The United States is a country of extremes: politically, economically, religiously, geographically.  It seems that there are few things that their people can agree one, but there is one core idea in the American psyche – consumption.

It is a notion endorsed by everyone in the United States.  It is how everything works in the US.  You might say it is an all consuming idea.

This perception may not be that profound, but it is based on a small observation I have made while staying in the US.  We were provided with large garbage (sorry, trash) containers to put out of the house for collection twice a week.

Also provided, in the enlightened community that we are making this observation from, is a recycling container which is about 2/3rds the size of the trash container.  Recycling, we were told, goes out just once a week.

This contrasts with what happens at our house in Toronto.  We have two huge recycling bins that are easily twice the size of the garbage bin (which fits about 1 black bag).  In fact, each recycling bin is about 20% larger than the US trash container noted above.  At home, garbage and recycling are collected on alternate weeks.  There are penalties for any extra garbage – (you have to buy a special tag).

We had been allocated one recycling bin, but because we easily filled it we requested and were given a second bin.  Normally, families only get one.

This is mundane stuff.  But do the math.  In a two week period, the US household can throw out about ten times more garbage than we can at home in Canada.  Ten times is a whale of a difference over the millions in our city.

When our city first went to the reduced collection there was a lot of whining but it now seems like everyone has adjusted.

What it means, while in the US is that we are conditioned to have way too much recycling but we hardly have any garbage.  It is a case of “if you build it, they will come.”

What do we do?  We adjust and put the recycling excess into the garbage.

We have been trained by the system we are living in to make choices that help us reduce consumption of disposables.  It is everywhere.  We carry around cloth bags (who’d have ever thought we would) which are strangely practical for many things.  We fold up cardboard packaging to reduce its size imprint for recycling.

In the US, Walmart and most stores seem to want to give us more plastic bags than we need.  They don’t care.  Here, have some more.

Everything seems to be over packaged, blister packs, layers of packaging over the products being bought.  It is in the blood.

The underlying need to consume is very evident to visitors when going to restaurants.  New York Mayor Bloomberg has a point trying to reduce the huge containers of soft drinks sold with every meal.  They are astounding to us visitors.

The latest trend I have seen is the “traveller drink” that many restaurants are offering.  After your meal, the server at mid-range restaurants provides the bill, and then offers you a free “travel drink,” another 32 ounce drink in a plastic or cardboard cup, to take with you.  I guess it is to provide added value and encourage you to provide a healthier tip, but it generally leads to meaningless consumption and more travel stops on the highway.

But it isn’t just drinks. Portions are huge anyway.  Enormous.  Why?  Because consuming is everything.  The time is ripe to Reuse!  Reduce! And Recycle!  Maybe even, Refuse!  It is a hard road to travel when you are hell bent on consuming.

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