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.