As a traveller for the past year and a bit, I observed first hand the amount of garbage dumped by tourists on beaches, on roads and hiking trails. It’s a shame to see that some people still see the earth as a dumping ground.
The good news is the small steps we can take as individuals to become more eco-friendly. And believe me, small steps can make a difference.
On the road, I met eco-conscious travellers that led the way in reducing waste and the plastic-free movement. It inspired me, really, to take a look at how I could reduce my own waste when I’ll have finally settled down in a new city.
While traveling, my wastes stayed rather small. However, at the end of my journey, I was hooked on biodegradable laundry powder and bar soaps and my most proud discovery – rewashable hygienic cotton pads. Yup. No more single-use pads.
Then it dawned on me. What will happen when I finally settle into a new place? Will old habits come back? Will I buy a shit ton of “stuff”, plastic products like shampoo bottles and toxic cleaning supplies?
Something clicked this time. Old ways weren’t an option anymore.
“I want a toxic and plastic-free house,” I told my partner a few months back when we were working and living in Santorini. As the water on the island isn’t drinkable, tourists, locals and workers alike consumed endless amounts of bottled-water year-round.
The worst part? There’s no recycling on the island so these plastic bottles are buried on the island’s dump, forever taking space and uselessly polluting the earth and water with no chance of putting these bottles to good use.
The first few months in Amsterdam, we certainly used plastic and we still do. We recycle most of the plastic and cardboard we use, although I am not 100% sure how the plastic is sorted here in Amsterdam. I see there is no encouraged composting from the municipality, something I was a big fan of when they adapted a new composting by-law back home in Calgary, AB.
We currently live in a furnished apartment in which a few left-over plastic products remain. But slowly, once the products will be all used up, I intend to not replace it with plastics.
Here are three small steps you can take in a new city to slowly limit your waste and kick your plastic and chemical use to the curb – and for good:
- shop second hand or vintage
The first thing I did when I arrived in Amsterdam was to locate the vintage and second hand stores. Coming from sunny Greece, I had little work and winter appropriate clothes to wear. I found endless selections of vintage and second hand shops that were affordable. At one second-hand shop, I bought two nice work shirts for 20 euros. It was a steal and and felt good to know these articles of clothing were given a second life and not rotting in a dump somewhere.
- buy bulk and refuse the bag
Buying bulk is ideal. It’s not always manageable but when you can, buy flour in bulk, buy your oranges in bulk without the plastic mesh netting that comes when you buy them in a bundle, buy your nuts in bulk, your veggies, you name it. Then, simply reuse glass jars such as your jam jars and such as storage . The goal is to minimize single-use plastic. Bring reusable shopping bags with you at all times and think twice before accepting the plastic bag that comes with your newly bought purchase. Can you fit your new purchase into your purse or backpack? Can you carry it by hand? Also, do you really need that single-use paper receipt?
- replace your body and cleaning products with biodegradable, toxic- and plastic-free options.
This is truly one easy fix. Your shampoo bottle on its last legs? Order a couple shampoo bars – a plastic bottle-free alternative that resembles bar soap except more adapted for hair – from sites like plasticfreeamsterdam.com . Your cleaning products are on their way out? Make your own with an apple vinegar base mix. Countless recipes can be found online when you google or YouTube “homemade” anything.
But even think about single-use plastics that come with toothpaste products, plastic toothbrushes and plastic-packaged floss. There are alternative ways to these such as toothpaste that comes in a glass jar, and toothbrushes made of bamboo.
I choose Plastic Free Amsterdam because it’s packaged locally and packaged plastic-free, of course. Please note that there are other online options in North America and Australia that offer similar products. Do your research. Instagram is a great start for that.