The main topic of this blog is responsible and sustainable travel, but I strongly believe that in order to be a responsible traveller you need to be responsible in your everyday life first.
This doesn’t mean you need to revolutionize your lifestyle but simply starting with small steps towards a more sustainable life.
I admit I am far from being a “perfect” zero-waste person, but I try my best to get better everyday.
The 3 Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) are commonly referred to when talking about waste sustainability.
I like to think that 5 Rs should apply to a sustainable life: Respect, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
First step is to feel responsible for the global climate crisis without dumping the responsibility on governments or other entities. Nobody is going to save the world on our behalf.
The future of our planet depends on each one of us and requires us to make our own part.
How? Respect is what the environment needs.
What can we do to live a more sustainable life?
You can start by refusing plastic shopping bags bringing your cotton one from home instead, or refusing plastic straws (if you really do not want to give up on a straw there are bamboo or stainless steel ones), plastic cutlery or glasses (always carry your water bottle).
Next time you find yourself in this sort of situations simply say NO to plastic, in the end demand drives production so until we do not refuse these products there will be a market for them.
I always refuse plastic bags when shopping carrying my own bag and I never leave Home without my water bottle.
When talking about sustainable living we often think of plastic waste, which is surely very importart as plastic represents a huge problem for our planet.
However, reducing plastic in our life is not enough, we should reduce all sort of waste getting rid of all unnecessary stuff!
What’s the difference between plastic-free and zero-waste lifestyle?
“Zero Waste is the conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse and recovery of products, packaging and materials without burning, and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health” – Definition by the Zero Waste International Alliance.
I am aware we live in a consume-oriented society so buying new objects is part of our nature, but honestly, we tend to accumulate stuff we hardly use, whether it is a new phone or a bag or a piece of clothing.
Every good we buy has an impact on the planet in terms of resources used to produce it and also to dispose it.
You don’t need to embrace a minimalist lifestyle but trying to reduce as much as possible is already a good start.
I have reduced drastically the amount of clothes and accessories (Iactually, I buy new things only when I really need to).
Another big issue is food waste!
FAO estimates that 1/3 of food is wasted each year, which is of course a waste of money but also has a negative impact on the environment (in 2018
in the United States alone, food waste made up almost 22% of landfill waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
How can you reduce food waste?
First of all planning a weekly meal plan and preparing a list of ingredients you actually need when you go to the supermarket.
We have started to do this during the lockdown and it really works!
And if you still have leftovers, don’t throw them away but try to prepare some creative recipes.
Here are some ideas for recipes using leftover food.
A good way to buy less is by repairing, when possible, reuse, or repurpose, giving a new life to old stuff.
I am well known among family and friends for my reused gift wrapping using old newspapers and magazines 🙂
While Miles is a champion in creative ideas to reuse old stuff, especially since he has bought a second-hand Singer sewing machine.
We have been creating so many things out of old clothes, for example one of the latest is a cushion for our cat Memole using an old woody (she loves it 🙂
These are just simple examples on how to reuse and repurpose, then of course donating things you do not need anymore is another way to reduce waste.
If we are not able to refuse, reduce, reuse, we shall of course recycle as much as possible.
In the last 10 years huge improvements have been achieved by most Countries in the waste management, however it is still not enough.
Here are some facts:
- According to 2018 Stats by Rubicon, despite 75% of America’s waste is recyclable, only around 30% is actually recycled.
- A European citizen is estimateed to produce 5 tonnes of waste per year and only 37,8 is recycled according to Environmental Data Centre on Waste, Eurostat.
- Out of the 50 million tonnes of electronic waste estimated to be produced each year, less than 20% is formally recycled.
- The European Union goal for 2025 is to reuse and recycle at least 55% of waste.
5 Sustainable and recycling best practices
Responsibility: Germany’s deposit refund system
Germany appears to be the recycling champion worldwide, thanks also to the “pfand” system introduced back in 2003 which is based on a deposit refund scheme.
How does it work?
When buying drinks (plastic or glass bottles as well as cans) you pay a deposit (ranging from 10 to 50 cents) that you will receive as a refund when you return the container either to the vendor or to one of the reverse vending machines available in public spaces.
We have become acquainted with this system since we often visit friends living in Munich and find it quite efficient and a good incentive for people to recycle.
Numbers confirm indeed that where this model is offered (currently 10 Countries in Europe have implemented this system), the recycling rate is pretty high (the leading Country is Norway with a 97% plastic recycling rate).
Refuse: refill your bottle
Free water fountains to refill your bottle have popped up in many cities in recent years and are now starting to be widespread at airport too (luckily) encouraging citizens and travellers alike to avoid buying single-use plastic bottles opting for a water bottle instead.
I have been carrying my water bottle for years now and from last year I also started to travel with it to Asian Countries where usually finding safe drinkable water is a challenge.
But there are now apps that help you to find the nearest refill station such as Refill My Bottle, founded in Bali and now available in 2500 location across South-East Asia.
Reduce: edible packaging
What about packaging? That’s something that annoyes me terribly, especially when I see loads of unnecessary packaging in bio or organic products that claim to be sustainable.
Do you know that a European citizen produces something like 170 kg of packaging waste a year?
A best practice solution for non-recyclable packaging has been invented by the start up Notpla that provides edible packaging for beverages and sauces made of seaweed and plants.
Reuse: reusable lunch boxes in Switzerland
In the historic moment we are currently living characterized by strict hygiene protocols due to the corona virus, waste management and single-plastic use is a hot topic.
I have asked a sustainable expert some questions about the impact of the covid19 on the environment that you can find in this article.
Besides the disposal of enormous quantities of non-recyclable masks and gloves, we are seeing the food industry coming into plastic wraps from groceries you buy at the supermarket as well as take-away food from restaurants.
In 2016 in Switzerland, reusable lunch boxes have been introduced into 400 restaurants throughout the Country to replace the disposable food containers used for take aways.
This could definitely be an option.
Recycle: trash-for-tickets programs in Indonesia and Rome
2019 has seen both Indonesia and Rome in Italy, adopting a trash-for-tickets program that allows people to exchange plastic bottles with bus and metro tickets.
In Rome for example passengers receive0 a 0.05 cent refund for each plastic bottle returned. Will it be a partial solution to the huge problems the Italian capital was experiencing in waste management?