One of my first memories in Málaga, Spain: Walking through the airport with an empty plastic water bottle, searching for a recycling bin in a forest of trash bins. Basura, basura, basura! But where was the recycling?
Fast forward two months, and I am a guilty contributor to the world of recycling products in landfills. I still cringe every time my plastic water bottle or paper gelato cup falls down into the abyss of a city-street trashcan, but what I have realized is that sometimes there is no alternative. As the type of person who gets into regular arguments with her family at home for throwing plastic strawberry containers and milk cartons into the trashcan, I have given this a lot of thought.
I have come to realize that environmental consciousness is not ingrained in the inhabitants of our world. I have come to realize that this is an issue that is bigger than we are. Traveling around Europe over the past few months, I have found it very interesting to observe the level of each country’s environmental awareness. In the Netherlands, I noted that the airport that I flew into had recycling bins as often as they had trash cans. In Ireland, the owner of my airb&b left special instructions to use the cloth bags hanging on the wall of the apartment for shopping. Apparently, plastic bags were expensive and rarely used. However, I see trash everywhere I go. The canals in Amsterdam were beautiful but littered with trash, and the streets of Dublin after a night out made me gasp.
My host mom has lived in Málaga for over seventy years. She talks about the Franco years like they were yesterday and gets more excited about the huelgas downtown for women’s rights than anyone I have ever known. Coming into her home to live as if I were her own daughter, I feel obliged to go with the flow, eat whatever she serves me, and tip toe in at night when I’m out late at the discotecas. Though it bothers me that the only thing that leaves her house is a tidy bag of trash, plastic bottles and all, I do not feel that I can change the way she has lived her seventy-three year life. Because I am ultimately a guest in her house, I ignore the urge to ask her about recycling.
After a little bit of research, I learned that there are in fact many environmental programs and initiatives going on around me in Spain. There are initiatives here in Málaga, such as Málaga cómo te quiero!?, that organize environmental efforts within the community. This particular program created an initiative in June of last year to inform beach-goers about trash. According to Raúl Jiménez, a governmental worker in Málaga, many of our problems come from habits, which must be identified and improved. Recently, Málaga cómo the quiero!? did demonstrations with real trash on the beaches of Málaga to increase environmental awareness in the community.
Andalusia has also begun initiatives to help instill environmental consciousness in its citizens at a young age. A project known as Terral was recently started in southern Spain with funding from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development within the Andalusian Rural Development Program. Terral has been introduced in schools in an effort to educate young people about environmental concerns. During the 2017-2018 school year, Terral reached 174 schools, totaling 47,760 students.
Although Málaga does not seem to have very much in common with Silicon Valley, I was also intrigued to learn that the city has developed the nickname “Málaga Valley.” With the introduction of new technology, such as energy efficient buildings, many believe that Málaga is on it’s way to becoming a Smart City. Though this seems a long way off, it is important that this idea is on the table.
In addition, the government in Málaga received an award for its initiatives to recycle paper and cardboard in March. While I have noticed many paper recycling bins scattered throughout the city, I have not had the same success finding them in educational settings. The building where I take classes in Málaga does not have paper recycling containers in any of the classrooms. Even at the University of Málaga, where I have spent a decent amount of time, recycling containers are hard to come by. Because college students tend to be busy and on-the-move, I am confident that if a recycling container is not easy to find, it will not be used. Although there are recycling initiatives at the University, somehow they seem to have fallen short.
While I am happy to learn that there are environmental programs and agencies working to spread awareness and alleviate our carbon footprint, I can’t help but think that there is a very substantial disconnect between these initiatives and the public. How can a city pride itself on its paper recycling, but neglect to place recycling bins in the University classrooms? Though every city may have initiatives and frameworks for change, ensuring that this information reaches average citizens is arguably the most instrumental part of the process.
Now, after gaining more perspective about environmentalism away from home, I have come to realize that this problem is far greater than I feared. That change is needed everywhere I look. After having lived in both the U.S. and in Europe for a substantial amount of time, I feel that now I can see this problem from more of a bird’s eye view. I hope that programs like Málaga cómo te quiero!? can make a difference in every community no matter where it is in the world.