Hi again, Maura here! Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you about my love of travel. Studying abroad in Ireland this past semester was like a dream and I fell in love with the quaint city of Galway. This city stole my heart and very quickly became my home away from home. And although I was devastated that I had to leave this beautiful place, I was happy to bring home a new understanding of my heritage, Irish and European culture, and a novel perspective of how we interact with the world around us.
Growing up in the United States has led me to be wasteful. In a country of abundance (and even excess), we fail to realize the impact of our everyday activities. Living in Ireland for 5 months, and spending time in other European countries, opened my eyes to how I was damaging the environment with my own actions.
How many times have I grabbed a plastic fork to-go, when I have perfectly fine silverware waiting for me when I get home?
How many times have I used plastic shopping bags because I was too lazy to bring my own?
But changing a few small things isn’t that difficult. Many European countries already have laws in place that make a huge impact on sustainability and protecting the environment. In Ireland, there is a carbon tax and an emissions-based vehicle registration tax which encourages car owners to choose more efficient cars*. In Norway, where I was visiting an old friend, I learned about their electric car incentive. All electric car owners get free charging, free parking, freedom to use bus lanes, and get to avoid road tolls and ferry charges**.
But in Europe it is not just the laws that protect the environment, it is the European culture. The Irish and many of their European counterparts have created a less wasteful culture, where not throwing paper or plastic in the right bin often earns a look of disapproval. In Ireland, most grocery stores make you pay for plastic bags, meaning I usually remembered my own (to avoid the steep cost of 70 cents a bag). Many of the restaurants in Galway have done away with plastic utensils and straws. One of my favorite restaurants would use recyclable paper bags and wooden utensils for take-away orders.
Before I went to Ireland, I would have said it is too hard for a country as big as the United States to become sustainable. Laws would be too hard to roll out and would take years to catch on. But in Europe, I learned that laws aren’t the way to approach sustainability, people are the way to approach sustainability. All it takes are a few changes to your daily life to make a huge impact.
So where do we start?
Any small change can make a difference but if you are looking for a starting point, here are a few things you can try.
· Say no to plastic utensils (especially if you are taking it to go)
· Bring your own grocery bags
· Use a reusable water bottle
· Bring your own mug! (Bonus: some coffee shops will give you a discount)
· Don’t be afraid of hand-me-downs
· Donate to an environmental cause!
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or just want to talk about studying in Europe, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.