Sunday, November 8, 2015

Guide: The Eco Conscious Living in the City - where to start?

Posted by Amanda Villaruel | |
Does it seem overwhelming to start living more environmentally friendly? Look no further, I'm here to help you! :-)

Being eco-conscious means that you're aware of the impacts on the environment. An eco-conscious living means that you live your everyday life, with the intent to cause minimal harm to the environment.
Guide to eco conscious living in the city
Guide to eco conscious living in the city

There's no such thing as a perfect eco-conscious life. None of us can do everything, but every single one of us can do at least one thing :-)

(This post contains no commercial links. All links open in a new window.)

In the section below, I've divided the eco living tips into five categories.

Use these quick links if you're looking for a specific section:
  1. Reduce (limit the number of purchases and limit the waste)
  2. Reuse (give items a new purpose)
  3. Recycle (give the item a chance to be recycled and be turned into a new product)
  4. Repair
  5. Alternatives

So, where to start? 

If I were you, I would firstly consider which arenas in your everyday living you want to make greener choices. Many might find it easier to implement the first changes in the kitchen before continuing to the wardrobe.
Allotment garden in Oslo (Manglerud)
Allotment garden in Oslo 

Once you've incorporated greener routines in one area, it'll be easier to make some changes in other parts of your home. The other changes will come more naturally and feel naturally. Before you even realize it, you're taking new green steps in other areas of your life. It's all about establishing new habits ;-)

One mistake I did, and still do, is over-planning. With over-planning, comes the feeling of overwhelm, and then the eco-guilt. The guilt of not doing enough for the environment. 

Less (rigid) planning and taking one step at a time can lessen the overwhelm and also the environmental guilt :)

What kind of changes you want to make is for many people limited by budget. If that's the case, prioritize. What's more important to you?

The greener living is essentially about consuming less and finding eco-friendly and/or ethical alternatives to what and how you already live :-)

Tips for sustainable urban living:


1. What goes into the kitchen garbage bin? 

Raise your hand if you throw away too much food.... :) From what I hear from family, friends and colleagues, I believe that many of us can do an even better job at reducing food waste. We can try to be more conscious about reducing the food waste by for instance, smelling the food instead of blindly trusting the expiration date :-)

Read: How to keep lettuce crisp and fresh.

2. Considering a new purchase? 

Check out the possibilities of borrowing what you need from family or friends. You can even rent clothing and bags!
Photo courtesy of MUD Jeans - "how does my ass look like?"
Photo courtesy of MUD Jeans - "how does my ass look?"

You can lease jeans at MUD Jeans. ArmGem and many other companies offer bag rental services. At ArmGem you can rent designer bags like Alexander Wang and Michael Kors.

Read: A practical step-by-step guide on how to stop shopping for a while.

Five questions you need to ask yourself before considering going shopping.
    3. Reduce the paper use and waste 

    Receiving junk mail? In the UK and US you can contact the Mail Preference Service and Mailing Preference Service to add your name to an opt-out-list, to avoid junk mail. Or just put a "no junk mail" sticker on your letter box. The sticker has helped us and reduced the number of unwanted mail, but not all of them I'm afraid.

    If you're still interested in getting info about daily or weekly sales/promotions from grocery stores, check if the grocery store offers an online app. All the big grocery store chains should have one!

    Another simple way of reducing the paper use and waste in your home is to unsubscribe from paper magazines and newspapers, and subscribe to the electronic versions on your computer, iPad or any other tablet you own. You can also download electronic books on your Kindle.


    1. Buy used items.

    This is by far one of my favorite activities - shopping for unique items at flea markets, vintage and second-hand stores :-) Not only do you get something "new" and unique, but you also prolong the lifespan of the product by giving it a second chance and a new purpose.

    Read: 10 easy tips on thrifting clothes and accessories.

    Flea market guide for newbies from start to finish.

    2. Ditch the disposable items and stick to reusable versions, to reduce plastic and waste. Did you know that half of Australia's states and territories have banned single-use plastic bags?1

    Coffee cup: Check out the KeepCup.

    Shopping tote bags (use them for almost any type of shopping):
    Durable tote bags from and photo courtesy of society6.
    1. Farmers Market Veggies 2. I love vegetables 3. Bottles Mint 4. Coffee 5. Monster 6. A Lot of Cats

    When I'm shopping for groceries or other stuff, I always carry multiple reusable tote bags. It must look weird on the streets that I'm carrying 3-4 tote bags, but hey - I love it! :-)

    3. Can old milk cartons be reused to plant herbs? Or to grow mini carrots for the kids? Can old bottles be reused to store home made juice or reused as a vase? Maybe turn old candle jars into jewelry organizers? Can old newspapers be used to clean glass?

      Follow Eco in the City's board Easy re-use ideas on Pinterest.

    Sort your waste.

    But firstly, find out if your municipality or local area offers kerbside collection of household waste and where the nearest recycling site is located.

    Waste sorting can roughly be divided into following categories: 1) food waste (organic) 2) plastic, 3) paper/cardboard, 4) glass (and bottles) and 5) metal.
    Eco conscious living: Recycling carton
    Eco conscious living: Recycling carton

    If there's a recycling program in your neighborhood, they should have a website where you can download or print out a chart on how to sort waste into appropriate bins. Sometimes the municipality drops the chart in your mail box ;-)

    Print out the chart and place it above the kitchen bench or another spot close to the kitchen waste bins.

    Have a higher threshold for throwing away "broken" things. 
    First of all - is it really broken? Or are you deep down just tired of it? ;-)

    Secondly; whether it's a sweater or a computer - can it be mended?
    The ultimate guide to eco-conscious living
    The ultimate guide to eco-conscious living

    Ask family or friends to borrow a sewing machine, or ask them to fix the sweater for you. A computer can last for many years with the right treatment. The Asus Notebook (PC) I'm using right now is 5 years old, and on the brink of exhaustion. 

    And yes, I've thought about throwing it away many times, but I don't want to. It's a long story, but to give you the short version - I refuse to support the electronic industry because of what it stands for - planned obsolescence.

    Read: Lifespan of consumer electronics is getting shorter, study find.

    We're all losers to a gadget industry built on planned obsolescence.

    The other day my mom wanted to buy a new office computer because her old one was slow and making 'funny noise' as she dearly said (the computer is 6 years old). Instead, my sister decided to uninstall everything and then re-install.

    And how about it... the computer works better now! ;-) 

    My point? Try to make it a habit of mending things before you hit the stores ;)

    As I mentioned above; an eco conscious living implies a reduced consumption. But if you need something new - find better, greener alternatives :-)

    1. Go through the kitchen cabinets, pantry and refrigerator - what food products do you usually buy?

    And then write a list. The next time you go grocery shopping, spend a little extra time to look for alternatives that are organic, contain no palm oil (related to deforestation), locally produced and/or are certified fair trade.

    If pasta is what gets you moving in the kitchen, try an organic version. Or try to find crackers that don't contain any palm oil. I was surprised the other day when I noticed that the fairtrade bananas cost almost the same as "ordinary" bananas :-)
    Bulk food shopping at Molleren Sylvia in Oslo.

    Read: Why can't I buy more palm oil-free products from mainstream shops?

    There are also greener alternatives for the toddlers, like certified organic porridge and mashed vegetables. Ella's Kitchen as an example even offers vegetarian options for babies - products that are certified organic.

    Click here to read about eco-labels and various certification schemes.

    When you're ready to take it up a notch, you might consider bulk food shopping. Essentially, you bring old jars and old plastic boxes from home and fill them with vegetables, fruit, pasta, cereal, rice, cheese and meat according to what you need. And you avoid the plastic wrap!

    The idea here is to reduce both the food waste and use of plastic.

    Read: Packaging-free shopping on the rise in Europe.

    2. In the bathroom:

    You might consider towels made from certified 100% organic cotton when it's time to get new ones. Check out the fairtrade towels at Glo Organic.

    Toothbrush: certified USDA bamboo tooth brushes.

    Sanitary pads and tampons: I use the organic cotton tampons from Natracare, and organic and natural pads from the same brand. I can recommend the sanitary pads! :-) If you're ready to take the next step, you might consider washable sanitary pads or Divacup from Lunapads.
    Organic cotton tampons by Natracare.
    Organic cotton tampons by Natracare.

    Diapers: ordinary (petroleum-based) diapers or reusable cloth diapers? Read more about this at Green America.

    Swabs and facial pads: These are quite easy to replace with greener alternatives. I've used organic cotton swabs and cotton rounds from Maxim Hygiene Products (ordered on iHerb), and tried other brands like the French Bocoton (fairtrade) and Simply Gentle (organic cotton). I liked all of them, but Simply Gentle and Maxim had the most functional facial cotton pads.

    3. When it's time to change the light bulbs in your home, switch to high-quality LEDs (light-emitting diodes). LED is more expensive than their light bulb competitors, but according to this article, this type of light bulbs can return on their investment.

    LEDs use approx. 20-30% of the energy, and last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, as well as halogen bulbs.2

    Read: LED lightbulbs can save you hundreds in energy bills.

    4. A greener wardrobe.

    A greener wardrobe doesn't mean that you have to start throwing away everything you own. To the contrary. A 100% sustainable wardrobe is going to take a long time to achieve. Wear what you already have, and if you have to shop - choose wisely ;-) Here are some guides I've written:

    Want to do more for the environment?

    As consumers, we can do plenty to live more sustainably within the boundaries of our homes.

    We can even stretch beyond our domestic living. Here in Norway I've observed passionate neighbors and people in city districts get together and create small, local projects within urban farming, beekeeping and arranging "redesign" workshops.
    The eco-conscious living
    The eco conscious living

    But what consumers can do for the environment is only a fraction of what potentially can be done.  I'm maybe a bit harsh now, but I believe it's the truth.

    Consumers can't start building green infrastructure in the city, or pass laws or policies that require better working conditions for factory workers in Bangladesh or Cambodia. As consumers, we're obviously not in a position to do so.

    But as a consumer collective we have the ability to influence and be part of the (online) activism :)

    So, how to take action beyond your control sphere? 
    1. Follow (environmental) NGOs on Facebook or subscribe to their newsletters to receive the latest campaigns to sign. 
    2. You can even use your vote for a greener city during the next election. If you have slightest faith in your local politicians, why not use the power to bring the right people a step closer to the city council?
    3. We can also influence what the stores can take in by asking for more eco-friendly and ethical products. Consumers have now more control of the demand, and the stores will eventually have to increase the supply to accommodate the demand.  

    Alone we don't have the power to do greater things for the environment. We need to bring out the big guns by "sticking" together. Together we have the power to influence the decision makers :) If they don't listen to us the first time, we need to 'make more noise' the next time!


    Have your say about what you just read :)

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