Sunday, March 22, 2009

Are Americans wasteful?

I can't help but admit to thinking ever since I starting living in France, how wasteful we Americans are. Such normal actions for the French such as bringing reusable shopping to do your grocery shopping instead of accumulating wasteful plastic and paper bags at the super market are such easy gestures to help decrease wastes but for some reason, its something that we cannot incorporate into our daily lives.
Buying large quantities of food that will just end up in the trash a few weeks later is also another wasteful American habit. In France, people have smaller fridges so they buy less food. They are forced to buy only an near exact amount of food that will be almost completely eaten by the end of the week.
One fellow teacher at one of my schools told me a story about his stay in the states with an American host family. During dinner one night apparently the wife slightly overcooked a whole chicken in the oven and just threw it in the trash like it was chard black. I was pretty embarrassed by that story but I think that throwing away a slightly burned chicken is a little extreme and not many people would do the same thing.
Even unused electricity in apartment buildings is conserved in France and most of Europe. When there is no one in the hallway, the lights turn off automatically. When you need light, you push a button and voila. Why do we need to have 24 hour lights in hallways when they are not being used? But both in the USA and France there is the great invention of the motion sensor for both indoor and outside lighting. I think that we're catching on to that trend!

The list goes on and on. European's having smaller cars and thus burn less gas. They also have only about 1 television per household compared to about 3 or 4 for a house in the US. Even the toilet paper in the US is more wasteful then in Europe. Americans like to buy several layered, perfumed smelling toilet paper while in France, there is only one layer and no perfums which equals less trees cut down and less waste in the sewers. I read in a newspaper that Americans use 4x more toilet paper than Europeans! And I'm pretty sure that Americans don't go to the bathroom more often than the French lol.

Thankfully, since times are changing and since wallets are becoming lighter and lighter, people's lifestyles are changing. Now I'm not saying that this economic crisis is a good thing with all of the job layoffs and people loosing their homes, but I think that we can see something positive in this whole situation. We need to change our lifestyles. We could not keep spending and consuming like we have for so many years. This is the time to realize that most of the things that we buy we don't need. Why do you need 10 different body-sprays when you can buy just one that's actually a good quality? And the same goes for many other every day wasteful buys: shoes, clothes, makeup, home decor, etc.

Don't we all know the saying "Money doesn't buy happiness"?. Are we trying to prove to others that we are better the more wasteful we are just because we can be?

I admit to being one of those wasteful Americans once. I would leave the lights in my room on for hours even if I wasn't there. I would throw away tons of food because I didn't feel like saving it to eat later. And to think of all of the Starbucks paper cups that have gone in the trash when I could have brought a reuseable mug? But it's not just living in France that made me change my lifestyle, but by starting to pay bills and educating myself.

So the point of this post is basically, rethink what you buy and what you use. Always ask yourself, "do I really need this?" or "can I buy a less wasteful product?" Etc etc.

I'm curious, what do you all think?


Andromeda said...

Paying for stuff myself has definitely made a huge difference!! That chicken thing is slightly extreme. In my house, it was more like, I would make a cake or something and no one would want to be rude and take the last piece, so it'd just sit there and go bad! I'm like, I made it to eat, not to prove you're more polite than someone else. Though we did always get paper bags and reuse them, some stores will give you a few cents off for each bag you bring in. So it is indeed starting to change!

Ksam said...

I think this is over-simplifying things a little bit. It's not necessarily that the French are more environmentally conscious - it's that everything costs a lot more here. Most groceries stores now charge for grocery bags - so it's just cheaper to bring your own.

They have smaller fridges and turn the lights off behind them because electricity is so expensive here - about three times as much in the US.

They have smaller cars and take public transport because gas costs $8 a gallon, and not $2-3.

TV's and other electronic goods are often 2-3 times the price they are in the US as well. (and more TVs also equals a higher energy bill).

So there are of course people out there who consciously make decisions based on the effects on the environment, but the majority of people don't really have any choice - it's just not economically feasible for them to have the things we have in the US because of the high price tag (and because salaries are much lower in France).

Katie said...

Yes Ksam you are exactly right about everything being more expensive in France and salaries being lower. But I think that because they are used to living with less that the french look down on wasting. They are also more conscious about the environment. There are several households here that have a compost in their yard. Of all of my friends whose family owns their homes and have property, I've never once seen that. Obviously these can be general statements, but my time here has made me notice the difference in mentalities. Maybe it's all motivated by the idea of money and that if they had the same buying power as Americans that they would do exactly the same as us. I don't know.

Andromeda- Yes i've done the same as you. I've also just put food in the fridge just to let it go bad. I think I did hear about the stores in the US charging customers for bags. I'm glad that things are changing!

au soleil levant said...

I think a lot of anyone's opinion about waste in America comes from where they live in America. I come from hippy central. I have friends whose families have compost piles, I know lots of people who reuse grocery bags. My mom always yelled at us to turn off the lights when we left a room. Everyone I know eats leftovers.

I've actually never seen perfumed toilet paper in America but there sure is a lot of it in France. Pink and purple and perfumed. Eeew. And I do think Americans go to the bathroom more often than the French. We drink a whole lot more water than they do. I also think that the French have a lot more money-wasting knicknacks in their houses than Americans do - at least Americans in Soleil's America. But this is also a judgement of Soleil's France, which is different from your France.

To add to Ksam's assessment of why they have fewer TVs per household in France, I'll add the fact that there is also a TV tax in France. If they tried to have one of those in the US there would be riots!

Katie said...

au soleil levant;
thats very interesting what you said. I guess it all just depends on the kind of people that you are around. Of course, we can't classify a group of people saying everyone is like this or everyone is like that. I'm sure there are many French people who are more wasteful than Americans. But this is just what I've experienced while being in France. Thanks everyone for your comments!

Milk Jam said...

@soleil actually you can have up to 4 or 5 tvs (i think that's the number) under 1 roof and pay 1 tax :-) a lot of students put their parent's address down so that they don't have to pay the tax.

in my corner of the us my mom has had a compost for the last 10 years :-) she get so proud of her little red worms doing their work! lol

Brian Alb said...

Im an American who lived in Versailles for 8 months and I think most of these comments are right on! French live a certain lifestyle mostly out of necessity. However, there are certain practices which Americans could pick up on mainly more efficient toilets and washing machines. I think also more Americans should air dry their clothes. When I returned the thing which really surprised me was how gigantic and wasteful American toilets are. I do however think that America is catching up with organic products, efficient light bulbs and even efficient cars.