Even at a young age, I recognized the importance of our environment, which is why I decided to apply to one of the most environmentally friendly universities in the United States. Our campus was almost exclusively run-on biomass, wind and solar energy; however it was once I came to Germany that I really understood what I could do on a smaller scale to be more environmentally conscious.
Which is why I wanted to write about ten changes I have made since moving to Germany, that help make my carbon footprint a little bit smaller.
Going on a bike trip
- Reusable bags – Although this is common practice in Germany, I never used reusable bags regularly in the United States. Since moving to Germany, if I don’t have enough reusable bags in my backpack, I just don’t go to the grocery store. Although this is slowly changing in the United States, I am still shocked how many plastic bags are still used on a regular basis. Last year while visiting home, I bought a lip balm, smaller than your average roll of tape and I was shocked to see the cashier throw the tiny container in a plastic bag and hand it to me.
- Ziploc bags – I love picnics, I love the stereotypical American sandwich with chips for lunch. I would use a small plastic bag for my sandwich, another for my carrots, and another for chips. I did this for years. When I think about it now, I cringe a bit. Those hundreds of bags are sitting in a landfill to this day, probably in similar condition as they were when I used them. I am now the proud owner of a bento box and several reusable plastic containers (most of which, are recyclables).
- A drying rack – This took some getting used to. In college, I only washed my clothes with cold water. Someone had once told me it was a great way to save energy. However right after using cold water I would throw my clothes in the dryer, which is very energy inefficient. I now too am a proud owner of a dryer rack. I like them so much, I made my mother who lives in Arizona buy one too. You rarely see rain in Arizona and the sun constantly shines, perfect conditions for naturally drying clothes.
- Bars – In college I was gifted a shampoo bar and I loved it. After using one and loving it I for some reason never again used a shampoo bar in the states. However, when I moved to Germany they were everywhere and super easy to buy. They aren’t expensive and if I buy the right one, I don’t need a conditioner, just one bar and two less plastic bottles. But I didn’t stop there, I also now use a body bar. I have even found lotion bars, facial soap bars among other cool beauty product bars. I read an article once, that stated the average person in Germany has 30 plastic bottles in their home… I had even more! Between cleaning products, food, soaps, lotions, reusable drinking bottles etc. Now days it is easy to buy tablets to make cleaning products, refill oils or soaps at no packaging stores and get beauty products in the form of a bar.
- Eating organic – In the states organic food is really hard to buy, because it is so expensive. When I went home last summer, I was craving pineapple, which at the time was in season (although definitely not local). The pineapple which was not organic was almost ten dollars! Eating fresh foods is expensive already, buying organic was near impossible as a student. Germany offers many low budget organic food products at discount supermarkets. Although I don’t eat exclusively organic, I am willing to spend a little more to buy organic.
- Investing in quality and fixing old things – I look back at my buying habits and I almost exclusively bought the cheapest option available, as long as it was decent quality. I am now very German in my purchasing habits. I read reviews, I check the test scores of products and spend more money on something with the hopes that it will last ten years rather than one. I have had my winter jacket stitched up where it got a rip and I have had the zipper replaced. This is a new way of thinking for me. I would simply throw out the broken things.
- Properly recycling – Being rewarded for recycling sure does help, I love getting a discount on my groceries when I bring back those plastic bottles. This does happen in the states too, but only in a few select states. Boy oh boy do I look back at my waste in the states and think… this is so easy, why was this not happening? We did recycle, by putting plastic, glass and paper all in the same bin, and bringing it to the curb once a month to be picked up. I do wonder though how everything was sorted and to what extent everything was recycled. Biomüll?! Never had it, never tried it and never wanted to… that is until I moved here. Composting is something farmers did, but it has definitely caught on in the states too.
- Biking not driving – This is huge! I bike everywhere here, which saves me money, time and gives the environment a bit of a “breather.” Living in the states I would drive loops around the parking lot trying to get a closer spot, so I didn’t have to walk as far. I bike to work here, it is a 45-minute ride, but I feel refreshed and more fit than ever before. When it is cold, rainy, or snowy I take the train, but for the most part biking is the “way to go.” After living in Germany for three years, I moved back to the states for a six-month span and used my bike to get to work. I rarely if ever saw someone else on a bike. I sometimes took the train or bus, but it was very empty and not properly utilized. I will say I miss using my car as a storage facility. When going from one job to the next, it was easy to pack both uniforms in the trunk of my car, leave snacks in the back seat and bring a gym bag for the occasional stop, running multiple errands was never a hassle, because I didn’t have to carry everything home and if I did, I wasn’t dripping in sweat, by the time I reached my front door.
- Considering plastic – It is incredible how much one time use plastic is on the market. I realize now how often I was buying a lot of my groceries in plastic packaging, when it simply wasn’t necessary. A pack of three bell peppers in a plastic package is just a few cents less than the bell peppers sold separately. I have never understood, why the item with plastic is cheaper than the product without.
- Eating less meat – America loves meat, I love meat. I went vegan for two years in college, I couldn’t keep doing it. Cheese and ice cream are my favorite foods. However, moving to Germany made finding alternative milk products so much easier. I have cut back on my meat consumption to once or possibly twice a week. I now drink Oat-milk, coconut yoghurt and although I still eat cheese, I have cut back on that too.
I see changes in my own life, but one of the huge things that has changed is the people around me. When I go home and tell my mom the benefits of using a hanging drying rack, or my partner decides to eat more vegetarian meals, because that is what I prepare, I see my footprint already effecting others. So spread your knowledge and help others see how easy it can be to make a few small changes that spread quickly. The environment isn’t going to save itself, so as Gandhi once said, be the change you wish to see in the world.
To learn more about how other Americans are changing their habits to protect the environment check out the blog to hear a few other perspectives.