OPINION: Ashamed of our wasteful ways


I don’t often think about how much I’m consuming, how wasteful I am or how much I contribute to polluting the planet. However, during a recent trip to Cuba that’s just what I spent time contemplating.

In Cuba where there are no chain restaurants or expensive coffee shops on every corner, I watched in amazement as Cubans operated without many of the things we Americans consider vital to everyday life but add up to wastefulness on a grand scale. Here, we wouldn’t think of carrying our purchases without those items being wrapped in plastic or paper and then placed in plastic or paper bags. In Cuba, over and over again I witnessed men and women transporting dozens of eggs in flat, shallow cardboard cradles as they weaved through crowds and traffic. Shoppers held their unwrapped loaves of bread in their hands and carried them through the streets. That would be unthinkable in the United States. And at neighborhood family owned shops that sold Cuban coffee and other light food, sandwiches were dispensed without any wrapper at all. Sandwiches were placed on a tray and each one picked up by the customer and eaten while they stood in front of the shop. Drinks were handed out in hard plastic cups and consumed on site with the empties returned to the counter to be washed and reused.

Plastic bags are used in Cuba, but certainly not to the extent as in the United States.

At one restaurant when I asked for a container to take half a sandwich with me, the server pointed to napkins on the table. At another establishment, I was charged for a to-go container.

When I returned home and had my first fast-food meal, I counted at least 10 paper, plastic and Styrofoam components that were part of my chicken strips/salad/drink meal. And every bit of it went into the trash can and ultimately the DeKalb landfill. While I thoroughly enjoyed the taste of home, I felt a little nauseous about how wasteful I am—we all are—on a daily basis.

While I try to do my part by participating in recycling efforts with all the plastic juice bottles, glass jars and the seems-like million plastic grocery store bags that accumulate in my home, I can’t help but wonder if I can do more to cut down on being such a conspicuously wasteful consumer.

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