When arriving in Switzerland I quickly realized that people here really try to reduce their waste and do their contribution to the world inside each other’s possibilities. Recycling is a big deal here, and if this is mainstream to you, then let me tell you, not every country does it or it’s merely starting to take the initiative to do it. Separating food waste and transforming it into compost, recycling aluminum, paper, plastic bottles and so on, all of this was quite impressive for me as I first arrived. I can tell you that I felt so good about this *virtual high five*. But why do the Swiss do this? Simple, trash bags – in many cantons – are expensive so they force you to reduce the amount of waste you produce. Genius.
However, let me paint you a little picture – a timeline – of a recent event I’ve gone through and that has quickly opened my eyes to something we are all part of and should not makes us proud.
It is a normal day and like any day, I am tired from classes and now hungry because it is almost 6pm. So I decide to eat something homemade and I feel like cooking. All in all, my hunger beats my tiredness, so it is grocery shopping time.
Step 1: I arrive to my favorite supermarket and buy pasta, veggies like tomatoes and mushrooms, some bread and chips – because who doesn’t love chips. I also get the parmesan cheese because pasta and cheese are mi vida. And to balance all together, I grab a salad because I need to compensate for the extra carbohydrates *rolls eyes*.
Step 2: I realize I am missing some hygiene products and cleaning supplies. So I get toilet paper, toothpaste, *ohlala* shampoo is on sale, I get two, and a little something for the bathroom, because as the grown up that I am I like a tidy salle de bain.
Step 3: Payment time. I am checking out with my products and see that I forgot my grocery bag and my uni bag is also full *cries in spanish*. As I am not an octopus, I decide to buy a paper bag. It is reusable *YES*, clean conscience.
Step 4: I get home, cook, put the food residuals in the compost and the rest to the trash, clean up the kitchen and now I can binge watch Netflix. Day over, end of the story.
Step 5: Wait a second…
I had just thrown away a lot of plastic packaging and wrapping –non recyclable plastic– into the bin. How long did I use it? A few minutes? Where is this going after? What happens if some of them fly away into the nature? Was I wrong in not reducing more of my waste?…
After a brief panic attack, I realize that during my shopping process I did not notice that EVERYTHING – and yes I mean everything – has some kind of plastic on. But not only that, it is also EVERYWHERE. My kitchen, my bathroom, even in my clothes. It sounds scary, right? In what moment did plastic invade my life? I did some research and got really scared.
Switzerland has a really strong appetite for plastic, per capita we waste more plastic rubbish than almost every country in the world (except the US and Denmark) and let’s face it, we live in a very small country – size wise. And what do we do with it? Unless it is PET plastic bottles, which are recyclable, then everything is burnt for energy or monetarized in order to be sold and highly probable be also burnt to produce but somewhere else. Or worst, it ends up in a landfill or the ocean where the consequences are irreparable. Very briefly, in a landfill the soil – where we grow our food – gets polluted and in the ocean – via rivers or lakes – sea life is severely damaged. Either way, we are polluting the planet.
So, is it our fault? Yes, and no – I would say. Yes, because we choose to buy plastic, and demand drives supply. But also no, because plastic has become so normal for our society that we do not really see it as an issue anymore. If the government, corporations and us do not know the effect we are causing by producing, selling and buying single-use non-recyclable plastic, then what is left? No, we are not doomed but we need to work on this.
Acknowledging that we have a problem is the first step and I will admit it. I have a problem, my relationship – and our society’s relationship – with plastic is toxic. We need to be aware of this, face it and fight against it. Therefore, the next time you go groceries shopping try to purchase plastic free, of course they are sometimes inevitable but still try, and just remember this: Reject, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Interpret it as best as you can and live by it. I trust you – and me – that we can do better.
Mariela Chacaltana Bonifaz