Since arriving in London a week ago, I’ve noticed that the city is extremely conscious of its role and responsibility in being sustainable. I’ve followed British activists and social media influencers online for years and always noticed how passionate they were about the subject. I always assumed that they were speaking up against climate change, pollution etc. because the UK was in a similar state in the journey towards sustainability to the United States. However, from my observations, London has much more successfully executed many sustainable “tactics” than the US.
So. The US is reducing their use of plastic bags in stores and raves about reusable straws. How effective is this though? London food markets do not have plastic bags available to those that use a self-checkout station and require customers to ask and pay for them. The store clerks will also ask for a reusable bag before starting any transaction. These small confrontations encourage shoppers to think mindfully, so that in the future they may avoid the extra hassle, and money while helping the environment. Reusable bags of all sizes and designs are also displayed at the register, and “Waitrose’s” 10 pence plastic bags advertise that with the return of the bag, a reusable bag will be awarded for free.
Cafes do not keep straws and lids out for customers to grab while picking up their drinks and uses a similar tactic to the one used for plastic bags. I’ve also noticed that all of the cafes I have visited only offer paper straws. When discussing this with friends, they also pointed out that the packaging and utensils received at take-out food places have also been 100% biodegradable. London College of Fashion’s canteen also has a reward system for students who repeatedly use reusable coffee cups.
Now onto some more unusual observations. The London toilets contain much less water in the bowls than toilets in the US. While this may seem extremely minuscule, it makes a huge difference in reducing excess water use. The public restrooms in restaurants and the university also have single sheet toilet paper dispensers, so that people are aware of their usage instead of rolling out an excess amount of paper. I also haven’t been to a public restroom that has the option to use paper towels to wipe your wet hands. Even “Selfridges”, an extremely expensive and high-class clothing store, had personal at-sink hand dryers.
The streets are also free of waste because street cleaners patrol the streets every morning. Signage is also extremely clear and posted on every trash and recycling bin in the streets, stores, and schools. Our dorm and campus even have stickers by light switches, reminding people to be conscious about saving energy when light use is unnecessary. Air conditioning is also pretty rare (as pointed out by professors), because the weather here makes it unnecessary. Instead, fans are used on the rare occasion they are needed, reducing energy waste. I’ve also found that office and art supply stores offer refills for those that reuse dry pens, and also accept recycled supplies.
Lastly, the “Tube”/ “Underground” system is extremely well developed and allows commuters to use public transportation instead of cars, making the heavily populated city relatively traffic free.
Although I’ve only been in the city of London for a week, I’m constantly finding surprising differences in the way that the city approaches sustainability. Even when the city is seemingly executing their sustainability tactics well, the people of London are still demanding that more be done and are extremely committed to doing their part, something I think Americans can learn from.