Going Green in Madrid: When Was the Last Time YOU Rollerbladed?

Irvine is in the heart of one of the most environmentally friendly areas in California. During the last few months of my stay in Madrid, Spain as a student on the Education Abroad Program, I have found more ways of implanting a sustainable lifestyle.

First and foremost, I am extremely lucky to have access to Madrid’s state-of-the-art Metro system. The metro is one of the things I love most about this city. It allows you to get anywhere around the center of the city within 10 minutes.

Besides public transport, Madrilenos love to use their own methods as well. On a random day in Madrid, I can find a number of people rollerblading or walking. The city is very pedestrian friendly and “paseos” — walks around the open courtyards and terraces — are a way of life.

Around the Universidad Complutense Madrid (UCM) campus, I am happy to see a number of people biking to class and utilizing the bike path. UCM recently renovated their bike paths and it is pretty cool to see the red brick circle the entire campus.

During the day, if not at work, many people use the time to buy their groceries. Many people utilized pushcarts, an object that I had associated before with “bag ladies.” However, the pushcarts are definitely very popular in Europe. Those who don’t have pushcarts are still environmentally friendly — many of the stores charge for plastic bags and encourage their customers to buy reusable bags.

As for the actual produce, many people in Madrid shop at “alimentacions,” small convenience stores, or local stores that serve a particular area. In the Arguelles area, where many of the students live, there are stores for pastries (“pasteleria”), bread (“panaderia”), fruit (“fruiteria”), meat (“chacuteria”) and alcohol (“cerveceria”), among others. Supermarkets are uncommon and it is rare to be have the luxury to buy all items in one area; shopping here can take longer than at a U.S. supermarket because you have to go from one specialized store to the next.

Most produce items are locally grown. The shopping experience becomes much more personalized as you get to know the local storeowner on an intimate level. Many of my friends rave about how the workers at the bakery on the corner knows what bread they like best or how the kebab store owner on the corner knows their name.

The experience of washing clothes is quite different as well. Many Europeans prefer to air dry their clothes outside on clothesline instead of using dryers. If it is raining outside, then they will hang the clothes inside on a contraption that resembles an ironing board in shape but is simply an object made of sturdy wires to hang clothing. It was quite the first experience for me to be hanging precariously out of my kitchen window, clothespin in hand to pin clothing on the laundry line outside.

I do believe Madrilenos can become more environmentally conscious in their paper use. For many of my classes, handouts and course packets are used instead of textbooks. These handouts waste so much paper and professors could save more trees by simply uploading the documents onto the course websites.

Despite this, living in Madrid has allowed me to be more environmentally friendly. It has also showed me how I can improve my green living in the states when I return. Don’t be surprised if you see a girl on campus in a few months hanging her clothes on a clothesline — it might just be me.