The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 24, 2010

Innkeeper HEARTS Green Guests

A guest post by Alexandra Grabbe. 

Alexandra GrabbeMy husband and I have been green innkeepers on Cape Cod since 2004. The name of our B&B is Chez Sven, and our blog is Chezsven Blog: Wellfleet Today.

Chez Sven

Over the years, we have learned to target green guests, who care about the environment, turn out lights when they leave a room, and recycle plastics, cardboard, and glass.

Chez Sven

Unfortunately, not everyone who visits has this mindset. We have had a number of eco-conscious guests born in the USA, but the majority come from abroad: England, Germany, Ireland, Denmark, The Netherlands. I am always fascinated to hear about a country’s recycling policies and expectations for eco-travel.

I think Beth would like living in Germany, where the municipality makes recycling easy. There are bins on street corners in major cities. They have it down to a science, according to German guests, who never fail to separate out paper, cardboard, and plastic before leaving their rooms here at Chez Sven. (For total detail on German recycling policies, go here.)

I am equally impressed by Great Britain. Our British guests care about the environment, worry about carbon footprint, and expect everyone to recycle. In fact, recycling has become second nature to them. Even cash register receipts find their way into the pile of paper beside the waste bin.

Yesterday I told the British couple here now about my hope to shift our whole town green and non-toxic. I described my total distaste for plastic bags and how I always thank local shopkeepers for asking whether I want a bag, rather than automatically placing my purchases in flimsy plastic, so detrimental to nature and the environment. I explained where to find the recycling bin, which we sponsored this year, at the marina. I said my recent attempt at buying 1000 original ChicoBags to distribute at our tenth annual Oysterfest, mid-October, had failed because the Discover Wellfleet sub-committee has no more money to invest.

Overnight, Liz had a brainstorm. She was eager to tell me about it at breakfast this morning.

“I’ve been having a think about your campaign in town. You could get a local artist to design a bag, or have a competition. Have you heard of Cath Kidston? She had four designs. People like collections. And they are really pretty bags and these were affordable. I know the shopkeepers can be skeptical though. They need to say, if you use my shopper in my store, you will get a discount. Or engage them, by buying into the scheme.”

Her husband Ian broke in, “I have it all figured out. What you need to do is have TWO bags, and leave one in the car.”

“Marks and Spencer adds a charge if you need a plastic bag,” Liz continued.

Such enthusiasm is typical of our British guests. If only Americans were as gung-ho about protecting the environment! While we were having this conversation, I was imagining myself, standing out at the intersection of Main and Route 6, over Oysterfest weekend, with a huge sign:


From being an innkeeper, I have learned there are truly all kinds of people when it comes to the environment. From the Scottish family who arrived on foot with backpacks and hiked everywhere, rather than rent a car, to the uninformed, who do not think to separate their trash, we get them all. Sometimes what people need is a little push. So, I will suggest they turn out the lights when they leave a room. I tell them we recycle and explain why it’s a good idea. I point to the canvas totes available for use while here. Gently, I nudge them in the right direction. That’s all anyone can do.

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Here in MA, Brookline does have recycling receptacles on many street corners! And as Christine mentioned, you’ll often find me shopping at the Harvest Coop in Cambridge with my reusable bags (a bridesmaid gift from an eco-conscious bride). My boyfriend hates when I BYO bags, because they’re a lot more rare in conventional grocery stores and sometimes they slow down the baggers, who are used to paper or plastic. (I’ll win him over one of these days.)

I love that you provide reusable bags for guests.

Christine @ Origami Mommy

Here in Japan I see two different things. Hyper-consciousness about recycling (which is mandatory), frugality, abhorrence of waste, but on the other hand – the extensive use of extra wrapping persists. But I do see things changing and the younger generation especially is much more environmentally aware. I was interested in seeing, when I went to Cambridge, MA recently, that many more people are using eco-bags there – here, they are trendy, but not as commonly used on a daily basis. Back in the U.S. in general, though, I don’t see at all as much widespread eco-awareness as I do… Read more »

Stephanie Stiavetti

Jennifer mentions the turning off of lights in hotel rooms when you remove your key, and I had a similar experience in NY this summer. Interesting what ideas people come up with when you put your mind to it!

Casey@Good. Food. Stories.

Jennifer, that Indian hotel idea is SO SMART! If only it would catch on elsewhere.

Vera Marie Badertscher

My husband and I have been learning from other countries for years. In New Zealand, about 15 years ago, we had a lightbulb go on (or rather OFF in this case) when we saw that people automatically turned off the lights when they left a room. Seems so logical, but until then, our family had the bad habit of just leaving all the lights on all the time. In Greece we learned that we had better bring our own bag for groceries, unless we wanted to stuff those olives in our pockets. In Greece and Spain and many other countries,… Read more »


How interesting to hear the green ways of other countries. Why are we so woefully behind, I wonder? We need to learn some lessons before it’s too late. I enjoyed reading your guest post and learning all about ways you strive to make a difference.


Sigh… And I know people here in America who leave the T.V. and air-conditioning on during the day for their dogs.

I’ll be traveling to Sweden soon, and am excited to learn how their systems work!

Jennifer Margulis

In India electricity is SO EXPENSIVE that they do something very clever in hotels. You must put your key or key card in a socket in order to use the lights. Then when you leave and you take your key, everything is automatically turned off. I think we really need to put these kind of changes into effect immediately. So simple! So obvious! And huge savings for everyone. I think I would like living in Germany too. I wish Americans would get more conscious a little more quickly! p.s. Beth, I’m sorry to hear you are having some eyesight troubles.… Read more »

Nick Palmer

Blimey, if the average Brit is being lauded as some sort of super-green customer, I can only imagine how appalling the average American must be! Disclosure – I’m a Brit. We look up to the Scandinavians and Germans – quite a long way up…


That bed and breakfast sounds fantastic. I am trying (with a mixed level of success) to get my campus to quit using plastic bags in their bookstores etc. One of my ideas was a contest to design cloth bags as well and the manager of the bookstore at least seemed to really love that!


I would LOVE if we had recycling bins. I need to drop my current trash company for one that recycles because I am so tired of them throwing all of my recyclable stuff into the trash. It makes it frustrating. Thank you for providing a great post that made me make that the first call I make on Monday, since I am conveniently paid through October 1!

Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi

How interesting to hear about recycling in different countries. Here in New Zealand, despite the clean, green image, recycling isn’t done as enthusiastically as it should be and we still have free plastic bags at most grocery stores.

LInda Anderson

My husband and I vacationed in Germany this summer. I was very impressed with their eco-friendly policies. I was really impressed with the amount of biking, not just for recreation but for transportation. There are bike paths and right-of-ways everywhere. I blogged about it at .


I just came back from spending 3 weeks in Germany with my family and writing on my blog about how ahead of the green game Germany is in so many ways. Their devotion to recycling and the recycling bins throughout every neighborhood is inspiring and makes me ask, if we made it this easy in every community here in the USA, wouldn’t more people be inclined to recycle regularly? From all the windmills and solar panels we saw everywhere to the fact that we weren’t even offered bags at the local grocery store – everybody just had their own –… Read more »

indoor kitty

Debbie Downer warning. Skip ahead if you wish to avoid an Anglophilic buzz kill.
I appreciate M&S charging for plastic bags. It certainly made the sting of buying a reusable bag less sting-y. (I had forgotten to pack a canvas tote.) It would be nice if M&S would cool it with the excessive packaging. I get that they are more of a grab and go kind of opperation, but seriously. I’ve never had so much plastic at the end of a picnic in my life.

Also the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum was awesome.

Sandra Lee

It’s so inspiring to hear how diligent people are from other countries on eco-issues. That’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing.


We in Toronto are halfway there!

Someday I hope to have an eco inn, and do the good work you are doing.

Thanks for your post!

Love & RRRevolution, Tracey


Oi. Sad to hear that we are so behind Europeans on this front. I will now fantasize about recycling bins on streetcorners. Ultimately, I think we’ll get there at some point and folks like you really help a lot.


Yes, a gentle nudge is good, others need a kick in the pants to wake them up :)