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Sustainable Practices While Studying Abroad

Sustainability is something that is very important to everyone on St. Mary’s campus but, sadly, our efforts in Maryland pale in comparison to the efforts made to conserve environmental resources here in Ireland.

We have made great progress at St. Mary’s: saving water by not using trays in the dining hall, offering reusable to-go boxes, creating a gray water system, recycling, and composting, among other things.

It may not be fair to compare the efforts of a small college to the efforts of an entire country, but I think we have much to learn from Ireland.

At St. Mary’s, we try to recycle plastic bags by donating our used bags to the campus store.

In Ireland, plastic bags are practically extinct. By charging 22 cents (about $0.30) for every plastic bag, Ireland has decreased the use of plastic bags by nearly 90 percent.

Reusable canvas grocery bags are sold in most stores for about a euro or two, but it is far more common for people to bring a duffle or backpack for their shopping or groceries.

Back in the states, it would seem strange if someone pulled out a duffle bag and started stuffing all their groceries into it, but it is completely normal here.

This practice is especially helpful to me since I have no car and must walk to and from the grocery store.

Another way that the Irish have reduced plastic use is by charging for disposable forks, spoons, and knives.

I was eating a packed lunch with a friend one day on Trinity campus when my friend realized that she had forgotten to bring a fork for her pasta.

We walked into a café similar to the Green Bean on Trinity’s campus in search of a fork.  My friend grabbed a plastic fork and was about to leave the café when an attendant told her that she needed to pay for that.

It was less than a euro, but it definitely encouraged both of us not to forget to bring silverware from home.

The use of public transportation is another thing that is very important to people here in Dublin.

There is a very easy to use bus system with good deals for students and bus stops every three blocks or so.

The Luas (the Irish word for speed) is Dublin’s light rail tram system.

It looks like a futuristic train running through the street and is more convenient than a bus when traveling long distances across the city.

Dublinbikes is Dublin’s bike sharing system. Throughout Dublin, on the side of the street, are small bike depots where one can rent a bike and drop it off at another depot near their final destination.

People of all ages borrow these bikes, and with this system, there is no need to worry about locking one’s bike up or storing it otherwise.

People here also generally drive compact cars, and SUVs and other big cars are definitely frowned upon. Smart Cars are very popular here, especially since they make parallel parking in a city so much easier.

Of course, since Dublin is a city, everything is closer together and there is less of a need to own a car in the first place.

The environmental efforts made here in Dublin are very impressive.  Washington, D.C. led the nation as the first to charge for plastic bags.

Maybe other states will soon follow suit, and the United States will be able to begin to compete with Ireland in terms of sustainability and environmental friendliness.


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