Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, R-E-C-Y-C-L-E? Not in France, anyway.

I have been living in France for almost eight months. And I haven't once recycled during my entire time here. Every time I walk to the dumpster to throw away all of my trash--not to separate it out like I do at home--a part of me dies inside. Literally. It's like each wine bottle (there've been a considerable few), each water bottle and milk jug, each cardboard box and handful of used scrap paper has been gradually chipping away at my little Pacific Northwest Bellingham self.

I live in a school. If I am remembering correctly, schools in the US are basically where recycling started. I learned to recycle in elementary school--there were recycling clubs, we sang songs. It was really kind of dorky, but it got the job done. My entire generation is recycling-obsessed. I understand that while not all of France is as recycling-obsessed as those in the Pacific Northwest, I assumed that while living in a school, it would not be impossible to recycle.

The closest recycle bins are community-based, and a ten-minute walk away. I'm sorry, but with as much lugging around (humping, anyone?) as I have to do on a day-to-day basis here--groceries, laundry, etc. etc.--I am not carrying my garbage through my neighborhood to some recycling center in between two HLMs.

For all of France's criticism of the United State's wasteful behavior (when asked what students know about America, a fair few will say that Americans are well-known for taking extremely long showers), France itself and the French people have astounded me this year with their lack of consideration for the environment.

It extends further than just plain not recycling (although an entire country FULL of schools throwing away every scrap of paper is enough to give Mother Nature a heart attack)--I was noticing on my walk back from the grocery store (loaded down with reusable bags upon reusable bags--one way that France is a step ahead of everywhere except Bellingham) how of all the cars that passed by on the way, only a handful had more than one passenger in them. I don't actually think anyone here has heard of carpooling. When I lived with the English teacher's family for those first two weeks of my stay here, I was horrified at how often they used their cars. The family of five has two cars, which I suppose is not too uncommon in America, either. But the mother and the father work at the same school, and have roughly the same working hours. In the morning, the mother drives to the boulangerie to pick up croissants and bread for their morning meal, then drives home. Then, the father and the mother each take at least one child in separate cars and drive them to school. The two parents take separate cars to work at the same school. At lunchtime, Celine and Jacques drive in separate cars back to Cabestany where they live (about a ten minute drive from College Albert Camus), pick up their children at different schools, and drive them home to eat lunch together. After a two hour lunch break, they each take a separate car and drive the kids back to school, then drive back into Perpignan to finish their workday. After work ends at five o'clock, Jacques and Celine take their separate cars back to Cabestany to pick up their children (at the children's three separate schools), then reconvene at home. Any other driving for the evening is generally done with one car only.

I have never seen one family drive so much in one day in all of my life in America.

For being the most wasteful country in the world, we in America actually seem to be several steps ahead of France, at least. Perhaps we haven't quite gotten the 'reduce' down to par just yet (but maybe if we only used as much water as the French did we'd also smell as bad as they do...) but I'll be singing "r-e-c-y-c-l-e, find out what it means to me" (thanks, Bill Nye the Science Guy) on my way to the recycle bins in my apartment complex come May 20th.

1 comment:

Heather said...

I apologize for bursting your bubble, but living in the Pacific Northwest (Bellingham especially) tends to put you in said "bubble."

I am unfortunate enough to live in Southern California where my neighbor drives to the grocery store to pick up groceries. Albertsons is a whopping block and a half away. No joke. This is not uncommon. In 7 months I have seen one other person, once, use reusable grocery bags at that same Albertsons (we get many strange looks for doing it ourselves). And Recycling? Don't even get me Started about recycling!! The number of bottles and cans in the trash is astounding, not to mention papers and newspapers and magazines. Jata works at REI (a green company, right?) where they Throw Away all of their cardboard boxes.

And back to the subject of cars; I don't know if anyone's heard of this little problem California has called "congestion." The number of single-person driven cars in LA county alone probably rivals the whole of France. (Ok, well not really, but you get my drift). And what blows my mind is how far people commute as well, some up to 3 hours Each Way in their own personal auto. And when people go to lunch together it means that they start from the same location, drive separate cars, and meet at the same location. Why carpool when you can drive yourself, right?

And let me continue on my rant a moment to speak of something that you haven't yet mentioned. Trash dropping. I have never been in a place where people are so careless about where they drop their trash. There are 3 (count it Three) trashbins on the One block where I live. However, the small area with bushes seems to attract more garbage than the trashbin 20 ft away. Taking our dog on a walk is an exercise in waste avoidance. Dog poop, chicken bones, half eaten hotdogs, candy wrappers, empty crisps bags, bottles, etc etc, I could drone on forever.

And should I even mention the wastefulness we see every morning when the Long Beach Clean-Up Crews water the sidewalks? Meaning that they power-wash the sidewalks Every morning in the whole downtown area. In an region with water-shortages... think about that.

So while you batter the French and congratulate the Pacific Northwesterners, please keep in mind that the Pacific Northwest is a niche green community and is in No way representative of the rest of the country.