The Matters of Matter

When we were in Europe this summer, I was struck by two things:

1. Geez, Europeans use a lot of disposable plastic water bottles.

2. Wow, they do a ton of recycling and composting, too!

I think about these two opposing realities often. It was so nice to see people genuinely care about the simple rules of recycling and composting, but I felt sadness at people’s reluctance to just drink tap water or carry a reusable water bottle.

We rented a house in the Austrian Alps. Like, way way way up the side of a mountain. Like, a mountain so high a one-lane zig-zaggy road with a steep drop straight down was the only way up and back down (I admit I had a mini panic attack every time we had to drive on it!). Yet, this little mountain house still had a perfectly organized and color-coded recycling bin:

AND a compost container on the counter:

AND the homeowner took the time to clearly explain (in his rickety English) how to use the compost and recycling. It really mattered to him.

My city of Chicago does an admiral job trying to recycle, but citizens and visitors don’t take it seriously. Recycling bins in public parks overflow with non-recyclables. And, to be honest, I’m suspicious that the recyclables collected from our alleyway bins are just dumped in the same landfill as the trash. This all matters to me. A lot.

Why can’t we as a whole country get our act together? I honestly think it is because as a culture we don’t like to be inconvenienced. Everything revolves around the quickest, easiest, most hassle-free option. Grocery stores are full of foods packaged in disposable containers, millions of morning coffees in disposable cups, plastic drink bottles galore, plastic take-out containers. It is all too much. Just too much.

Garbage is so cheap and easy to make, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to make it with no responsibility for what happens to it. If an old house on an Austrian mountaintop can do the right thing, surely a well-connected country can manage something similar.

It just has to start to matter.

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