Experiencing a More Environmentally Friendly Continent

The first time that I used wooden utensils was on my six and a half hour flight from JFK International Airport to London Heathrow International Airport for my in-flight meal on Delta Airlines. This was my first exposure to how differently other parts of the world treat the issue of plastic waste polluting our planet and even though a wooden fork and knife is such a small change, it stuck with me. After getting off the plane at Heathrow, I went and bought myself a water bottle and struggled to get the cap fully off. The reason for my struggle was that the caps are intentionally designed to not fully come off in order to help prevent littering of the caps, which are much smaller than and easier to lose than the bottles.

Plastic bottles in Europe are designed to have their caps remained attach to the bottle after opening to prevent littering and to ensure recycling.

Admittedly, I did not even realize this was the purpose until one of my professors told me after I had already ripped off the cap, defeating the point. Later that night, I struggled for nearly ten minutes trying to turn on the lights, until I realized there was a slot for me to put in my keycard in order to turn them on, that ensures when I leave my room the lights turn off.

On our way from Bayeux to Paris, we stopped at a rest stop where I got McDonald’s and had my first McDonald’s hamburger ever. Part of why I finally felt comfortable in trying a McDonald’s hamburger is that in America I have completely sworn off of fast food besides Chipotle and Pizza because fast food just does not taste like real food. But, the food in Europe has tasted so much better and I heard that it was true for European McDonald’s as well, and it was better which made me feel comfortable trying the European version of fast food chains that I had sworn off in America. Besides this being the first time I had a McDonald’s hamburger, I was confronted with even more new alternatives to plastic. The Fanta I ordered came in a biodegradable cup with a biodegradable lid that resembled more of a coffee cup than the clear plastic McDonald’s cup and straw I am used to in the US. I am a big fan of this, mainly because it avoids the issue of sogginess after extended use that plagues paper straws.

McDonald’s Fanta with a paper straw, a biodegradable lid, and a biodegradable cup

Additionally the sundae I got came with a wooden spoon instead of a plastic one, but also came in a biodegradable paper box instead of the plastic cup I am used to getting in America. I was also surprised when one of my fellow students, Erik, and I sat down at KFC and we received our meal in reusable containers that are a part of many new changes introduced to meet EU regulations. Furthermore, I have been astonished by trash/recycling can system that has separation for actual trash, paper, glass, and metal/plastic at almost every fast food restaurant I have been to and in all of our hotels. My final meal in Paris was at a small pizza shop my colleagues and I stopped at after returning from a river tour was the first restaurant I had ever been to that used metal straws.

An example of the separation of recyclable materials and trash that divides into paper, plastic, glass, and trash; taken at the Vienna House Hotel in Krakow, Poland.

My final experiences with more environmentally friendly matters was glass bottles. I used to buy coke in glass bottles as a kid for the novelty, but I have been kind of shocked by the amount of glass water bottle and pop bottles I have gotten in Europe. In America, besides my childhood fascination with glass Coke bottles, I have never really drank anything from a glass bottle until this trip. After looking into glass bottles more I have found out that glass, unlike plastic, is infinitely recyclable. All of these tiny changes are memorable to me because it gives me hope that we can continue to make changes that prevent the further pollution of our planet that way future generations can enjoy the same planet we enjoyed. These experiences make me want to do more in order to help reduce waste and I have been researching different ways for me to do my part in reducing my waste footprint such as reusable bags or buying metal straws to keep in my fanny pack.


By: Mat Jackson

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