances that I encountered some rudeness, I would simply explain my point of view and they would usually simmer down…. but be prepared.
- Bring your own reusable container for take out! You will definitely get weird looks, but it’s worth it nonetheless.
- Keep a set of silverware on you & use it for your take out!
- Ask for NO straw every time!
Every day we make choices that can make an impact. The more people we can convince to make these same choices, then the better off we are as a world.
Always stay conscious, my friends!