The more I travel, the more I notice that things which are daily routine to some are still new and unknown to the others. Living in Germany we are blessed with enourmous amont of opportunities of staying 'green' - from food to recycling options. All we need to do is to be aware and to follow. It's all up to us, but the base is there. Undoubtedly it is easier to act when you see results.
I always think of my homeland, Russia, when I talk about responsible way of living, because the impact we leave on the environment is still a new and unsettled topic there.
I know it is hard to talk about the environmental impact when flight alone causes a lot of harm, but being on the road it is our responsiblity to leave as less impact on the environment as possible. To preserve it and to cherish. I know it sounds pompous, but if you think of it that's how it should be if we want to save it for the future generations. And I don't mean that we should follow this path only when traveling - it's best if this turns into a proactive lifestyle, like the one of Mary, for example.
I'm still far away from reaching the goal of being a responsible traveler and citizen, but I want to arrive there and have already implemented some habits into my daily life which I'm happy to share with you. My 5 simple tips on how to travel (and live) responsibly are just a hint on what to start with.
REDUCE YOUR USAGE OF PLASTIC
- use cloth or paper bags instead of plastic ones. This relates not only to grocery shopping, but for everything you carry around or purchase. I know it looks pretty going out of a store with your fresh purchase nicely wrapped and packaged. But do you really need it? Won't the package land up in the trash by the end of the day? I have a small foldable tote, which I carry around in my bag and use whenever I purchase something. Many department stores in Germany already charge extra for plastic bags, but even if they don't just say 'no, thank you' and pack your purchase into your own re-useable bag.
- get a re-useable water bottle/coffee mug instead of a disposable one. This is an easy switch, especially with the currect choice of pretty bottles. The same goes for coffee cups. If you like to drink your coffe/tea on the go, just get a re-useable mug! Most of the cafes these days are happy to assist you and some even offer discounts if you come with your own cup. I have mine from Frank Green and it's light, spill free and easy to handle. If you don't want to use a re-useable bottle, get water in glas.
- don't order anything 'to-go'. Always plan enough time to eat and drink at a place. Slow meals are healthier too. Most of the 'to go' food comes wrapped in piles of plastic.
- aim for natural fibers. These days there are plenty of alternatives to plastic products - bamboo fiber, natural materials without synthetics or upcycled products.
WHY IS IT GOOD? Plastic takes very long time to dissolve, it also releases harmful chemicals which when in contact with land of water cause pollution.
- support local farmers and small businesses. Isn't it great to know where your food grows? Instead of going to a chain supermarket and purchasing strawberries from Israel or blueberries from Chile (unless you live in these countries), find a local farmer and check what's on offer. Same goes for other grocery or product businesses. We have a tradition of going to the market every Saturday, where we by now know some of the vendors. When on the road we also try to stop by a local market or farmers field and see what's in season.
WHY IS IT GOOD? Apart from tasting better (if you have tried watermelons in February instead of August you know what I'm talking about) you limit the transportation/emission/packaging/labor impact thus helping the environment to function in it's natural way without extra effort.
- only buy what you really need. I know it sounds almost impossible - how the hell can you decide if you really need something or not?! But with a little training and though you will learn to make your purchases wisely.
- don't waste food. Same goes for food. Don't buy too much if you know you won't be able to eat it. Don't order to much at a restaurant if you are not going to finish it. Some nations (no finger pointing here) tend to order three times as much, so the table never stays empty. This is their century long tradition, but it hurts to see how much gets thrown away.
- avoid impulse purchases. Don' go grocery shopping when you are hungry - rule number one. Sometimes impulse purchases are the best decisions, but in 90% of cases they are not. So think twice before bringing something to the cashier.
- buy second hand. Apart from being usually a bargain and unique, you reduce the impact from the mass production. I don't say that you always have to buy things second hand, no. But there are some things which don't have to be brand new. I often go to flea markets for purchasing kids clothes and I also sell mine over Kleiderkreisel and Ebay. This year we had a Garage Sale - it helped us to de-clutter and to give new life to our posessions - win win!
WHY IS IT GOOD? By purchasing your products responsibly you avoid unnecessary waste production.
LIMIT YOUR CONSUMPTION
- turn off the water. When I was a kid, in St-Petersburg, the whole family would get up in the morning and go through the morning routine brushing the teeth never turning the water tap off. The first person entering the bathroom would turn the tap on and leave the water running until we were ready. Noone cared. I didn't either. It was a norm. Only years later I learnt about scarce water supplies, the costs of water clearance and about people desperately in need for water that cherish every drop. Since than my tap is turned off any time I don't need it. I make my toothbrush wet, turn the tap off and brush my teeth, turning it back on to rinse them. Same goes for dishes and for showering. Don't waste water - we are helpless without it!
- reduce the usage of aircon. I admit that sometimes it is difficult to survive without aircon, especially in humid and hot areas. But don't keep it running 24/7. Turn it off when leaving the room or during the night you can open a window instead.
- go by foot, bike or train instead of taking a car. When possible try to avoid using a car. I prefer doing my grocery shopping by foot or by bike. Since I usually make a list of things to buy in advance I know whether this is going to be a heavy load (in this case I'd take a bike) or an easy to carry one (in this case I walk). In India we used to go by cycle rickshaw, avoiding motorised ones or taxis. It might sound very exploitative at first, but this is job for the drivers and by using their services you also support their income.
WHY IS IT GOOD: By reducing your consumption you help protecting the environment and it's reserves. Car exhausts emit a wide range of gases and solid matter, causing global warming, acid rain, and harming the environment and human health.
- recycle your trash. I am aware that it is easy to give an advice when the whole system is built around environmental concerns (like in Germany). But when you are a lonely fighter it is easy to get de-motivated. But before giving up - inform yourself. It could be that there are recycling stations in place where you live, but you just never heard about them. It is harder to recycle if you travel in areas with little attention to recycling. But there are ways. First of all try to follow the above mentioned steps and reduce your waste production to a minimum. If you can return the bottles - do it by all means. If there is a separate trash can for plastic - use it. Same goes for paper.
- dispose batteries in a special container. These are very harmful!!! Apart from being illegal to dispose batteries in a regular trash, with time they produce harmful substances and contain corrosive materials and heavy metals which are dreadful for the environement!
WHY IS IT GOOD: By recycling your waste you help to reduce the pollution and other dangers posed to human and animal health by vapors and harmful substances.
DO YOUR THING
If you stepped on the path of helping our Planet to become a safer and greener place, every step you do is a valuable one! Just keep doing your thing even if noone else does. Always keep in mind why you are doing this!
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