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Environmentally Responsible Europe?

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With all the bluster over the psuedo-scientific Kyoto Treaty, I am always interested in exploring other areas of environmental concern. Surely, the less we throw away and the materials we use in our disposable products makes a difference to the Earth’s health. Europeans are infamous for pointing at the United States as a bad example in environmental leadership.

In most restrooms here in the U.K., there are only hot-air dryers with which to dry your hands. This is, of course, for environmental reasons, so less rubbish is created. Not a bad thing. Even though I admittedly prefer paper towels, I salute the idea of producing less debris to throw away. Guess where every single electric dryer that I’ve seen in this country was manufactured and sold from?

Berkeley, Illinois. USA. For all the talk of how environmentally irresponsible the U.S. is, every single hot-air dryer in U.K. bathrooms originated in America.

Also, remember during the late ’80s when environmental groups demanded that McDonald’s cease using Styrofoam containers to sell their burgers in? McDonald’s started using paper wrappers for their fast-food in the U.S. and U.K. alike – a move I heartily applauded.

Rewind to two weekends ago, when my wife and I were leaving Amsterdam. We were desperately hungry and McDonald’s was the only place in the airport at that time in the evening at which to get sustenance, so we ate there. (I usually avoid McDonald’s if I can help it.) Again, Europe is infamous for lecturing the U.S. about its environmental responsibilities, right? Guess what material our veggie burgers were served in, and, having looked around, what other people’s burgers came in?

Styrofoam! That’s right. In the Netherlands, they are still using Styrofoam in McDonald’s. Apparently, responsible environmentalism in Europe means ratifying the Kyoto treaty and nothing else. And it’s not just the Netherlands; I remember seeing Styrofoam McDonald’s containers in Belgium as well.

Styrofoam creates a lot of trash, and I saw plenty of black plastic bags of it in the corner of the restaurant, and all this material was surely not on its way to be recycled, but to be bulldozer-packed into European soil. How environmentally responsible is that?

Cutting emissions and working on alternative sources of energy is all very well. I have no tolerance for the NIMBY-istic opposition to windfarms. Yet, the Kyoto Treaty apparently will solve what may very well prove to be a solar-influenced period of climate change – from which the heavily developing countries of India and China would remain exempt! This is what European citizens and cognoscenti alike what us to throw our weight behind?

Europe, work on reducing your solid waste instead, huh?


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About Nightdragon

  • Maurice

    Nice work, Mark. Great observations. I wonder at the air polution in England. When I was there I noticed a black build up on many of the buildings from the diesel smoke of the busses and taxis.

    Hong Kong is filthy. Nobody swims in the bay between Hong Kong and Kowloon because it is so polluted.

    Americans may have a long way to go but we can be proud of the efforts we’ve made.

    One last point: Years ago we were told that disposable diapers were bad because they fill up the landfill. Then it was determined that cloth diapers were bad because of the amount of water and soap needed to clean them. I think there are a number of opposing arguments like this where it is difficult to determine which course of action leaves the smallest footprint.

  • Maurice: “I think there are a number of opposing arguments like this where it is difficult to determine which course of action leaves the smallest footprint.”

    Exactly. What about the electricity it takes to run those hot-air hand driers? Is it better to create more paper-towel trash or to create further demands on fuel for hot-air blowers? One wonders …

  • Mark, styrofoam is now quite recyclable, though I doubt that even in Europe they are taking it as it’s not generally viewed as cost effective to recycle it.

    But the real good news is that because of modern scientific waste management the problem we had 20 years ago with landfills overflowing is a thing of the past. Here and in Europe our landfill capacity now massively exceeds demand for landfill space and increased efficiency guarantees that we’re never going to drown in a sea of old disposable diapers and styrofoam cups.


  • “Here and in Europe our landfill capacity now massively exceeds demand for landfill space and increased efficiency guarantees that we’re never going to drown in a sea of old disposable diapers and styrofoam cups.”

    Yes, advances in technology helps waste management, but that still doesn’t mean that recycling isn’t worth it, Dave. I believe it is. It’s important to make the effort and create a market for recycled products. My heart is with it 100 percent. Maybe I’m a bit of an earthy-crunchy on this issue, but I don’t see conservatism as incompatible with conservationism. Same word root, similar (I should hope) set of beliefs.

  • troll

    *Here and in Europe our landfill capacity now massively exceeds demand for landfill space*

    Dave – since you make this statement you must have read a source that supports it – please save us the effort of researching and share your reference


  • WTF

    I was reading the other day about ISO 14000, which is about environmental standards that companies should employ.

    Do all countries employ these standards? Are all the “other” countries involved in Kyoto accords practicing ISO 14000 standards? Should the US sign on to Kyoto, when other signatory countries are not meeting ISO 14000 standards.

    Okay… now onto Europe, perhaps Western Europe might be in alignment with ISO 14000, but it’s my understanding that Eastern Europe has a long way to go. Primarily due to the vexation of Soviet domination for 40+ years, and the abhorrent environmental conditions that existed with Soviet industry.

    France, has continued to leverage Nuclear technology and is now considered the leader in Nuclear application and advancement. Nuclear energy is pretty clean… but spent fuel is a problem, along with irradiated infra-structure. Hyman Rickover had the answer, no one listened. Rickover insisted that reactors should be made out of pig iron, which has a half-life (once radiated) of 50 years, versus 1000 years for some of the materials used in reactors presently in use. Think big bang and organic chemistry… when a star is finally dead the resulting mineral is… Iron.

    Europe has also made HUGE strides in diesel technology… diesel in the rest of the world (USA included) is terribly inefficient and foul, but Europe has refined the turbo Diesel which burns as clean if not cleaner that gasoline… Diesel also takes A LOT LESS refining, saving additional energy, cost and by product waste.

    Okay, so we’re still talking petroleum based. Yeah, I’m guilty. The realist in me says that we’re into petroleum for a while yet. But, we should be working up alternative sources, decentralized hydrogen grids, wind tech, solar applications… etc…

    Until then, petroleum remains; additional fields of oil are being discovered all the time. Canada has huge oil/sand reserves, estimated at as big as Saudi yields. The Arctic has oil… hmmm must have been global warming in the past to create the fauna and sea life needed to start the petroleum brewing.

    I look at this way, at this point, we’re saving money by using alternatives, and recycling etc… but to drive industry? Whew, that a bunch of power that in my great grand children’s lifetime probably won’t come to fruition.

    I was thinking the other day (this is rumination and not debate), that the Wyoming Calderas has blown twice (as far as Geology can accurately tell). The Wyoming Calderas has utterly destroyed the continent with global repercussions both times. Killing off the entire globe at least once. Geologic events are not going to stop, ever. Are we pissing up a rope with the whole petroleum thing, if ultimately the earth is going to plunge back into a major geologic winter at some point in time?

    Just a thought.

  • Sure Troll. I’m not normally in the habit of reading the garbage/recycling industry trade periodicals, but you can find lots of info about landfill capacity and the new technology which has revolutionized the industry if you read Solid Waste Digest.


  • Styrofoam is recyclable is a nice blinkered and simplistic blanket statement. Less than two percent is so – anmd that’s not really “styrofoam.”

    Just to fix the broken record – again.

  • This post was chosen by the section editor as a BC pick of the week. Go HERE (link) to find out why.

    And thank you

  • Good point, Temple. But it just so happens that the Styrofoam which McDonalds uses for their burger boxes in Europe falls in the recyclable category, though the foam cups they are now using at some stores here in the US does not.


  • I did not mean to post what I wrote there; thought I had deleted it. Sorry to all.

  • Are we considering whether or not the Styrofoam is going for recycling, though? It’s sitting in the bags with the rest of the rubbish, there was no separate bin for just Styrofoam, which you’d think there would be if they planned on recycling it. And I’ve seen situations elsewhere, in the U.S., U.K. and Europe alike, where S’foam piles up high in the garbage cans with the rest of the trash – which also includes cans and other recyclable plastics.

    S’foam is easily recyclable, I’ll agree, but to my understanding, once something is tied up in a black bag, it’s on its way to the dump or an incinerator …

  • yosemite sam

    good point

  • Hi!

    Thanks for this oportunity and congratulations!
    We all should be concerned about disposables!
    Just in Hong Kong more than 500,000 pieces of disposables diapers are thrown out every day!!!!
    To help the concerned parents, we just created a small running online shop to inform them about the negative impact of disposables over our environment!
    Let’s all try to help people think about it!
    http://www.doubibou.com makes available all organic products like cloth diapers and more products for a natural parenting. We organise many workshops and participate in many international activities regarding this matter!

    Thank you!