Lass in class: Reusable bags, disposable bottles and recycling dichotomies

May 6, 2014

One of the strangest transitions I have made while living in Ireland grew from one of the most inconsequential situations that I’ve encountered here. Unlike in the United States, Irish grocery stores provide no bags, neither plastic nor paper, upon check out.

If you want to take your groceries home easily, it will cost you roughly 15 euro cents for a single bag that can barely hold your Frosties. It was an uncomfortable change for me to get used to, but the idea behind this I can support.

Ten years ago there were an estimated 1 billion plastic bags littering the Irish foliage along highways and back roads. So the government decided to place a plastic bag tax on its citizens in order to support recycling efforts. Now, the sight of a floating plastic bag entangled in the Irish clover is a rare one.

water bottle refilling station in Ireland
One of the few bottle refilling stations
or water fountains Sweeney has seen
at the National University of Ireland.

I thought that this tax was a great idea, and I have seen its effects firsthand. However, I’ve noticed another place where this reduce and recycle ideology should be applied. At the National University of Ireland, Galway, students consume more plastic water bottles per day than I have ever seen among a student body.

At Madison, it would seem a student’s reusable water bottle is almost as essential as a laptop. If you walk into a class or a library at UW, you’ll see a rainbow of water bottles as often as you’ll see a sign on the door for no food or drink.

Plastic water bottle use is so prominent here in Ireland I was distracted by it. It seems odd that Galway, a city built on a river, that used to be powered by a river, relies so much on bottled water. Even if one did have a reusable water bottle on campus, the number of water fountains (bubblers) seems to be two, and those two are only in the Engineering building.

I think it’s important to notice these differences, and that it might be a good idea for Madison to tax and recycle grocery bags in order to reduce pollution – an idea I would take from Ireland and apply to my home life. It’s a thought I never had before this trip. Yet it also makes me proud, in comparison, seeing how well the student body at Madison limits its use of plastic water bottles in order to reduce pollution.

I think it’s important to learn from each other. I can’t explain why we don’t bring our own bags to the grocery story in Wisconsin, but Madison students also have something to teach when it comes to ”reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Peyton Sweeney is an English and environmental studies major from Bayside, Wis., who is studying abroad for the spring semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She will document her experience on a student blog, Lass in Class.