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the beauty of nature in a consumer economy


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Recycling in Germany

This is my second post about my trip to Germany.  I went with my family and we rented an apartment.  It was wonderful to have our own kitchen (unlike in a hotel) and it meant that I felt more like part of the regular life of Germany.  This includes small things that they do to lesson their environmental impact.  Things I think the U.S., or at least Boston, could learn from.  On the very first day, my family ran across an example of this in the supermarket.  In grocery stores, nobody bags your items.  In fact, there are no bags except the flimsy plastic kind for produce.  Paper or plastic isn’t a question.  You better have your own bag, or of course you buy a reusable one.  This extends to other types of shopping.  In the U.S. when you buy something the cashier generally puts it right into a bag.  Not in Germany.  If it seems likely you need one, they ask.

There was also curbside pickup of compost, which does exist in some places in the U.S., but not where I live.  The recycling was also split up curbside into plastic, paper and glass.  I even saw glass bins that split up clear from colored glass.

recycling

I wanted to talk briefly about bicycling.  There were bikes everywhere and no one in the cities where helmets.  The only helmets I saw were on people on good road bikes going on obviously long rides in the country.  Part of it is must be that they are simply not afraid of being hit by cars.  This is clearly true in pedestrian zones (that mostly include bikes) and also the bike lane system is phenomenal.  In Austria, most of the bike lanes weren’t even part of the car lane.  They were more attached to the sidewalk.  Believe me when I saw the bike lanes (or lack thereof) and the drivers in Cambridge mean I’m always going to be wearing a helmet.  bike lane

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Paper or Plastic?

I think that everyone knows that to be environmentally conscious we should use reusable bags when we go to the grocery store.  I would like to say that this is what I do.  The truth is that most of the time I stop by the grocery store on the way home from somewhere else and didn’t put a reusable bag in my car.  That means that I am confronted with the question at the checkout: paper or plastic?  Today I chose paper.  And then I decided to do research.  It turns out that more energy goes into the making of and the recycling of paper bags, so plastic is the more energy efficient choice.  This was not the answer I was expecting to find.  There are negatives to plastic bags, including the well-known fact that the plastic almost never breaks down and can injure wildlife if it becomes litter.

Here are some sources:

A very concise view: HowStuffWorks

A long explanation from one of my favorite blogs: Treehugger

The New York Times weighs in: New Proposals Like Neither