Each Earth Day celebration fills our hearts with hope as ordinary citizens, nature conservationists, NGOs, and businesses all over the world gather together to clean up the environment and discuss the badly needed change. Every year, countless communities and businesses do their best to implement the environment friendly solutions to minimize pollution and minimize waste of resources.
Much will be done between now and the next time we get together to celebrate the Earth Day, asses the results of our strategies, and admire the changes visible everywhere. But the change has to start with us! Unless we critically review our shopping habits and understand that our behavior has consequences, nothing will change.
The morning after. How many of you forgot to take your reusable travel mug, your reusable aluminum water bottle, or your reusable shopping tote bag with you this morning? Another plastic cup, another plastic bottle, another plastic straw, another plastic bag that could have been avoided. Well, tomorrow is another day and we can certainly do a bit better.
Those who travel learn to see the world with different eyes. Take the coffee habit in Vienna, Austria, for instance. The coffee to go found its way there as well, but the Austrians still love their traditional coffee shops where they can sit quietly, read the morning news, and enjoy every sip of their coffee, served in cups with saucers and spoons, in a less hurried manner; Visit a grocery store in Germany. Many chain supermarkets there do not use plastic bags anymore. You can buy a paper bag at checkout if you did not bring your own and you are expected to reuse and recycle it; You see recycling bins everywhere you go in Europe. In many cities you even find recycling bins in hotel rooms. Most people in most European countries recycle as much as they can and yet, even Europe cannot completely avoid the pollution and waste problem.
Hikers and skiers in the Alps or the High Tatra dump tones of plastic bottles, bags, and containers every year. And every year around the Earth Day or during the so called Plastic Free July, volunteers gather to clean up the mess. Many forests, beaches, and cities all over the world go the same way. It makes you wonder, do tourists even care for the places they visit?
Many communities in the US have implemented ambitious recycling programs. The situation varies from state to state and from community to community. Much has to be done, but there is hope. Yet recycling alone is not enough. The packaging industry will most probably not disappear like the once popular horse and carriage, but it definitely has to change its ways. New bio-degradable packaging materials must replace plastic. But unless consumers demand such change, no much will happen. If customers collectively refused to buy anything packaged in plastic containers, the industry would have no choice but to adapt. Not that long ago milk, for instance, came in glass bottles. Why cannot we go back to bottling milk again?
Old habits die hard, but with a little patience and determination, we can learn new ones and change the ways we live our daily lives. And the best thing is, we will see the change next time we gather to celebrate the Earth Day.
By Dominique Allmon