In Canada, where I live, there are recycling bins everywhere you go. Every public place, office building, or school has blue boxes that are almost as easy to find as garbage cans. In Canada, it is almost a public embarrassment not to recycle. I seem to remember reading that upwards of 97% of homes put out recycling with their garbage pickup every week.

In Canada, it would be hard to find a suburban street where nobody had a compost pile in their backyard. Most universities have some sort of campus composting program. More and more municipalities are even getting curbside compost pickups along with their garbage and recycling.

In Canada, most sit-down restaurants serve their meals in reusable dishes. Receiving a meal where anything other than the napkin was designed to be thrown out would reflect badly on the restaurant. Eating a hotel breakfast out of Styrofoam would make the hotel seem much less classy.

In Canada, we know we have a long way to go. We continually feel bad about our national ecological footprint. We compare ourselves to Europe and groan. We’re one of the worst per-capita polluters in the world.

I have never had reason to feel proud of the environmental practices of my country. Until now.

A trip south

This weekend, I travelled down to the United States for the first time since becoming interested in the environment. I already knew that the US was slightly worse than Canada in terms of environmental policy. But I wasn’t prepared for what I found.

Recycling appeared to be nonexistent. It was the exception rather than the rule. At the hotel I stayed at, there was not a single recycling bin in the entire building. Not even for paper! In my entire stay, I believe I saw recycling bins in two public places. I ended up hoarding all my recyclables and bringing them home with me. I couldn’t bear to throw out a milk carton, drink can or piece of cardboard.

Even worse were the widespread use of disposable products. The continental breakfast that the hotel served did not offer a single reusable plate, glass, or piece of cutlery. There were only two places that I ate where not everything was designed to be thrown out. One of those places randomly served water and soft drinks in flimsy plastic cups. Food just doesn’t taste as good in dishes designed for the landfill, at least for me. I ate out of a Tupperware container and a travel mug for most of my meals.

I am so used to, after every meal, separating my waste into three piles: recycling, composting, and garbage. It’s almost unconscious. And now, suddenly, I was expected to merge my three piles into the one that I avoided most of all.

How could the most economically powerful nation in the world lack basic sustainability practices? How could cities that have light rail transit not have a recycling program?

It never occurred to me that somewhere so developed could be so undeveloped in their environmental practices.

Please, America. Catch up to the rest of the world. This isn’t like health insurance where only the nation involved is affected. When you take no measures to decrease your environmental impact, every being on this planet is being harmed.