How to be more sustainable.

Travelling the world is a life-changing experience. It not only broads your views on things and expands your mind, but also gives you a reality slap. Specially with environmental issues.

I learnt how species are decreasing to the brink of extinction mostly due to the invasion and pollution of their habitat. Climate change and plastic contamination are very scary, you see their effects first hand when travelling.

There have been massive steps towards encouraging a more sustainable way of life from different actors. One that I’d like to celebrate is how major coffee chains are promoting the use of reusable cups by offering a discount, helping to decrease the consumption of one single use cups. I hope soon they leave single use plastic and start using fully compostable cups instead, encouraging us all to not consume single use plastic.

This makes me think: are we doing enough to live a more sustainable life?

The power in us.

It seems to me that we are not aware of the power we all have to change things. It only takes a few decisions on changing some of our habits (imposed by clever marketing and pricing strategies, by the way). I’m not talking about changing your lightbulbs for eco friendly led. I’m thinking big. I’m talking about forcing the change in the economy.

As romantic and remote this can seem, there is a massive opportunity that we can’t let pass: how we spend our money. We all know about the demand theory: if there’s demand, there’ll be a product (or somebody will create one). What if there is no demand? Here is where we come to play: changing the game.

Little things can force the change.

1. Do I really need it?

We are in the era of consuming for the sake of it. Most fast fashion retailers play this game well, not only creating seasonal items but also marketing them in a way that makes you believe that you ‘must have’ that item. We work hard and we like to treat ourselves with that new thing. This is a dangerous and costly game that I have played at one point in my life. I ended up taking most of those items to the charity shop with the packaging and the tags still on. Did I really need them? The answer is clear.

Thinking twice has saved me a few pounds that I invest in what really matters to me: travel. It’s a win-win situation: you save money by not buying that unnecessary product, you hit the demand. Less demand, less products. Less products, less contamination and resources used. You win, the planet wins.

2. Packaging: #packback

Most of the products that we buy by necessity or because we ‘need’ them come wrapped up in a beautiful, commercially appealing and purposely-made packaging. Look around and try to remember what you did with the packaging of the items that surround you. They probably ended up all in the bin.

We are used to this: buy, get rid of the packaging, consume the product. A big problem that we overlook is that making that packaging has consumed a huge amount of resources to end up in a landfill or in a recycling plant, in the best scenario. What amazes me is that the producers pass this responsibility to the consumers, the consumers pass it to the councils/governments. A chain that starts with taking resources from the Earth, process them and put them back into the Earth, with all the extras that contaminate our planet. Is it really necessary?

We can change this, starting with the food industry. Cereals, biscuits, crisps, apples, tooth paste… You name it. All these products come with unnecessary packaging that we get rid of as soon as we get home. What if we send a clear message to the producers?

Leaving all that extra packaging in the supermarket is a good start to live a more sustainable life. Supermarkets are not an intermediary, but a part of the problem and they need to be part of the solution. From analysing consumer behaviour to adapting and anticipating trends that pass on to the producers, these corporations decide how and what resell to us. The toothpaste case in Iceland is a clear example of how this can be a game changer: costumers stopped buying toothpaste sold with packaging, forcing the producers to drop the packaging.  It only takes a little courage.

And this takes me to the next topic…

3. Plastic bags.

The topic has been on for decades, though it’s more alive than ever before. Carrier bags are the clear example of how an issue created by the economic system has been passed onto the governments: the 5p tax for plastic bags. I am skeptical about the impact of this tax has had in the consumption of plastic bags, though for me what is really important is what they truly are: not sustainable, subliminal marketing. Yes they are convenient, though are they that necessary?

All products hit the supermarkets in cardboard boxes that are recycled straight away once they’ve served their purpose. They don’t look good on the sales floor or around the checkout, they took a lot of space and they have branding on them that doesn’t belong to the supermarket. All reasonable excuses for not making them available for customers to reuse and take their shopping in them.

It might be awkward and time consuming to be asking for flat boxes at the checkout, though there are other sustainable alternatives to the plastic bags: your backpack, that ikea bag that’s under your sink since you moved in or reusable/recycled shopping bags. All useful and all perfect to give the supermarkets the message: stop offering plastic bags.

I am quite forgetful and used to leave my bags at home, having to buy more plastic bags at the checkouts and ending up with a dozen of them in the kitchen cupboard. So I had to change my shopping habits: shopping online without bags and only go to the supermarket after work/gym (so I make sure I have my backpack with me). And I’m saving some more pennies to travel!

I believe that we can decide wether we want an easier life and keep killing our planet or take the road less traveled by and force the change. Are you with me?


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