Reduce, reuse, recycle… Rings a bell? Why is it so important? With events like the Earth Hour being celebrated worldwide, have you thought of the importance of your own impact on the environment? And if there is anything you can do at your level?
In this article, I want to discuss all this from my own perspective. I live in Spain but those tips can apply to you no matter where you live!
I am nobody to say what should be done, I am still learning and nobody’s perfect! But if you love travelling like I do, you will realise that caring is the only way to preserve the beauty of our planet! And even small and easy steps can actually make a huge difference!
The importance of education in sustainability
Before I wrote this article, I wondered when I started to actually care about the environment.
I would say that it goes back to my childhood.
When I lived in Germany, you could get a fine just by throwing a paper on the ground. And I never did. I do not know if it’s effective, but it worked for me and all the kids I knew. It just became a habit to simply keep my stuff in my pockets until I found a bin. It would never occur to me to throw trash on the ground! And when I went to live in France and I saw children of my age doing that, it bothered me deeply!
I also have clear memories of learning how our democratic system works. I think I was about 9 years old, and I was living in France at that time. I remember thinking that when I grow up I would vote for the Green Party. So in my case, it started very early.
Perhaps that is the key: education.
Caring for our planet: more than recycling
When I was a kid, protecting our planet seemed very simple to me. I thought it was enough to place the garbage in the bin and not on the ground, as it was already an effort that many people around me were not doing.
I also knew that I should return glass bottles in the store, and would even get rewarded a few cents. I actually never understood why this method was abandoned. I hope it will be implemented again soon in France and extended to other materials, like plastics! It is indeed already happening in other countries like the Netherlands.
But I was far from imagining that my daily actions could have such an impact on our environment.
It took me over 30 years to realize that the problem was much more complex and that I could do many more things to help our ecosystem.
Step 1: Recycling
Recycling is a first step very easy to implement.
In Germany, I learned that recycling was not only about sorting glass and plastic bottles, I found out that we could actually recycle a lot more!
Compost is a good example and it’s great for the garden! Something totally unknown to me until then.
Initially, I felt that recycling so many things was complicated, but now I realise it’s just a matter of habit and organization.
Most importantly, I realized that I spent a lot less time bringing the garbage out of the house. Why? Because if we recycle well, paper and plastic can be kept a long time since they are generally clean materials. And the compost is in a mini trash which is great since it is actually what usually annoys the most due to its bad smell. So in the end, it’s a win-win situation! In Barcelona, the recycling containers are very easy to reach, just opposite my house! And it was the same in Germany, so no excuse at this level either! In Ireland, they came to pick it up at your house once a week. Each country or city has its own way, so just get informed!
Recycling is good, but I quickly realized that it’s not because I recycle that I am eco-friendly. Remember the RRR logo? Well, it actually starts with reduce. How? It starts with reviewing the way we consume. That’s the most powerful tool to reduce our impact.
Step 2: Our consumption
This is where everything shifts. Yes, money always has the last word!
So think before spending! Your dollars are powerful: the companies who own products that are unsustainable would be obligated to react and take care of their impact if you ban them!
Tip nº1: Think local
Whether buying clothes, food or furniture, there are often local solutions to avoid the “Made in China”.
I know, even with the best intentions, it’s not easy to escape that trend!
Ready-to-wear fashion brands are often much more accessible, in terms of price or location. But alternatives not only exist: they are growing!
For example, I remember buying a jumper made in Italy from one of the major brands! I found it incredible because I usually see Bangladesh or China on the labels.
There are also big brands that sell products made of organic cotton or even of recycled products! I worked at one of those brands for a while and that’s the only thing I would buy from them.
A company like Inditex may be considered local for a Spanish people because it is the nationality of its founder, Ortega. However, it is far from a local business as you know! Globalization has made it a monster, and we could debate for hours to discuss pros and cons.
But it’s not the point I wanted to make. All I am saying is that if I have the choice, I would rather buy local and avoid all these big brands. And if I buy from a big brand, I would only buy the clothes made close by, and from recycled or organic materials.
And yes, it exists, small neighborhood shops that make quality products and made in the country.
In my neighborhood, Poblenou, I found 2 clothes stores that make quality products and remain very affordable, which also helps run the local economy.
For furniture, it also seems very complicated. We immediately think of Ikea or any other big brand when we have to buy a table. You might say it’s still European if you are living in Europe! But maybe there are other solutions. Ask around, there are lots of people with recycling projects, to give a second life to objects. I have heard of this type of shops in France for example.
I even have family members who love wood and create furniture.
Another thing you can do is to simply try to repair before replacing. Make your shoemaker work for example! In my case, he did a great job with an old suitcase I was about to throw away! Be creative and observe your environment! There are other ways to consume!
Tip nº2 : Think Quality
If you think of food, quality is going to make a huge difference for your health.
There are so many options available: local markets, cooperatives, farmers who sell their products on the road, those who open their farms to pick up their products directly from the field! Yes, I assure you, it exists!
Tip nº 3: Remember to focus on seasonal products
I know… I get lost too! We are so used to seeing the products available all year long that we do not know anymore what is in season.
If you have a doubt, ask! And if you do not like to ask, go pay a visit to Sir Google, as my aunt would say! In fact, I prefer the search engine Ecosia for the initiative to plant trees!
Tip nº 4: Follow the proverb: seek and ye shall find!
I know what you are thinking: organic food is way more expensive…
Well, I must admit that when I went shopping in Paris, I got a slap in the face! But it’s just a matter of time. You have to keep looking, and you will end up finding something more affordable, believe me! In Barcelona, it’s the same, I had to search and compare shops.
Another point I wanted to make: going to an organic store like Veritas or Whole Foods Market may be more expensive than going to a traditional supermarket like Mercadona or Walmart… But as I often say, I prefer to eat less and eat better. Focus on quality rather than on quantity. My taste buds are so much happier than with processed food! So at the end of the day, I do not spend much more. It often happens to some of my relatives to tell me that when they eat at a fast food restaurant, they are hungry again after an hour… There seems to be a reason for that… And not a healthy one according to a study presented here…
Try to think of small convenience stores. They are not necessarily expensive.
Zero waste shops start to appear everywhere and it’s good news! Here we do not care so much about the brand. We care about the quality of the products. You come with your jars and you fill them in. In Barcelona, we have a small chain like Goccia Verde where we can buy all household products that way. We also have grocery stores where cereals, herbs, starchy foods, dried fruits, legumes etc can be bought in bulk. A real pleasure not to have piles of plastic around my products! If you do not have jars, they give you some! And at worst, there are paper bags available! See if this kind of shops exists in your city!
And that’s a lot cheaper since we do not pay for packaging or marketing the brand anymore!
Same thing for our cosmetics. I thought I was making the right choice by buying from Yves Rocher, because I thought their products were more natural, until I read an article from a study of a famous French association doing a customer review…
My husband and I joined a German company to become a distributor of their health products. I try to make him work as much as possible when it comes to the health products. It’s local in a sense as we do not go through intermediaries. And they have certified quality products, especially the Aloe Vera line.
I also like to check the products of my neighborhood herbalist’s shop that are often organic and work better than what I find in the supermarket! It is amazing to see the natural power of apples, aloe vera or bamboo!
Step 3: Transportation
That’s a chapter that could take pages. But to summarize, you should avoid the car as much as possible. Take public transportation i.e. metro, bus, tramway. Or carpool if you have no other option. There are also ecological taxis in Barcelona, I’m a fan! It does not cost much more, they have an app, it’s very responsive and you can pay by credit card and ask a charger and the Internet! And they only drive hybrid or electric vehicles!
Personally, I cannot live without my Bicing subscription to move around the neighborhood by bike or to make short trips. My back does not allow me to do a lot of cycling but I do what I can, and at my own pace! We must also be aware of our impact during our travels.
As for vacation, I’ve already talked about it in the article to travel responsibly. It’s not a simple matter when you want to discover the Globe. In an ideal world, and if my boss allowed me to take 3 weeks in a row, I would travel far away only when I have enough time to be able to truly appreciate a country.
Our hectic pace and work do not always allow it, but let’s think about it. I try to take the train rather than the plane when I go to Madrid or France for example. It’s more expensive but if you think you should also go to the city centre then, there is some time saving and in terms of my business trips it can save me a hotel night! Plus travelling to airports is usually very expensive. When I take the train I spend less money to reach the city centre.
I also really liked this article about slow travel.
In short, all these small actions, if added by millions of people, can have a very positive impact on our environment! Try to think of it with creativity and openness! I know I do not always make the right choices, but at least I’m trying. This is a first step towards the right direction.
And you? What other habits do you feel are helpful for our environment? Maybe it’s as easy as switching off the lights in the office when everybody’s at lunch! Or sharing my article to raise awareness within your community! Feel free to do so! And do not hesitate to share your comments below, and add any other tips you feel are simple to implement in your day to day life!