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Le Passage au Vert? Green Lessons from Europe

October 7, 2010

Michael Gaio is a contributor for 8 Goes Green.

I recently returned from a five-month stay in Europe.  Of course, our neighbors across the pond have more than a few cultural differences from us here in the US, but one of the most noticeable differences was the European’s attention to “going green.”

It's not reasonable to expect everyone to drive around in something like this. However, the Europeans have plenty of easier "green" habits we can adopt. / Photo from

One of the most obvious differences in the European lifestyle is how much smaller and fuel-efficient their cars are.  However, their environmentally friendly lifestyle runs deeper than that.  For instance, citizens and businesses can be fined if they don’t recycle properly.  Grocery stores sell plastic bags to customers, rather than offer them for free.  Therefore, nearly everybody has reusable grocery bags.  Additionally, nearly every drink comes in a glass bottle rather than plastic because it is easier to recycle.  Even their drinking water comes in glass.

I’m not saying the US should adopt everything about the European “green,” lifestyle.  It wouldn’t be practical to expect every American to downsize to a car the size of a Ford Fiesta.  However, right here in Mid-Missouri, we can apply some of their simple strategies to help reduce our carbon footprint.

No one wants to make abrupt changes to their lifestyle so for today we’ll start with two very simple things we can do to be more environmentally friendly.

The first idea is the reusable grocery bag.  Granted, this is not a new idea.  People all over the United States have been doing this for years.  However, the percentage of Americans using reusable bags is very low when compared to our European counterparts.  After all, about four to five trillion plastic bags are still being manufactured each year according to  No, that’s not a typo, four to five trillion!  Of these bags only about .6 percent are recycled.  But rather than recycle those plastic bags, why even use them in the first place?  You can buy reusable shopping bags for as little as 99 cents.  It’s a small price to pay for such a beneficial result for our planet.

When I was abroad, I drew strange looks when, in my bad American accent asked to buy plastic grocery bags at the store.  Everyone else had reusable bags so I stood out for paying the 10 Euro cents for a plastic bag.  It can be that way in America too.  Using a reusable bag doesn’t have to be strictly for those “green freaks,” that drive Toyota Prius’ and have solar panels on their roofs.  It’s a small change we all can make.

The second “idea,” isn’t a novel one either.  It’s simply making an effort to recycle.  Columbia has taken great strides in recent years to improve the recycling efforts of this city.  Recycling extends to more than just papers and plastics.  Did you know you could recycle motor oil, televisions, and even pet supplies, right here in Columbia?

Before we automatically toss something to the trash, take a second to look at your city’s website.  More things are recyclable than you might think.

In addition, Columbia is making it easier than ever to recycle everyday items you’re used to recycling.  Pick up a roll of blue recycling bags at your local store for glass, plastics, and metals.  Set the full bag out on the curb and the city will collect it for you.  Simple!

When people hear, “going green,” many times we believe that entails an entire lifestyle change.  However, that’s not the case.  A few simple steps can go a long way in reducing your carbon footprint and helping our environment.  If that means buying a reusable grocery bag or being sure to take out the recycling, those are small changes we can all make.

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 11:40 pm

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