Reciclaje or Recycling?

SAM KESSELMAN (GRADE 11)

Last year, I had the opportunity to go to Spain on a month long exchange. While there, my first mission was to understand what it was to be in the shoes of an average Spanish teen. I ate like them, went to the same classes and same parties, and spoke like them. I really learned a lot there. One takeaway was learning about simple acts to protect the environment that are common in Spain. For starters, the overall system of waste management is a lot better there. Spain has a more environmentally friendly recycling system that we ought to apply here. I first learned about this when we walked into McDonalds in Burgos, just north of Madrid. Imagine my surprise when I entered the restaurant. They had a whole display for recyclables that was color coded, with examples, and even a compost bin. There was nothing fancy or technologically advanced about it. Someone took an extra second to think about the environment and then simply executed the design well. Here in the US, we have no recycling in fast food restaurants.

In our very own multimillion dollar high school, we still do not recycle. I felt ashamed as an American because normally we have this preconceived notion of being the best and greatest at everything. However, obviously, Spain is kicking our ass. Spain was crippled by the ‘08 economic collapse, but still can afford programs like this. Their public infrastructure is amazing too. They had a specific truck that easily picked up mounds of cardboard, just like the WM trucks do in Newton. The only difference is that in Spain, they reuse the materials after they are recycled. It is a government-run program owned by the department of waste.

In the US, we just sell our recycled materials back to Chinese corporations. Then, they create new goods and just sell the manufactured goods back to us. On net, there is really not much of a benefit. A ton of carbon is put in the air to ship it oversea and reprocess it. However, they reuse it within their own country. They even reuse batteries. So many toxic chemicals are present in them and they make their way into the water table rather easily without proper disposal. Most people in America do not even know about the harms of improperly disposed batteries like cancer and premature death. However, even if we did know, our government obviously does not care enough to put public battery disposals out. 

On the whole, Spain was a very fun experience. I have never had so much fun while also learning a ton—especially about being environmentally friendly. It does not matter 100% what is on paper, because yes, the USA has better GDP, HDI, etc, and yes, Spain does have serious problems, but they really have a kick ass system of small things that have large environmental impacts. We should really take a page out of their cuaderno when it comes to the medioambiente.

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