Nicholas Sukiennik: RUB and Environmental Awareness

nick7.jpgEnvironmentalism at Ruhr

My entire life these days could be easily characterized by a constant awareness of large-scale environmental issues going on in the world– an awareness so dominant as to consume my thoughts and even actions whenever I am not fully occupied with something else. As an introduction to my arguably irrational fixation, my previous co-op position was with an environmental engineering company in Beijing, China, where the goal was to improve efficiency in coal burning and in turn, reducing harmful emissions into the atmosphere. After this experience, the reality of environmental destruction has become all the more tangible to me. Not only do I plan to pursue the field as a career path, but I also strive to make as little impact environmentally as possible during my day-to-day activities.
After living in China, I am happy to be anywhere where I can walk outside without wearing a face-mask on a regular basis. Germany is, of course, no exception. As I have heard, the Ruhr area used to be a center for coal, and therefore it was also very polluted in the past. Now, from what I can tell, the air is pure, and nature is abundant and healthy. Here, even compared to Philadelphia, there are notable differences in the sustainability-intentions of the majority of the population. In many situations, being environmentally friendly is not a niche activity, but rather a normal everyday thing. For example, waste disposal bins usually take three forms, Restmull, Gelber Sack, and Bio-Abfall, (corresponding to: other waste, recycling, and compost-material, respectively). This is a step further (and a hugely important step at that!) than we have achieved in most US cities. Composting, in my opinion, should be mandatory, as most of the waste humans create is biodegradable material (usually food waste) which can easily be reused for the purpose of nutrient rich fertilizer. Albeit, it is not mandatory here, but at least it is more easily done than in Philadelphia, where one has to go out of their way to find an isolated place to dispose of such material (for those in Philly, such locations include the Summer/Winter Garden on Drexel’s campus, and Farm 51 in West Philly).
Additionally, great efforts are made to recycle bottles, both glass and plastic, because of the incentive of a refund for each bottle returned. This, in my opinion, is an ironic, yet absolutely welcome redeeming quality of the usually careless act of drinking huge quantities of beer (compare this to a college campus in Philadelphia, where the most “useful” use for used bottles is for display on top of the counters in the kitchen).
Furthermore, the campus at RUB seems to be much more vegan/vegetarian friendly than the majority of Drexel’s campus (where during my first year I survived off vegetable sushi and Clif Bars). Each cafeteria (of which there is one in every academic building, in addition to the main dining hall and multiple separate cafes) contains many options to suit the needs of a person with a limited (whether voluntarily or not) diet (see my previous entry on “Eating in Germany” for some examples).
Overall, it seems like the average German lifestyle is much less wasteful and less environmentally detrimental than the average United States one. This is inspiring to me, to know that it is possible to get people to act responsibly without having them dedicate a large part of their life to a cause (which I do and will continue to do, but the simple fact is that most people are unwilling to accept such a burden of preventing the slow yet evident destruction of the earth, on a small scale at the least). I hope to see this trend spread to all other parts of the world faster than the China’s pollution, both of which are surely happening; now we’ll have to wait and see which one shall be the victor in this most important of competitions.