Reduce, reuse, recycle… Rings a bell? Why is it so important? It’s actually the root of an eco-friendly lifestyle.
With events like International Reducing CO2 Emissions Day or 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 to reduce your carbon footprint?
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 as I do, you will realise that caring is the only way to preserve the beauty of our planet! And even small and easy steps towards an eco-friendly lifestyle can actually make a huge difference to our environment!
The basis of sustainability and an eco-friendly lifestyle: education
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 for throwing a piece of paper on the ground. So 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 litter on the ground! And when I went to live in France and saw children of my age doing that, it bothered me deeply!
I have clear memories of learning about how our democratic system works. It occurred as I was about 9 years old, and I was living in France at that time. I remember thinking that when I grew 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 having an eco-friendly lifestyle was simply about putting rubbish in a bin and not on the ground, as it was already an effort that many people around me were not making.
At the time, we would also return glass bottles to the shop, and get rewarded a few cents. I never understood why this method was abandoned. I hope it will be implemented again soon and extended to other materials, like plastics! It is indeed already happening in some countries like the Netherlands.
But little did I imagine 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 one of the first and easiest steps to implement in leading an eco-friendly lifestyle.
In Germany, I learned that recycling was not only about sorting glass and plastic bottles, but I also 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 bin which is great since the smell is what bothers the most. 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 system, so just get informed!
When recycling is not enough: reduce or even refuse!
Recycling is good, but I quickly realized that it’s not because I recycle that my lifestyle is eco-friendly. Remember the RRR mantra? Well, it actually starts with Reduce. How? It starts by reviewing the way we consume. That’s the most powerful tool we have of minimizing our impact.
It even goes a step further now: ecologists say to refuse. That means, stop buying stuff you don’t need in the first place. I think that the COVID lockdown made us realize what was really important.
Step 2: Our consumption
This is where everything shifts. If you take care of the way you consume, the chances are, your lifestyle will easily become eco-friendly.
Yes, money always has the last word! That’s why we say: money talks.
So think before spending! Your dollars (euros, pounds, or any other currency) are powerful: the companies who own products that are unsustainable would be forced to react and reassess their impact if you boycotted them!
Tip nº1: Think local
Whether buying clothes, food or furniture, there are often local solutions to help avoid the “Made in China”.
I know, even with the best intentions, it’s not easy to escape that trend!
Avoid fast fashion
Ready-to-wear fashion brands are often much more accessible, in terms of price or location. But alternatives not only exist: they are expanding!
And having alternatives lead fast fashion brands realising the problem of their business model and start to make efforts in the right direction.
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.
Check the labels: eco-friendly materials only!
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 by a Spaniard because Spain is where its founder, Ortega, is from. However, it is far from being a local business, as you know! Globalization has made it a monster, and we could debate for hours over the 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.
Although one could argue that organic cotton is a huge consumer of water… It still consumes less than the conventional one, according to a recent Lifecycle Assessment. So we need to get informed, and not delegate and trust that those big companies will do the right thing…
You can also check if the organic tee-shirt you want to buy is truly sustainable, by verifying its certification.
Check local shops in your area
Yes, they exist: small neighbourhood shops that produce quality items in the country of residence.
In my neighbourhood, Poblenou, I found two 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 major 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, giving objects a second life. I have heard of this type of shop in France for example.
I even have family members who love wood and create furniture.
Reuse and repair before buying new
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, they exist!
But quality is also a lifestyle! When you want quality in your life, you slow down. You are more mindful. And by acting that way, you are looking at long-term impacts. Quality experiences will lead you to responsible travel, ethical shopping, healthy and eco-friendly eating or investing in things that will last longer.
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 don’t know what is in season anymore.
If you are unsure, 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 because of their tree-planting initiative!
Tip nº 4: Choose your services wisely
Talking about trees, did you know that you could actually offset your carbon footprints for free?
Okay, nothing comes for free, but almost! A company called Click a Tree actually plants trees on your behalf if you install their Chrome extension called The Click A Tree Tree-Planting Assistant. Basically, they have partnered up with online shops who agreed to pay them a commission each time you book through them. And with that money, Click a Tree plant trees! It’s that simple! You can find more information here.
You should also be very mindful of which services you choose. Make sure the companies you choose are ethical, take environmental action and that they don’t just use greenwashing to improve their marketing strategy!
Tips nº 5: Be mindful of your diet
That’s actually the number one cause of deforestation and pollution…
One big problem is related to eating too much meat.
I am not asking you to go vegan or even vegetarian, but if you are eating meat every day, not only is it bad for your health, it’s also bad for the environment.
There are many issues related to intensive livestock farming:
Animals are suffering, big time.
Animals are receiving a huge amount of antibiotics due to their high proximity to one another
Huge water footprint: The global average water footprint of beef is 15,400 litres per kilo according to the Cattle Site
Intensive farming brings lots of environmental issues like pollution of the water and soils
Deforestation as mentioned earlier: there are many illegal practices and even ecocides like forest fires to get rid of trees and use the land for cattle…
Viruses such as many types of bird flu emerge as a result
So reduce your dairy and meat consumption! Being a flexitarian will already have a great positive impact.
But that’s not all…
When eating meat is not the only problem
Another problem isthe way food is grown.
And if you have been following me for a while now, you’ll know that I believe in a more sustainable and humane way to raise cattle, through pasture livestock. So if you lower your meat intake and make sure it comes from those farms, it will make a real difference.
Being a vegan doesn’t help if you replace meat with exotic foods like goji, quinoa and avocados. You should always try to buy local.
There are many problems related to avocados and quinoa in South America where farmers not only deteriorate soils due to intensive farming, but also cut down trees to make space for their cultivation.
Same thing with highly processed vegan food or exotic foods due to the water footprint or other energy consumption related to them, as explained by the BBC in this article. So buy whole foods and make your own recipes.
If you are out of ideas, I can recommend an amazing professional – Agata – specialized in holistic nutrition as well as veganism, who can help you make the transition. If you can’t or don’t want to become a vegan, she can at least give you some great recipes to introduce more plants into your diet and make a positive impact on your health and the environment.
Tip nº7: Avoid food waste
Not only is it good for the environment, it’s good for your purse!
So try to organize yourself when you go shopping. Plan ahead what you are going to eat that week, and only buy what you need.
That’s why I hate going to supermarkets. You always end up buying things you don’t have on your list. I much prefer going to zero waste stores. Read on to find out more!
Tip nº 8: 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 more affordable produce, 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 may be more expensive than going to a traditional supermarket. 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. I often hear relatives of mine say 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 you can read here…
Try to think of small convenience stores. They are not necessarily expensive.
Zero waste stores: say no to plastics and packagings
Zero waste shops are starting to crop up everywhere and that’s good news! Here we do not care so much about the brand. We care about the quality of the products.
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 shop exists where you live!
And for fruits and veggies, I simply go to my local market!
And it’s a lot cheaper since we do not pay for packaging or brand marketing anymore! Plus, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a great way to avoid food waste as you are more likely to buy only what you need.
Cosmetics and microplastics
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 about a study conducted by a famous French association doing a customer review…
What is very important with cosmetics is that you ensure they were not made with microplastics. It’s one of the worst pollutants of oceans as they are almost impossible to detect, and end up in our stomachs!
I like to explore the products at my local herbalist’s shop as they are often organic and work better than their supermarket equivalents! It is amazing to see the natural power of apples, aloe vera or bamboo!
Again, look at local brands. You also support the local economy that way. If you live in Spain like me, I can recommend La Mixtura Skincare. This brand is amazing. I know it because I know one of their founders, Amaia. Their products are completely natural, sustainable and have an eco-friendly formula that adapts to your skin. They are also vegan and obviously, not tested on animals.
And if you feel like it, you can also make your own products! But you should be mindful of the way you do it because it could be harmful to your skin.
In that case, I would recommend taking a workshop. Make a quick search on ecosia search engine with the name of your area and you should find options. One I can recommend if you live in Barcelona and speak Spanish is my friend Ana from La Casa de las Acracias. She sometimes organize workshops to help you create your own products.
Step 3: Transport
I could devote pages and pages to this. Transport is something that can have a quick and direct impact on your quest to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle. But to summarize, you should avoid the car as much as possible.
Take public transport 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 (except for short distances as they charge a minimal fee), they have an app, they respond quickly and you can pay by credit card and ask to use 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 neighbourhood 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 while running errands.
Please note: For those of you who live in the countryside and cannot rely on public transport, replacing your gas-powered car by a new electric or hybrid car in order to avoid fossil fuels is not the solution.
Why? Because the cost involved in fabricating this type of car is very high energetically. Plus electricity also relies on fossil fuels at the moment. And their lithium battery is not really climate-friendly. So it’s not worth it. It’s better to keep your car and maintain it well to ensure it is as efficient as possible. It’s only worth considering once you really need a new car and can’t rely on any other type of transport.
As for vacation, I’ve addressed the subject of responsible travel in a previous article. 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 and only when I have enough time to be able to truly appreciate a country.
Our hectic work and lifestyles 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 need to go to the city centre, you can save time and even a hotel night on business trips! Plus travelling to airports is usually very expensive. When I take the train I spend less money getting to the city centre.
In short, all these small eco-friendly actions, if added by millions of people, can have a very positive impact on our environment and your own lifestyle! 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.
Check your carbon footprint with this tool
This can be very interesting to monitor your impact on the planet by checking your consumption and lifestyle.
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!