As you can probably tell, sustainability is a really important cause for me. I’m always looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint and be a little nicer to the Earth! Having lived abroad in three countries over the past 2+ years, I’ve learned a lot about living more sustainably from other countries.
Here are 7 green living tips I learned abroad that you can apply to life at home:
1. Ditch the dryer
I’ll admit, this is one of the hardest tips to follow for American people. While dryers are certainly more convenient at times, do you know that a good part of the rest of the world doesn’t use them? During my programs in Thailand and Spain, I had to line-dry my clothes. It was quite annoying at first, but once I got used to it, I didn’t even think about it. Skipping the clothes dryer saves a ton of electricity, which is great for your wallet and the planet (not to mention it’s kinder to your clothes and helps them last longer)! Now I have a drying rack in my apartment (don’t even need outside space or a clothes line!) back home and I can’t imagine going back to using the dryer.
2. Compost your food waste
This may seem like another challenging tip for apartment dwellers to follow, but there are a ton of resources out there for indoor composting (without bugs or smell!). When I was in Barcelona, not only were trash, plastic, paper, and glass/metal recycling separated, but food waste was disposed of separately as well. Food waste in landfills contributes an enormous amount of methane, a greenhouse gas that is dozens of times more potent than carbon dioxide, to the atmosphere. Since food waste disposal isn’t that widely available in the U.S. (although you should check if your township collects it), composting it yourself is even better! (Check out the YouTube channel, GreenShortz DIY, on composting). You’ll greatly reduce the amount of trash you produce overall, and you can give the compost to a friend or family member with a garden. Live in a dorm? Why not start an initiative to have compost bins added to every floor of your building or your dining hall?
3. Conserve water
You may already have a lot of water-saving habits if you live in a region of the U.S. that doesn’t get a lot of rain, but for me as an East coaster, learning to conserve water was a hard habit to break. In Northern Australia and Barcelona, where rainfall in summer months such as July and August is almost zero, we learned some easy steps to conserve water.
Take shorter showers
Do full loads of laundry
Avoid bottled water
Use half-flush toilets
4. Eat less meat
Eating less meat, especially beef, greatly helps the environment. Livestock farming has a huge impact on habitat destruction and deforestation, water usage, and greenhouse gas emissions.
When I was living with my host family in Barcelona and eating a Mediterranean diet, I hardly even noticed that I wasn’t eating any beef. You don’t have to cut out meat completely; even a reduction in how much you eat is a big help for the environment! Like me, you can start off with something small—eating vegetarian one day a week, for example.
5. Use the Air Conditioner sparingly
Climate change never truly felt real to me until I lived through Europe’s historic heat wave this August without air conditioning! It’s definitely hard to live without AC at first, but after a while my body got used to the elevated temperatures indoors—now that I’m back in the States, I’m always freezing in air conditioning! If you’re not ready to cut out AC completely, you can still take a few simple steps to help out both the environment and your wallet: raising the temperature on your thermostat by just a couple degrees will have a cumulative impact, and always remember to shut off (or at least turn up the temperature on) your AC before you leave home—there’s no need for it if no one’s there!
6. Always use reusable bags
In Barcelona, you always have to bring your own bags for your groceries, or pay for a paper bag. The entire summer, I accumulated less plastic bags than I do in one shopping trip in the U.S. Taking your own reusable bag/tote to the supermarket eliminates the dozens or even hundreds of plastic bags per person we use per year. You’ll not only be a huge help to the environment, but also the annoying pile of plastic bags under your sink will be a thing of the past!
7. Finish your plate
In all of my study abroad locations, serving sizes in restaurants were considerably smaller. This meant that it was expected that you would finish your whole plate and not leave anything behind. Having a smaller serving size is not only good for your health, but it is also essential for cutting down on food waste. To replicate this at home, try eating out at restaurants less and always ask if half-plate or sharing options are available if you don’t think you can finish a full serving.
Try to incorporate as many of these tips as you can into your life! And just as important, share your tips for living more sustainably with your family and friends, and spread the good effects!