The vast majority of requests for guest posts I turn down for various reasons. Jana, however, aroused my interest right away. She suggested a topic that, in my eyes, is one of the big questions of our time: Why should we live more sustainably if (it feels like) no one else is changing? Probably many of us are asking ourselves that. All the more I’m happy to give Jana a platform for her thoughts and experiences here on Healthy Habits. Happy reading!
My boyfriend and I just took a few days off and dropped us off at a nice hotel. We found the room through a special booking portal for extra sustainable hotels. Since we wanted to go to a place we could reach either by train or by car, the choice fell on Sankt Peter Ording on the North Sea.
At the reception, signs inform us that we could do without daily room cleaning and that an amount would be donated to an environmental protection organization in return. There is only one trash can per room. This saves more than 30,000 trash bags per year. An impressively large number. Or is it? Even otherwise, there are hints every now and then about how sustainable this hotel is and how much they care about protecting the environment. Actually, I should relax, because this seems like a place where I don’t have to be constantly on guard. Always alert and thinking ahead, so that yes no mistake happens in the Zero Waste everyday.
As someone who pays a lot of attention to sustainability, I feel totally attracted to the hotel offer at the first moment. With my Zero Waste cans, water bottle, cutlery and food for the road, I set off full of anticipation. Finally a vacation and still live Zero Waste. Finally, a few days to relax and gather energy through long walks and bike rides.
After arriving at the hotel, we check in at the front desk.
Before I know it, I’m holding our room cards in my hand – in a completely useless cardboard sleeve, also glued down so that it can’t actually be recycled in the paper trash.
Crap, so that’s not how Zero Waste works. Okay, but at least we are here in an eco hotel and certainly there are many other sustainable aspects.
The next morning on the way to breakfast, however, I realize for the first time that most people here just keep living the way they do. Yes, dear realization, I know… It’s hard to live sustainably and even Zero Waste and it doesn’t stop on vacation. As long as I move within the hotel, it may still work with the garbage-free, sustainable everyday life.
Later on our bike tour – first to St. Peter’s village and then further through the hinterland and back to the coast – the realization greets me but again and shrugs apologetically with the shoulders. Everywhere there are still coffee-to-go advertisements and people with plastic cups in their hands. In numerous stores, the souvenirs are made of plastic or are packed in plastic. Even in the Wadden Sea National Park, you see plastic bottles, bags and even stranded balloons from a party decoration again and again. At the pier, a street food festival is taking place in the days and that is rather not a place where Zero Waste praktizihet is.
Once again I realize how much I live in a zero waste bubble at home. Of course it’s not always easy and we also do without now and then. Or we are forced to look for alternatives. But by and large, I’ve found ways at home that make it relatively easy for me to live zero waste and sustainably. Now, outside of that everyday life, however, I have to realize that there are still so many people who just keep doing what they’re doing.
This feeling of being the only one outside of our Zero Waste bubble who makes their own cleaning products, buys second hand clothes, strictly avoids plastic, and makes sure to produce as little waste as possible. That can be quite frustrating. Especially when you get the impression that everyone else is just doing nothing. Do they just not care? They all have lots of excuses and reasons.
But in moments like that, it helps me to stop and consciously think about the benefits that my lifestyle brings me. There are a lot of them that keep me going, no matter what the conditions are.
Since I’ve been living Zero Waste and avoiding plastic, so much has changed for the better. My body is healthier, my skin no longer causes problems and I hardly ever catch a cold. My change in attitude towards possessions, shopping trips and what I really need to live has helped me pay off all my debts and I am more independent and relaxed than ever before. No one can take away the benefits of a Zero Waste lifestyle from me.
Changing a life brings new knowledge and learning.
One of the facts I love most about my Zero Waste lifestyle is that I have learned so many new things. I make my own deodorant, make lip balm from beeswax and shea butter that would make any cosmetic company jealous. It’s so perplexingly easy to make my own cleaning and laundry products that I would never touch anything else. Instead of a passive, immature consumer, I’m active, consuming much more consciously and less, and I’ve learned to help myself.
This freedom feels so incredibly good, as I’m no longer stuck in a hamster wheel, but am suddenly observing the world from a new perspective.
I can only control my own behavior anyway and not that of other people.
Through this new perspective, however, I also see situations in which people around me close their eyes and behave completely wrongly from my point of view. For example, when they buy the plastic-wrapped apples in the supermarket or thoughtlessly put the environmentally harmful cleaning products in the shopping basket. These are the moments when I feel helpless and would like to shake everyone awake. But in most cases – no wait, actually always – the most I can do is influence and change my behavior. Unfortunately, I have no power over other people’s behavior. That’s why it’s useless, for example, to wonder what other people think about me and my way of life. What I can do, however, is set a good example and be an inspiration to others. I can inspire sustainable living in those around me, but I can never force it.
When I think of it this way the most important changes in history have always started with small changes in ordinary people. For example, the women’s rights movements. That was a very long, often hard struggle, but that constant insistence on improvement helped us all in the end. So many women have worked for change over and over again. They have shown that the strongest influences come from the grassroots. They grow upward and become the norm.
It can work the same way with sustainability. Only when many people make demands will something change in the long term. You don’t even have to demonstrate in the streets every week to do that. Instead, I use my power as a consumer, for example, to advocate for change by using public transportation, avoiding waste, and supporting unpackaged stores as a new shopping culture.
There are so many possibilities and the more people join the Zero Waste movement, the clearer the demands for change become. One day this will make it the norm to live this way and take care of resources instead of consuming more and more and just throwing it away.
My changes will inspire other people to change as well
When the first vegetarians or vegans asked for vegetarian or vegan dishes in restaurants, they were outsiders. They were only mildly smiled at by the “normal” people at the time or someone made a joke. And today? I have stopped eating meat and fish in the interest of a climate-friendly diet and my health. I have not become an outsider as a result, since many other people have taken this step before me and have inspired the changes. They all stimulated the changes by their conviction and their actions and brought them forward. There are now even exclusively vegan restaurants. Here in Frankfurt, the first Zero Waste Café opened this year – an idea that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. For me, this knowledge and this success are a relief, because if I change my lifestyle, I will also inspire other people to follow me. Sometimes it’s just tiny steps, but something is moving.
However, since I discovered this new way of living for myself, I can’t help but keep going. After I started plastic fasting 1.5 years ago, every further step was logical and led further and further in the direction of Zero Waste. Actually, at that time I just wanted to fill the fasting time until Easter with something meaningful and so I came to plastic fasting. That time is long gone and fasting has turned into a fundamental change for my whole family.
After banning plastic wrap from my kitchen and realizing the reasons why, I couldn’t go back. The more I immersed myself in my new sustainable life, the harder it became to go back to old patterns. I would have felt bad and I also realize that I feel very uncomfortable when I am forced to accept something wrapped in plastic these days. The guilty conscience about the damage I do to the environment and to myself constantly looks at me reproachfully and creates an uneasy feeling in the bauc
h. In most cases, I find it easier to do without altogether than to make this mistake, from my perspective.
No matter how small my contribution, it is important! Because the bad news about environmental disasters will increase. There will be more and more reports about forest fires, storms and extinct plants and animals. Such reports always hit me very deeply in the heart, because I feel very connected with nature. It gets to me when I see animals in distress because of us humans. However, because of my sustainable lifestyle, I no longer feel so helpless and at the mercy of animals.
I realize it doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s another building block in the big picture.
Sure, I can’t save the world, but I’ve stayed true to my values and feel like I’ve done my best. Just like the women who stood up for more women’s rights and didn’t live to see the fruits of their labor.
Yes, a sustainable lifestyle, such as Zero Waste, takes effort because it is not yet a given. Our society is not yet designed for it, even though many things are already getting better. Just like on our vacation. As long as we stayed in the hotel, we could relax, because the Zero Waste principle worked quite well there. Many small initiatives and suggestions encouraged the guests to be more sustainable – even if not all of them were convinced waste avoiders and environmentalists yet.
Together with the people who live and act in the same way, something is moving in the right direction: a ban on plastic bags and disposable tableware, people calling for a new agriculture and advocating for sustainable healthy food, and a growing number of unpacked stores. So I keep going, even if sometimes I have the impression that in my environment I’m the only one and everyone else ignores it.
What are the reasons for you to continue on the path to a sustainable future? What do you use to motivate yourself on difficult days?
About the guest author
At the end of 2017, I found my way to my heart’s topic of nature & sustainability through coaching. Instead of spending more and more money and time on a lifestyle that accumulates status symbols, defines success by our possessions and is quite unhealthy for us and the environment, I arrived at Mindful Zero Waste via plastic and consumer fasting. This is about a way of life that is kind to the environment while bringing a new kind of prosperity without being complicated and perfectionistic. On my blog, I share my experiences and knowledge to show other women the ways to live sustainably and in harmony with nature and themselves.
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