Sweden miles better than American on environment

During a recent visit to Florida, Jennifer Claywood, an American teacher now living in Skellefteå, discovered that while northern Swedish food does not compare favorably with her native country's cuisine, she is in awe of her new country's attitude towards the environment. And horrified by America's negligent approach to recycling.

American fast food chains still use vast amounts of styrofoam.

American fast food chains still use vast amounts of styrofoam.

Foto: Wikimedia, BrokenSphere

Krönika2023-08-14 09:00
Det här är en krönika. Åsikterna i texten är skribentens egna.

I recently spent six weeks in Jacksonville in Florida to see family.

During my stay, there were a few things I missed about Skellefteå. One of those things was definitely not the fast food, so my first stop was at Chick-fil-a. There I gorged myself on the best chicken sandwich in the world, waffle fries with ketchup and Texas Pete hot sauce, and a frosted coffee. 

Florida was really hot. Stepping into the A/C-cooled fast food restaurant, the first thing I noticed was the styrofoam, a material which is even more harmful to the environment than plastic. Every single person, whether they had ordered water, lemonade, soda, or a milkshake, had a styrofoam cup, plastic lid, and plastic straw. 

So, we have this very busy American fast food chain providing styrofoam cups with every single drink order. This idiocy is mostly what I thought about while I was enjoying the best fast food I’d had in years. The utter decadence and disregard for the environment in the everyday lives of Americans, and the businesses that cater to them.

Let’s consider recycling in Florida for a moment.

In Jacksonville, there are no recycling centers for styrofoam. Some grocery stores have a single collection trash can for egg crate containers (which are made from styrofoam), which is where I deposited mine. 

When I last lived in Florida, I was in Saint Augustine, a small town south of Jacksonville. The house had one plastic bin, about the size of a standard storage box, and into this box we threw in unsorted recyclables. Very easy for us. 

But at my mother’s apartment, no recycling exists. Every single thing went into the general trash. There are a few recycling centers, but they aren’t publicised and not many people know how to use them or where they are located. There are no PANT machines situated conveniently at grocery stores when people are already out on their errands. No self-service recycling drop off areas near your house.

Recycling is just not a part of people’s everyday lives. 

During Covid (at least in Jacksonville), curbside recycling was stopped altogether. Tampa (another large Florida city) no longer recycles glass. In the US, if recycling is not profitable, it’s sometimes not available. 

As a teacher in Sweden, I have been awed by the environmental-friendly curriculum threaded through all subjects. Students are taught to consider how decisions affect not only themselves, but society and the environment. Easy recycling exists here because Sweden prioritises the environment and its citizens are raised to do so as well. 

While it’s important that the government provides easy access for individuals to recycle, it’s more important that companies, especially those with a wide reach, are held accountable. 

During my 6-week stay in Florida, I heard about an air conditioning company releasing refrigerant into the atmosphere instead of collecting it, as required by federal law.The owners obviously know their practices to be wrong, so I wonder how they might behave in a society where they were taught to respect societal and environmental needs over individual profits. 

Are Swedish companies less likely to engage in such sinister practices? Is there more oversight for companies here? My hope is that between European and Swedish regulations, and individuals exposed to the Swedish curriculum, businesses here will maintain a higher level of responsibility toward the environment.

While the fast food in Northern Sweden leaves much to be desired, the recycling that is a part of daily Swedish life almost…almost…makes up for it.