Tag Archives: recycling

Going green, New York style

It’s probably not unfair to say that – in the past at least – America has shown more collective concern for the result of the Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race than for the environment. Sure, there’s an occasionally impressive recycling programme in some cities (in New York it’s effectively handled by the homeless, keen to get their hands on the five cents you can receive returning for beer cans and soda bottles), but when it comes to the wider picture, there has traditionally been more enthusiasm for a twenty seven year old repeatrerun of an episode of Diff’rent Strokes.

That’s not to say that Britain is some glorious eco-aware capital which leaves no environmental footprint. Far from it. This is, after all, a country that is currently attempting to expand Heathrow, which is already one of the busiest airports in the world. But, from the outside at least, there seems to be a consistent pattern of measures that are being introduced to significantly reduce the UK’s impact on the environment.

Much of it is down to the European Union, who appear to have given up on attempting to ensure that – say – all bananas sold in the region have to be straight, and are instead attempting to impose sensible environmentally conscious measures. Banning incandescent lightbulbs and forcing people to use long-life energy saving bulbs instead isn’t necessarily going to save the world, but every little helps. Obviously, having a romantic dinner lit by one of the new bulbs is broadly akin to dining under the glare of the Old TraffordYankee Stadium floodlights, but European bureaucrats clearly don’t need artificial lighting to get their partners in the mood for lurve.

For the average man or woman on the British street, the most noticeable change has been the effective abandonment of the disposable plastic carrier bag. Given that 13 billion of the bags have been given away every year, and the majority take around 1000 years to degrade, any move to reduce their distribution has got to be a good thing. Some supermarkets now discourage their use by charging for them, while others reward reusing old bags. And the measures are apparently effective, without any real customer dissatisfaction.

Sounds like a plan that could be introduced in the States, right? Wrong.

While the French took to the streets to bring about the downfall of the Ancien RĂ©gime, and 100,000 people flocked to Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protest the autocratic nature of their government, revolution in America would truly be caused by the removal of shopping bags from US supermarketsgrocery stores.

I should check up on this, given the immigration requirement to pass a US history test, but I believe that the 28th amendment to the US constitution enshrines the rights of the people to use plastic carrier bags to excess. Walmart stores have weird carousels that seem to allow the intellectual giants at the checkout to spit out bags to shoppers at an approximate rate of six per second. And if you happen to go to a supermarket for just one forgotten item, the look you get when you say a bag isn’t necessary suggests you’ve just accidentally accepted responsibility for every unsolved crime within a thirty block radius.

The strange thing is that most of the cheaper supermarkets have worked out that they spend a not-inconsiderable amount of money on bags every year, and have responded to that by making sure the bags are the cheapest they can possibly find. Indeed, so cheap are the bags that scientists have been forced to reassess the size of individual molecules in order to take into account the thinness of these (no doubt) Chinese imports.

Still, at least this means that there’s less plastic being used, and the landfills have less material being placed in them? Sadly not. The thin bags are singularly incapable of holding more than a single tomato without splitting irreparably and dumping all your shopping over the ground. Staff at the checkouts have to double bag everything to give you any chance of getting your groceries home intact.

It’s almost as if environmental policy was being handled by AIG, isn’t it?

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Regular readers will know that I have a small obsession with the sandwich. My reputation is obviously beginning to precede me, as Toni and Mike at Pond Parleys have asked me to give my view of the American sandwich on this week’s post (which will be posted at some point today). I am my usual fair and reasonable self, as I’m sure you can imagine…