Three weeks ago I moved to the beautiful Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Germany, to study at the university here for a semester. It’s part of the year I’m currently spending abroad as part of my degree programme in the UK.
Those of you who have heard of Freiburg might have heard that it’s known primarily for one of two things: for being the ‘sunniest city in Germany’ – it’s about as far south-west as you can get – or alternatively for being the green, eco-city of Germany. Anyone who knows Germany at all might realise that this is quite an achievement considering just how environmentally conscious this country is! It’s also one of the reasons I love it. So logically this was a big factor in my choice to spend this semester in Freiburg.
Anyway, I’ve always been a bit of a low-key eco-warrior – that person who always has the recycled paper notepad, buys organic at least some of the time and has a couple of cotton tote bags inside my rucksack just in case of a spontaneous grocery shop; and I probably mostly have my mother to thank for this – so here’s to you Mum for some super parenting! 😉 However, in more recent times this has developed from more of a habit and recognition of it making sense to try to ‘do my bit’ into something I’m really passionate about and want to take further. Just over a year ago I turned vegetarian, largely for environmental reasons, after watching the documentary Cowspiracy, and being exposed to the ideas behind it on social media. I made a resolution this year to try to do as the title of this post says and “embrace my inner eco-warrior”, and I guess I was doing kind of alright at this, keeping up my good old habits, trying to buy more things second hand and telling myself I’d get round to fully converting to veganism rather than doing it most of the time, off and on, just when it suited me. But some kind of turning point for me was arriving in Freiburg. I set myself my arrival date here as the day I go vegan; the third most common thing I kept hearing about the city being it’s veggie and vegan friendliness (and I can confirm that this is true!) and since that day, living in the green city has been rubbing off on me and I’ve been continually finding more ways to live in a more sustainable way and do as much as I can. I’ve also been lucky to have lovely friend and generally wonderful person, Oli from my home uni in Sheffield also here in Freiburg this semester (his blog actually inspired me to start my own! Look at his here) and in the same way that I can thank my Mum for bringing me up to care about these things, I definitely need to thank Oli for playing that role now and inspiring me all the time with eco-living ideas, passion for positive change in society, veganism tips and getting just excited as I do when talking about a love of cotton tote bags!
These things have reminded me just how important it is generally to do all you can to find yourself an environment which inspires you to get onto the path you want to be on and become closer to the version of yourself you aim for; that means the people you befriend, the city or area you live in, the things you decide to dedicate your time to doing – like your job or free time activities – I find it can be faaaar too easy to spend hours in front of my laptop doing very little, when I could be using my time for something much more fulfilling. There are numerous quotes I’ve come across about how ‘you’re the average of the people you spend your time with’, and I think this is very true, but in fact for more than simply people but truly whatever you’re surrounded with. I’ve noticed after living in four different countries this year that the way I act, dress and live differs depending on where I’m living, and Freiburg’s green lifestyle is definitely something which I’ve fully and enthusiastically adopted since being here.
So, here’s a bit of a list of a few things I do (or at least aim to as much as possible) or have to help do my bit towards looking after our world (some since being here in Freiburg and some which I’ve done for a long time and want to include), in the hope that some of them might inspire some of you to do the same. I find it can be a fun, creative and fulfilling challange.
Holly’s eco-warrior list:
- Or at least eat fewer animal products – every effort counts, do what you can! (I’m sure you’ve probably seen this around a lot, but it really is probably the biggest difference you can make as an individual – you’re literally saving lives as well as tonnes of water and pollution!) Of course do some research into what you need to make sure you eat to get everything but it’s honestly easy once you know and really delicious!
- Take your own bags shopping – find some beautiful cotton tote bags that last years, and/or re-use old plastic bags you’ve got lying around until they wear out (or use those for bin bags or something) – this includes for fruits and veggies! I found a great alternative to getting single use fruit/veg bags each time in Alnatura, a natural supermarket here in Germany, the brand I found is called veggiebags and it makes me really happy every time I use them and think about how I don’t need to pick up new plastic ones! But even just re-using the plastic ones they provide would be a good option.
- Second-hand / Vintage for the win! Embrace the eco chic!! Being eco doesn’t have to mean no more clothes or new knick-knacks! (Saying this, I’m still trying to reduce what I buy because of the sheer amount of random STUFF I’ve accumulated in just 21 years of life! But maybe that’s again a topic for another post!) Nearly every city probably has a selection of second hand shops, be that charity shops which are a big deal in the UK (so things are usually super cheap and the money even goes to good causes as well!), vintage clothing shops where you can find all sorts of crazy, fab and way more unique things which you don’t see every other person wearing fresh out of the chain shops and you can find much better quality clothing for cheap (from the times when more things were made to last!), flea markets which are always fun to look around and you can find all sorts of things, or even antiques shops if you’re feeling fancy!
Always get RECYCLED!
- Espcially with paper. Okay so I know some of these things are pretty obvious but it’s easy to get lazy and just buy standard non-recycled paper products, as often the recycled versions are a little harder to find and a little more expensive – but it’s worth it! And seriously what’s actually the point of non-recycled paper most of the time? Especially for things like toilet paper or tissues – uh, wat?
O r g a n i c !
- Okay so here’s another one which can equally be more expensive and harder to find, and I know I’ve sometimes thought to myself, “But does it even make that much difference?”, but the answer is yes! The standards involved in organic farming mean that you can rely on it being far more ethically produced, bearing in mind wildlife, the surroundings, not polluting rivers with chemicals, not harming your health with added chemicals (like you know when you eat an apple and it just does not taste right, like it just tastes artificial – bleugh!) and it usually tastes way more delicious!! Just think about what you’re supporting with your money – would you rather pay a little less to support something which can actively damage the environment, or a little more to support something which works to improve it? Remember, when politics is failing, another way to vote is with your money and how you spend it! (Also, even if you can’t afford to buy everything organic, maybe do some research into what some of the worst non-organic foods to buy are so you can avoid them at least. And before you dismiss organic for being too expensive for you, always check for prices and offers as sometimes the organic versions are barely more expensive or a reduced version will be cheaper than the standard!)
Think about packaging!
- Sometimes it’s hard to balance getting organic or vegan produce with things not coming packed in a million layers of plastic packaging (I never understand why the more ethical products often come in more packaging!?), but try to take it into consideration. Maybe there’s a non-packaged version sold per kilo which you can use your re-usable veggie bags for! Or sometimes it might be worth trying a few different shops to see which have the best options. Alternatively, maybe you can buy the individual ingredients and make it yourself!? Obviously this is a little more involved but if you have the time it can be more fun and rewarding and you’ll be master chef in no time 😉 Either that or invite some friends round so even if it’s not totally on point first time round you’ll have a laugh about it!
Ethical products and brands
- When you do buy new products, which obviously has to be done sometimes, try to buy products which seem to come from ethical companies (or research ethical brands for what you’re looking for beforehand) or even if you’re buying from a brand which isn’t always ethical, if they have released a product which is, for example a vegan/organic/fairtrade version of their standard product, then supporting that one product could show that company that there is a market for such things. (If I can, I will try to get together a list and post about some of my go-to ethical brands at some point!)
Okay so that will do for now, although I’m sure the list could go on for a very long time, but maybe I’ll come back to it! These can seem like a lot of things to consider but in my eyes it can be like a fun and rewarding challenge, and it makes you feel good knowing you’re helping to care for our world. I think spending some time thinking about how you’re living your life and what you consume really can also turn you into a more compassionate and thoughtful person generally. It’s in all of us, sometimes we just need to stop and think a little more.
The best thing? Knowing that in my everyday life, without really changing much at all about the way I live, I’m choosing to fight for something positive and contributing to a global movement of people making a difference.