Thursday, August 23, 2012

So, let's talk about some of my impressions of the USA

This could take sweet forever because there is SO much that is the same and yet so different (speech, for one!) but today, let's talk about something rather close to my heart.

Seeing as I'm a wannabe treehugger :)

Disclaimer before I start - I'm not perfect and neither is South Africa (Lord knows this!) but here are my impressions.

I really found a lot of waste in the USA. A lot.

I can think of 3 quick examples off the top of my head:

1. Water in toilets

Yes, yes, I know I seem to be super obsessed with the toilets (but really, those u-shaped toilets - I'm 100% sure they must have been designed by a man!).

The toilets have such a lot of water in them, about double what we have in SA.

I can't imagine how much water wastage that is................. and I am a bit of a water Nazi. I insist the kids do the soap on their hands while the tap is closed and then we quickly open, rinse and it's switched off. And with the flushing and so on.

Have you noticed that you guys have lots of water in the toilets when you travel outside the country?

(I've been to 9 countries and the USA keeps the most water in their toilets :))

And, of course, the water at the tables. I'm sure they throw away a lot of water from people who don't drink it.

2. Food

Obviously a biggie and one very close to my heart what with all the starving children in Africa LOL. But it's true - there are hungry kids on every one of our very blessed doorsteps.

I noticed that people order all this food and then just send it back where it would be thrown away when they've finished their meal. This is a waste in SA too though. I never send food back. If I don't want it but I usually do (I can at least get a lunch out of leftovers), I get it as a takeaway and give to a beggar or the security guard on my street, etc. And we still buy one meal for the kids and make them share. Lately it's been an adult pizza since they eat so much but still, they share.

The portions are very generous - I remember MandyE ordering a couple of meals when we were together. Both the babies ate from her portion and there was enough for her too. Granted, her babies don't eat that much (at least when I was there) but still, normal toddler appetites.

One day at Panera I ordered a wholewheat bagel and they brought me a poppyseed one. I hate poppyseed anything so I told her I actually ordered a wholewheat one (if it was anything else I would have just eaten it). She then turned to D and said, "do you want this because we're just going to throw it away?" Of course D said yes.

I don't know why I thought that was so amazing - maybe because here the kitchen staff would definitely have it?

3. Utensils

Have I told you of my immense love for Duane Reade? Right... well, I was buying water and yoghurts and the most divine honey pretzels (ooh, the sweet plus the salt = too delicious!) there all the time. I'd ask them for a spoon for the yoghurts and they give you a whole set (fork, knife and spoon) every time. Being the hoarder environmentally conscious person I am, I didn't throw a thing away til I had to pack to come back to SA and discovered a whole stash of cutlery, most of which I didn't even use.

I just found that wasteful.

At Woolworths, there are individually wrapped spoons, forks, knives, etc.

4. Plastic bags

In South Africa we pay for our plastic bags at food retailers. Usually if you buy clothes/ accessories they give you the bags for free. I carry a million reusable bags in my car's boot and one in my handbag (for impulse shopping) both because I'm cheap and because it is the right thing to do... for us.

Well, in the USA they were just handing those plastic bags out like it was Christmas. I tried to be green and haul out my little Baggu shopping bag (I LOVE BAGGU, by the way) but I found the cashiers getting a bit irritated because I took a bit long to get it out and by the end of my trip (a mere 10 days) I was not-so-happily taking those plastic bags to speed things along.

So, do you guys even notice things like that or am I super sensitive to waste?
Tell me which one shocked you the most :)

PS which is your favourite pic?


  1. LMAO Marcia, you are too dang funny! I think I would be appalled if I had to pay for the bags to bag my items in. ;o) I actually don't use a toilet if it has only a little water in it...what if it over flows if I flush or doesn't flush at all?!? EEEK! Low water is a sure sign of something wrong with it. LOL LOVE YOU!

  2. Anonymous8:09 pm

    Right on -- as a US citizen I agree completely. Plastic bags cause a lot of pollution and are getting banned in lots of Calif cities--usually the ordinances require people to then pay if they need a paper bag. The idea is to encourage reusable bags which prevent pollution and conserve resources. It's also very shameful how much food we waste.

  3. Welcome to America!
    I think you've really hit it head on. The waste here is extraordinary, I'm not sure it is topped anywhere. I'm certainly not making excuses, and I'm totally guilty of wasting myself, but I think here it has become a way of life. It goes unnoticed. I could [and would love to] go on a tirade about people's waste and misperceptions of needs/wants and throw in the likes of government support programs but it's really simple, America on the whole is horribly wasteful.

    In regards to food, it's law to throw food away. Whether it be state or company policy, food that has been served cannot be taken back and reserved in anyway. That includes the staff eating it. At work I throw away on average 15-20lb of food a night. Just the other week we received 4 milks for the girls and were told to keep them all. 4 seals, individual servings of milk!

    I love your toilet obsession. Too funny. What is a normal amount of water for you? My mother has bricks in her toilet tank to reduce the water. I know in our county water is cheap. Most of it is rolled into our annual county taxes, and we received quarterly bills for usages. Ours was $14 for the last three months, and that includes filling the pool this summer!

    I hope the next post is more like this. I could sit and talk for hours!

  4. I am food nazi, water nazi and electricity nazi. Seriously. You are not the first person who goes to the USA to mention this to me so it clearly is an issue. The thing with the food is just shocking. THAT is my pet peeve. Food wastage. I do think that we have more of an issue with it because of our context and the fact that we are from Africa. Could it be?

  5. Love your observations!

    I can say on the utensils and the bags, a lot of what you see is likely due to "efficiency". Stores like to stock fewer unique instead of forks, spoons, knives...they have a complete set. The plastic bags are also the quickest way for the cashiers to bag the groceries.

    I don't mean to make excuses -- I think it's incredibly wasteful, too! And I always yell at J when he comes home from Panera with all the napkins and plasticware they automatically give you (he picks up bagels sometimes on the weekends)...drives me nuts!

    Oh, and on the food quantities...there are studies we see quite often about portion sizes as relate to the obesity epidemic in this country. I try very hard to eat only what I want, and often bring the rest home (although I wouldn't get a to-go box when I'm traveling). I can usually eat another entire meal [lunch for me] out of what I bring home from a restaurant! I think most Americans like to feel like they're getting a "deal", so that drives the portion sizes to some degree. It's really kind of disgusting! I often get overwhelmed when I'm presented a huge - unmanageable - sandwich. I'd much rather have something in a small size.

    Love the Times Square clear! And I just love the energy. :)

  6. Really none shocked me. (And if you watch food network the portion sizes would not surprise you at all)

    Though my friends are usually appalled to find we pay for shopping bags here and can never seem to understand why the shop assistants ask if they want bags. Like a comedy I saw once where the guy said he was asked if he wanted bags after doing grocery shopping of about R2500 (about $300). His response no, "I'm going to put them on my head. Of I want bags."

    Can't wait to read more about your US experiences and see more pictures :)

  7. Confession of an african who's lived in US: "I have sets of plastic cutlery in my work bag because I can't bear to throw them away unused"

    Yep, there is a lot of consumption and waste going on. What of newspapers with over 50 pages when you only want to read a couple of pages?

  8. I agree.

    We try a little at our house, and I don't think we are treehuggers. We got a more efficient toilet, when I just pee, I might leave it (do other people do that, or am I gross?), I shower every other day unless I really need to. I'll admit we are bad about food. My dad is paranoid about stuff going bad, and I'm afraid I've inherited that. We do eat leftovers and we do the reusable grocery bags pretty much all of the time. Panera's portions are enormous! I never really thought about the plastic cutlery being wasted, but you're right!

  9. Agree - America is super wasteful.

    I was fascinated by the toilets when I went to Australia... and must have taken a dozen pictures of them. The water volume seemed the exact same, but they had the half flush/full flush feature. :)

    The bagel thing, as a restaurant owner, I must defend. We have a pretty strict health department. Bringing food back into the kitchen that has already been out on the floor is a big no-no. Same rule keeps someone from licking that same bagel and then sending it back to the kitchen. :) And, they didn't waste it... they asked if D wanted it. Right?

    The bag thing drives me crazy too. We use re-usable grocery bags when we can, but sometimes I like getting those plastic bags. I use them like crazy - portable trash bags, keeping wet bathing suits from soaking other stuff, etc)

    And, I don't really know anyone who doesn't pocket plastic packaged silverware for use later. Hooray for not having to do dishes when you can use those things occasionally, right?

  10. Americans are wasteful ... and it drives me NUTS. That's why it is so hard for me to get rid of things, because I know they are useful but I don't want them to just end up in a garbage land fill.

    I *rant* often on the amount of waste. And once it goes to the land fills, nobody can dig around and cart any of it home anymore. Lawyers have eliminated common sense in our country. And it is getting worse!

    Home toilets often have far less water in them. Among us "red necks" we say, if it's yellow, let it mellow, if it's brown, flush it down. Yeah, I have relatives with tiny plaques in their bathrooms with that saying - along with many other embarrassing and crude comments.

    Businesses have to comply with tons and tons of stupid laws. We've conned so many teens into becoming lawyers, that they have to create lawsuits and laws so they have work to do.

    I'm one of the few who brings things home... my frig is full of ketchup and mustard packets, among other things. We always bring home our scraps from meals, even if they go to the dog and cats later. Our meals have so little variety to them - rice and beans, beans and rice. I'm always shocked at the amount of food that people just throw away. I remember a politician commenting that his family was "so poor we could only afford Chef Boyardee" ... and I'm thinking ... YOU could AFFORD that stuff ... that's expensive!

    I've always hated the plastic bags thing. But most people never give it a second thought. Some stores will give you a dozen bags for only 35 items purchased ... because if the bag breaks before you get to the car, they have to replace the product. Silly.

    Maybe it's because I have always lived "poor". I think we were barely in the middle class, or just shy of it growing up, but now we are far below the poverty line here in America. Yet we have so much!

    I spent 7 weeks in Quito Ecuador. Loved it there. We cleaned out the frig every Saturday (I lived with some missionary families) and took it to the road and set it on the wall, it was usually gone within half an hour. It was perfectly good food - and the ladies who came by were grateful for it. We were careful with the water, I learned to take an entire shower in under 8 minutes. We carried bags with us when we went shopping. If we had anything we didn't want anymore, we just took it out and set it on the wall - it was gone quickly. Did I mention that I Really Loved it there?

    Then I came back. The waste in America had always bothered me, and now it really bothered me a ton worse. Maybe I've just never gotten over the "return to America culture shock" ... that was 23 years ago.

    Sigh. But you are right. I rant often to my family ... we could provide everything the 3rd world needs to live happily ... just on the stuff we throw away.

    Ok ... don't get me started. ;) Yeah, it really bugs me.

    And I'm sure you would find my southern drawl hilarious.

    Oh, my stamp collector was overjoyed with the stamps. You really made the kids week! Thanks!

  11. Remember how wasteful we were with plastic bags before regulations changed here? Year ago in Europe I was amazed that plastic bags did nto come free and that people carries cloth bags etc around - now we are doing that!

    The water - heavens, I think it is quite possibly the most precious resource we have. We also work scarecely with water in the house and we will fill a bucket etc to play with, anything else has to go to plants etc. Food I would think cold still eb used somewhere by someone but I have heard that the portion sizes are huge.

    And I did not know that you are a salty/sweet lover like me! Have you tried the Woollies popcorn - "crispy and crunch, Sweet & salty)? I love it.

  12. What shocked me the most is the Plastic bags situation. On television you see brown paper bags and now you tell me that they hand out plastic bags when you shop? I really thought that the USA was a green country.

  13. I use the plastic bags at home for bin liners - so they always come in handy one way or another. Since we started paying for them I sure see a lot less of them floating around in the streets (didn't they jokingly refer to it as our new national flower at some point?).

    In Africa obviously water is always an issue, that's why i think we are more conscious of it. If there was abundant water that cost $14 for three months worth I don't think people would give a damn! Just the other day I was having a chat to a friend that lives in the UK and they were having water restrictions - she was complaining that she couldn't water her garden, so I recommended that she put a bucket in the shower with her and use that, which worked out just brilliantly.

    Sometimes it doesn't take a lot, but I think we only become properly aware of waste when we don't have any more?

  14. Anonymous8:44 pm

    Yep that sounds about right. We have a low volume toilet that has a liquid and solid waste flush settings. That saves over 1/2 the volume of water each flush. We also use reusable cloth bags for groceries or no bag. THe portion size is rediculous here as well. We always have lunch for the next day.

    I would not say NY is representative of the rest of the US. kind of like saying Cape Town represents all of Africa.

    Many towns have more environmental initiatives and such.

    Oh Yeah, I live in the Western US

  15. I remember a HUGE "environmental led" push to switch from paper to plastic back in the late 70's and early 80's. People would look at you with extreme disapproval if you asked for paper to take home your groceries. How DARE you kill a tree. If you cared about the environment, you asked for plastic. .... And 30 years later, we are reaping the benefits of too much plastic in the environment.

    And actually - it's not free. The stores build the cost into your products. Product prices are so over inflated due to all the taxes, required by law regulation costs, and such. You really don't see the outdoor shops or kids asking you to buy things that their families made over here. You have to get permits for that.

    We conserve water as much as we can - ours runs $70 - 80 a month. Last year during the drought, we had a few bills that pushed well over $100.


Thank you so much for leaving a comment and filling my love tank. I appreciate it!

I'd love to answer your email so please make sure your email address is enabled. In Blogger, go to Edit Profile, and under Privacy, tick the 3rd block and then Save Profile :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails