When I saw Shaheen’s IG post about garbage I was over the moon! While I am saddened about what is going on in her home country; I know there are ways we can help. Trash is my jam! I know we talk a lot about sustainability, recycling and pollution but we don’t do much about it. In talking, posting and hashtagging we do bring awareness but we don’t acknowledge our role in the problem. We are implicit and equally responsible for a solution. In society, there is a vicious cycle of materialism and convenience. This isn’t a first world problem. This isn’t an American concept. This is a global issue and this mindset produces a lot of unnecessary trash. This varies from bottles littering our streets to bins runneth over in every household. We are already running out of room for people so just imagine the waste that each person produces piling up. That pile encroaching on viable land, green spaces and national treasures. That pile also producing run off and toxic fumes. All of the above is affecting our planet beyond climate change and there isn’t another one we can just beam up to. We have to be more conscious of our footprint and while it starts at trash it is way deeper.

When we think of ways to help we sometimes get overwhelmed with broad ideas about personal waste. We try to grasp our plastic use or environmental contributions or lack thereof. This puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on a person and they believe they need to sacrifice in order to change. This is when people try use a reusable water bottle or start making their own lunches. It all starts out good then you get lazy, you forget and then abandon it all a few weeks later. Our peers and surroundings don’t help. Why bring water when you can just buy some? You don’t need a shopping bag but you want people to know you’ve been shopping. Everyone is going out for lunch so you’ll eat that sammie later, right? So then the bottle is tossed out, the bags too and so is that sandwich. Then all those lovely ingredients you bought to make lunches gets chucked too. You have to be disciplined and it can be tricky. You were eager to change, you do want good habits but you don’t want to make a complete lifestyle change. I get it.

In the states, I downsized from a huge house outside of the city to a tiny apartment downtown. In that I had to be aware of my footprint at all times. I couldn’t make impulse purchases due to lack of space. I chose to walk a lot because I didn’t want the expense of finding somewhere to park my car. These were choices I personally made due to circumstance not even realizing how it would prepare me for a future abroad. Now that I live in Germany I realize how much easier it is to be self aware and apart of a tangible solution. Back home farmers markets weren’t assessable to everyone and recycling was something entire cities could opt out of. While some of this is changing state by state it isn’t a nationwide concept. Here everyone recycles in an organized and incentivized way. There are special green campaigns for cities and citizens. Even the appliances are engineered to use less energy, water etc. In Germany, change doesn’t have to be extreme. No one has to go vegan or sell their car to make an impact. Everyone is contributing to a system that works well especially when it comes to plastics and composting. It is everyones responsibility to cooperate and hold those who do not accountable.

When it comes to food, Europe has more resources for locally grown and organic/BIO foods. There are also ways for farmers to sell ugly crop and there is no such thing as year round out of season selections. In the states, most food waste begins at the farm because demand for perfection is high by both consumers and regulators. So a lot of farmers have ugly and bruised crop that goes immediately to waste. The consumer then enters a large grocery store or chain restaurant full of perfect and year round choices. Globally, we are inundated with a lot of variety and there is so much selection we simply can’t deny ourselves. Right now most people are buying and wasting more food than they could ever consume. This is what makes lofty goals and green ideas about infused water bottles, self made lunches, eating less meat etc counter productive. These campaigns force us to buy (and waste) things we normally wouldn’t. Instead it would be easier to ask yourself the following questions…

Do I need this?

Do I just want this?

Am I making the right choice?

What happens after this choice?

More than likely you don’t need it. So now do you just want it? Is there a purpose or benefit? Is the choice good – For you? The environment? What happens now and later because of the choice you made? Think about the silly conversations we have with ourselves about jeans. We have to try them on. We have to consider how many times we will wear them. You should be asking yourselves the same questions about food when shopping and dining. You probably have rules for denim shopping. You know what flatters your body type. You have a budget in mind. You wouldn’t dare go jean shopping bloated. So you need to set some easy parameters to lower your footprint…

When Shopping

  • Don’t shop when hungry!
  • Meal Plan and or Check Your Pantry before shopping
  • Shop with a list preferably on your phone so you know you won’t forget it
  • Bring your own bags
  • Try not to use a hand basket or shopping cart unless you plan on doing a large shop
  • When selecting produce do not use plastic bags (you will wash it anyways)
  • Steer clear of processed foods especially those using a lot of packaging
  • Shop your deli and cheese counter versus pre packaged or large portions
  • Don’t make impulse buys especially without asking yourself the above questions
  • Keep your bottled and canned purchases to a minimum
  • If the store has options for recyclables – remove packaging immediately after purchase and stop the waste there

When Dining Out/Getting Takeout or Takeaway

  • Try to check out menus before dining out to better plan your selections
  • Only order what you know you will consume
  • Share larger portions with your spouse or friends
  • If trays are provided avoid using a tray
  • If at a cafeteria or salad bar don’t go over the edge of your plate
  • If at a buffet only take what you can consume as you can always return for more
  • Decline single use plastics and straws
  • Avoid leftovers because there is a strong likelihood you will not finish them
  • Bring your own bag when picking up take out

Alternative methods…

  • Shop with a waste not want not mentality knowing how you can use something repeatedly i.e. one roast chicken makes chicken broth, ramen, chicken salad etc.
  • Try shopping farmers markets and directly from local vendors so packaging is eliminated and you can select by hand the quantities you will actually consume
  • Shop in pack stores/in bulk using jars and paper bags for grains, sugars etc.
  • In lieu of zip top bags invest in quality reusable contains
  • Try to fill your fridge by first in first out meaning your oldest purchases are in the front so you consume them before they expire
  • Grow Your Own herbs or buy plants over plastic blister packs of basil, mint etc.
  • Patron shops that support bring your own i.e. refillable coffee, salad bowls etc.
  • Invest in good portable containers like a water bottle, sandwich box and Weck jars
  • Try to use dishtowels versus paper towels
  • If you purchase paper products go for those made of recyclable paper or bamboo
  • Buy applicator free tampons or use a reusable cup
  • When purchasing don’t get a receipt or have one emailed
  • Of course when shopping decline a bag and Bring Your Own

There are a zillion other ways to avoid wasting food, buying excess packaging and supporting non-compliant products & brands …. all of which create excessive trash. You want to do your research. Globally, a lot of companies and manufacturers are making huge strides to reduce their footprints. These are the businesses you want to shop and recognize. You also want to be mindful even when surrounded by choices and convenience. Surely, a bottled water is as convenient as it gets but if you think about my questions you probably will forego it. Bringing your own bottle not only allows you to fill up as needed but it stays colder, usually has a strap or handle for carrying and you won’t be as likely to leave it. Meanwhile that poor plastic bottle is going to get warm, be left sitting somewhere and take years to break down. A reusable bottle sitting next to the door by your keys is a great start. In that you will save money, stay hydrated and bring awareness … just by carrying it! I know, in Germany there are no water fountains but there isn’t a cafe anywhere that will refuse to fill your bottle with icy cold gratis tap! So start there and if you see an abandoned bottle stop and do your part!