OPINION: A European’s Perspective on Consumerism in Florida: Too Cold, Too Wasteful

Written by Kathrin Kohle

I have visited America a couple of times, and I always enjoy my stay. But whenever I’m here, the same things bother me — the waste of resources, especially energy and recyclables. My experience of American wastefulness of energy and recyclables is illustrated in a recent shopping experience.

When I head off to an American shopping mall, I make sure to bring a sweater and a scarf because I know the air conditioning is running on high power, and it will be freezing cold. So while it is nice and warm outside, I need to put on more clothes, so I won’t get a cold at the mall, which has happened to me on occasion.

When you go to the food court, you won’t find a single place where you can eat something that is not wrapped in paper or plastic. Instead of using plates, glasses and silverware, everything is meant to be thrown away afterwards, so that people will not have to do the dishes.

I was very surprised for example by Starbucks. In Germany, where I am from, coffee is served in cups or glasses. Here, at the mall and nearly  everywhere else, you get a take-away plastic or paper cup, even if drinking it right there on location. This creates a lot of trash. It’s also not very classy and lowers the pleasure of having a nice cup of coffee.

Another experience happened last week at a well-known mega store that I went to for groceries. When I got to the cashier to pay, I was stunned that she put everything into plastic bags. I had about ten items and four bags in the end. At that point, it came back to me, that this is something I have complained about every time I visit the U.S. Obviously nobody (cashiers and customers) care if this habit produces a whole lot of trash and that it could be done differently.

In Germany bags cost money. That’s why people reuse plastic bags they bought or acquired somewhere else (like at a clothes store). It is also very common to bring big baskets, boxes or fabric bags, when grocery shopping.

So, the next time I went to that mega store I brought a cotton bag to avoid the plastic bags. I asked the cashier not to put my items into the plastic bags, and she stopped for a second and glared at me. I pointed at my cotton bag and she rolled her eyes. It stressed her out. I disturbed her usual work process that is designed to scan the item first and then put it into the plastic bag. So she looked a bit helpless until I suggested that she could just lay it aside and that I would take care of it.

I refuse the plastic bags now in many different shops and the reaction is always pretty much the same: incomprehension. I recognize that cotton bags are being sold at the stores, but so far I haven’t seen anyone using them.

So it is not a lack of supply but of the attitude of the people. I am not saying that everything is better in Europe but there surely is a different attitude towards the environment and the use of resources. I hope that attitude will reach over here too, or global warming will cause you to run the air-conditioning more, and the air conditioning will cause more global warming.  We need to break this vicious circle.

[box title=”About the Author”]Kathrin KohleKathrin Kohle is a PhD candidate at Heidelberg University. She visits the US often, especially Florida, since her PhD Dissertation is on televangelism and marketing strategies. Prior to her work at Heidelberg, Ms Kohle studied Theology and Political Science in Mainz and Prague.[/box]


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