Hello, there! The lent might be in the air in this historically catholic country or maybe I just want to make a dent in the holier-than-thou issues of the blogosphere and consumption-based activism. Anyways, this will be a mea culpa of my poorest sustainability practices. While I can go through one of those long ‘get greener’ bucket lists (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and tick off quite few, there are several big ones I suck at. Welcome to the club!
Ugh, the elephant in the room nobody in the online sustainability crowd likes to talk about. What’s the point to bring your own napkin to a transatlantic flight? I took 17 flights in 2016 and 23 in 2017. Aha, horrendous. And those include 8 intercontinental ones, just to make it completely awful. It must be much less in 2018 as my ‘take your PhD on a tour’ conference hopping is pretty much over, but is has already been 5 flights just between January and February 2018. I have none planned at least until June, and I’m trying a new trick at throwing money at my problem…
The basic step I am doing: Trains! I’ve been hating flying for a long time (I enjoyed my first few flights, it was all new and exciting, you know, going places), so I’ve opted to go to my KonMari seminar in train: Barcelona-Paris-London and back. It has cost me 260€ (flying would have cost me around 70€) and will mean hours more. On the other hand, it’s a better environmental option and better option for me: more space, views to watch, not fretting about the exact luggage size, not having to go to and from airports in the middle of nowhere (Eurostar had me convinced years ago with their ‘go from Paris to London instead of Charles de Gaulle to Heathrow’ ads), etc. And at least in this route it’s possible.
Not happening: I am not considering going to Rīga by train anytime soon, but the idea is to keep flying down to just love miles. I’ll let you know!
We (a shared household, so) are so far from being zero waste. We recycle religiously but I get guilt ping every time I stuff a bag in one of the colorful bins, even more if something goes to the gray bin. In Barcelona there are five different containers lining streets: brown for the organic waste, blue for paper, green for glass, yellow for plastics and aluminum, gray for the landfill. The additional services include textile containers of two different NGOs, furniture pick-up once a week from the curb and Punt Vert where they will take everything that’s shouldn’t go into the gray container or any other: electronics, batteries, random pieces of metal, used cooking oil, cava bottles. Ah, and pharmacies gather the pharmacological garbage: unused medicines and empty blisters! So significant space at our place is already occupied by different kind of garbage waiting for their turn to get out. And, yes, we are very lucky and privileged to have all that sorting and recycling being done for us by the City of Barcelona.
The basic step we are not doing: Switching to biodegradable bags for the organic garbage! We take out our paper in paper, glass in whatever as jars have to go in one by one, and plastic in a plastic bag. We did try a biodegradable bag for a short while, but they were too small and fragile for the amount of organic garbage we produce. I know, I know, my grandma also takes her kitchen garbage out everyday… and during summer we actually do switch to smaller bags because everything in that garbage bin goes compost and garbage juice in a very short time when it’s 28ºC and extremely humid.
Further steps we aren’t doing either: Composting! Without even entering into the conversation about where exactly and which type exactly, C has given a hard no on rotting stuff at home and I’m not passionate enough to try to fight that.
I switched to a children’s Humble Brush (the softest bristle but took time to get used to the small handle) years ago and I’m using an eco-certified vegan *with fluoride* toothpaste. However, Humble Brush has nylon bristle and my toothpaste travels to me by air from Germany clad in plastic (oh, all the waste and emissions of online shopping). I use dental floss every day knowing very well that it’s not biodegradable and peril to marine life. Oh, and I also chew a piece of plastic every night in the form of my mouth guard. It also has it’s own hard plastic coffin, of course.
The basic step I am not doing: Trying out real zero waste alternatives like baking soda or bar soap and neem stick. Nope! My gums are happy, my dentist and hygienist are happy. It’s actually funny because these people, despite the fact that they are peddling the latest super electronic brush, actually know a thing or two about dental hygiene. Nobody’s complaining about my current results while after a few months of experimenting with ayurvedic toothpastes years ago my dentist just had to intervene ‘with what have you been brushing your teeth? whatever it is, stop it’.
The teeny-tiny step I’m doing: Cutting my floss in smaller pieces, so that nobody could get tangled in it.
The tiny step I might do: Switching to Brush with Bamboo for my next toothbrush order (again, the flying packages!). Dental Lace, maybe? But, again, I have very sensitive gums and this stuff flies from far away (Maine, yo!).
Of course I enjoy getting the best of all over the world right at my place. And I love receiving any kind of package! The excitement, the unboxing… and it goes to ridiculous lengths. My latest fails include (a) ordering four bottles of imported American apple cider vinegar from Madrid (and we did it twice as the first package had a broken bottle) without looking around in the neighborhood, and then I discovering that we can get French stuff in bulk for a very reasonable price in the shop I buy my almond oil and (b) being seduced by one of those companies that promote a ‘you buy and we give’ model and getting a present for C from the USA that didn’t ship to Spain so I had to engage an Italian friend to get it. Absurd! And Amazon Premium is nothing else than promoting laziness and killing local businesses. And so convenient, of course.
The teeny-tiny step I’m doing: For my German cosmetics I’m revising my existing supplies and postponing orders to make them big enough (and get free shipping, of course). I recently run out of lipbalm (the addiction thing keeps fluctuating) and made an excel (obviously!) just to find out that I’m up to my ears in toothpaste, solar protection, deodorants and cream. And the cream has fallen off my shopping list since I’ve discovered sweet almond oil! So I just stole a lip balm from my mom and carried on without buying more.
The other teeny-tiny step I’m doing: Stopping and thinking about possibilities to get what I want off-line. Barcelona is big and hip and there are a lot of great businesses either producing or importing. I do allow myself to buy online if I can’t find what I want or if the price is so much higher. The latest addition to our Amazon Prime basket of LED light bulbs and whatnot: (a) circle stencils for drawing that no shop in Barcelona had (I asked at several) and (b) a new Grids and Guides notebook as the previous one brought me so much joy; I suspected only one shop here to have them in stock and that would have necessarily been 10€ more. And we needed the lightbulbs!
The step I’ve completed: I’ve managed to stop buying books, headbands, and t-shirts with revolutionary slogans, though. Wasn’t easy. Very proud.
These are only few, of course. Our food supply is patchy ranging from a weekly CSA vegetable box to palm oil in our conventional wheat tortillas. We wash our dishes constantly opening and closing the tap (and switching on the gas-powered water heater). We just bought a giant TV set…
On the other hand, I’m trying to relax my orthorexic and obsessive-compulsive impulses of living up to a sustainability perfection that cannot be achieved. Relax, sweety, relax! There is only one Bea Johnson, and I will never replace her. I’m not planning to turn my life into a one cause anytime soon.
So let’s talk trash! What are your sustainability stumbles you are not really planning to address? Any babe steps you feel immensely proud of? Any aspects of your life where you have decided to just let go?
For my hair, I use shampoo that I buy in a plastic bottle.I’ve tried alternatives, but my scalp reacts bad to changes so…I’ll remain to the bottle.
For the rest, we use bar soap, ordering online in bulk but comes in plastic wrapped.
I’ve started doing/using soap nut liquid and compost the leftovers.(but only I’m using it,as it is not foamy enough for my husband).
I’ve let go of cloth diapers for my baby…I still have them, but can’t use them as he gets wet really fast and leaks.I’ve kept track of their usage but it just didn’t work for him.
Hi, Dori! I think yours is a very reasonable approach – being open to try more sustainable things but not losing sleep over what doesn’t work for you. Take care!
Airplane travel! Travelling for conferences can really add up. Sometimes I even take flights between German cities for freelance work. It’s not pretty. Can I change it? Not right now. After my disputation and changing work environments it might.
Hi, Clara! Thank you for sharing, flying is huge and annoying issue, I know… especially if the conference ends up being useless after all that hassle. At least with leisure or family time travel a reasonable amount of joy is almost guaranteed. Although I feel that with travel ‘for work’ we have the privilege to compartmentalize and justify it as an external requirement, so it ends up being a passive decision to accumulate fly miles instead of an active one.