A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Sweden to make a surprise appearance at my dad’s birthday party. (Yes, not very sustainable, I know, but it made me, my dad, and a bunch of other people really happy, so it seemed worth it. To minimize impact, I offset the flight here.)
I had a fantastic three-day visit with my immediate family as well as lots of extended family. While I was there, I observed several habits and defaults that I have come to appreciate from a sustainability perspective.
I thought I’d share these with you, since I think we can all learn something from it:
- The first “default” that visitors encounter as soon as they visit the airport bathroom is the unbleached toilet paper made from recycled paper. When I was growing up, there was no bleached, soft toilet paper. At least not at our house. The brownish, recycled variety was standard. If the soft kind existed, we never bought it and I can only imagine it was because the “rough” stuff was cheaper. Lesson learned: We need to price eco-friendly consumables right. It should be cheaper to buy products that are better for the planet.
- The other consumable that does not exist at my parents’ house (and in many other Swedish homes) is tissue paper (aka Kleenex). Rather, people use fabric handkerchiefs that can be washed over and over and over. This is what we all used in the “olden days” and it wasn’t that bad! Sure, it’s nice to be able to produce one blow and then toss. But is it worth the destruction of ancient forests? Lesson learned: I need to stop using disposable tissue and get some organic handkerchiefs. (Whatever happened to the ones I used in the olden days?)
- The Swedish government also makes it very easy for everybody to compost. And I don’t just mean people who have a yard where they can keep a “real” compost and feed the nourishing goo to their plants. Here’s how it works: You put your food scraps and napkins and everything else compostable in a special small, green bag. Once it fills up, you take it out to your trashcan where the garbage collector picks it up. Eventually, the magical garbage apparatus finds it and composts it along with your neighbors’ leftovers. How cool is that? Lesson learned: Our giant nation will never be able to keep up with the European countries. As a personal goal, I am going to lobby for a community compost for our apartment complex. If this succeeds, I’ll get this cool ceramic countertop compost pail for my kitchen and start rescuing food from the dump!
- To finish up, here is a good one: For many years, Swedish grocery stores have charged for bags (plastic & paper!). Hmmm, how do you think this impacts the shoppers’ behavior? You got it, they bring their own bags!! Countries across the globe are even going so far as to ban the use of plastic bags. That’s how bad they are. Our own California has taken steps in that direction. What are we waiting for? Lesson learned: In the meantime, pretend like you do have to pay for bags at the grocery store and bring your own. It provides a good I’m-doing-something-to-help buzz & it can save you a few cents in many stores.
If you’ve observed sustainable practices in other countries you’ve visited, I’d love to hear from you! We can all learn so much from each other.