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9indeeppie1

I’ve been thinking lately about sustainability and Peru. Peru is one of the countries that are most affected by global warming, mostly because there are many areas on Peru that get their source of water from the ice-capped mountains, which have been melting faster and faster, thanks to global warming. Despite the fact that there seems to be no gas emissions laws regarding cars, or at least they’re not enforced, Peru’s greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lower than that of the United States. I believe that poverty has a lot to do with it. People here live with less, and the more time I spend here, the more sustainable I find myself becoming.

I remember when I returned to the states for 4 months for my spring semester in college. I took a course on sustainability and a lot of the things we talked about, especially regarding waste, seemed to not be a problem in Peru. Americans waste a lot of water every year whether leaving the water running while brushing their teeth, or taking 20-minute showers, or washing their cars. In Peru, there are many water problems, especially in the dry season when the majority of their water supply comes from those melting snow capped mountains mentioned before. In Cusco, the water is shut off from around 2 to 5 in the morning, when hardly anyone’s using water, anyway. At Atreyhus’s family’s house in Callao their water gets shut off at 10pm! This really helps conservation.  And people just accept it as a way of life, either brushing their teeth early or setting some water aside for the night. I try to think about this happening in the states, and it seems impossible. People would throw a fit if they couldn’t take a shower at 3 in the morning, even though they probably never would. What would the 24-hour Diners do? I know in places like hospitals, it would be a safety risk not having water, but surely residential areas could handle having their water turned off.

Even the napkins are sustainable in Peru! In the states we have 4-ply napkins- Bounty’s even come out with a version that’s as thick as a paper towel! In Peru, the napkins are 1- ply. I have yet to see a Peruvian using a paper plate (I mean, does it really take that long to wash a dish??) and when Peruvians wash dishes, they turn the water off while scrubbing!! Most people bring re-usable bags with them to the markets (everywhere there are little Andean women scurrying about with their durable, plastic striped bags) and disposable bags are re-used. I’ve seen Styrofoam used in restaurants on occasion, but you can bet that it doesn’t get thrown away. At least that’s been my experience with Atreyhus. He recycles everything. He even insists on me saving the pie tins left over from the graham cracker crusts my mother sometimes sends (I used it to bring brownies to his aunt and uncle’s place in Sicuani once and his aunt complimented me on it. I love Peru!) Peruvians even use less toilet paper. The host families we place our volunteers with always comment on how much toilet paper gringos use!

 I remember when I was younger, my grandmother used to always save everything. My mom would always complain, saying she did it because she lived through The Great Depression.  I think people in the states could use a little bit of that mentality. Just because the U.S. is developed and has money, doesn’t mean people there shouldn’t save things.  But the US is a throw away culture. Just thinking about how much garbage is generated every morning  from disposable coffee cups is an enormous amount. Big Venti Starbucks cups have even become a fashion statement, thanks to Mary Kate Olsen! For as long as I’ve been in Peru, one thing that’s always stricken me as a big difference between here and the states is that Peru is not an eat-and-run culture, like the U.S. is. In Manhattan, there are a million fast lunch places like Prete- a- Mange or PAX or The Bread Café where people can grab lunch in 15 minutes and it’s totally acceptable to be eating alone. Think of all the cardboard sandwich boxes and drink cups! In Peru, 2 hour lunch breaks are the norm and everyone goes home or to a restaurant that uses real dishes. I’m not saying that lengthening America’s lunch hour is the answer to saving the environment, but the way we in the states is definitely linked to the amount of waste we produce.

There are so many people in the U.S. who have never stepped outside of their bubble to think about the impact of their actions- families eating their TV dinners, people throwing away clothes they only wear once, people who clean their entire houses with paper towels and Lysol disinfectant wipes. No wonder so many other countries think of the U.S. as a gluttonous, wasteful country. It is! That isn’t to say that the U.S. is completely bad. It really has come a long way in the past few years as far as raising people’s awareness about the environment. Many stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s sell re-usable bags to put your groceries in, and even give you a discount when you use them. There are campaigns encouraging people to use energy- efficient light bulbs, hybrid cars are becoming more and more popular. But Americans could really be cutting back a lot more on their waste if they just made a conscious effort to do so.  To think more like a Peruvian.

Peru has its problems as well. As I mentioned before, their car emissions are awful (when I first came here my lungs burned from the car exhaust, and I was just in Cusco- Lima’s worse), many of Peru’s rivers are polluted, and in many rural areas people just dump their garbage off the side of the mountain. A lot of this is due to the government’s inability to maintain a garbage collection system outside of the major cities, and their inability to make laws regarding car emissions.  Hopefully this will be changed someday in the future. But a fear I have is that the more modernized and developed Peru becomes, the more they’ll begin to be a throw- away culture, too. Just like the U.S. Then we’ll really have a problem.

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