I’ve been an advocate for green living for as long as I can remember which I’m pretty sure was my grandparent’s influence. Ahead of their time, they were both vegetarians since they married in the 1940s and, during the 1980s, my nan owned a wholefood stall, The Beanfeast, in our local market hall where I helped out every Saturday and during the school holidays. She would get huge deliveries in paper or hessian sacks of dried pulses, herbs and spices that could be weighed up for her regular customers – a precursor to the bulk buying stores of today.
I’ve found, however, that despite my best intentions it’s not always easy putting ideas into practice but, now that life is slowly getting back to normal after lockdown, I decided to do something about the amount of rubbish that I generate and move towards a more sustainable way of life.
My first step was to sign up to the Plastic Free July Challenge. This is an initiative of the Plastic Free Foundation which is working towards a world without plastic waste.
I knew before I started that going totally plastic free would be a challenge – just looking around the house I could see so many everyday items that were either made of, or packaged in, plastic. However, using the mantra of ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ these are some of the ways I’ve been working towards more sustainable living in Spain.
I’m constantly shocked by the frequency of my trips to the recycling bins especially as I’m only in a two-person household. We probably fill our plastic recycling bin four or five times quicker than we do our paper and glass recycling bins.
A lot of our plastic waste is water bottles. The tap water in our part of Spain isn’t particularly nice so we buy the 8 litre bottles from the supermarket. It’s cheap at less than a euro per bottle but going through a few bottles a week isn’t ideal for the environment.
We’ve recently discovered, however, a ‘Casa de Agua’ (public water kiosk) in a nearby town so plan to check it out as using that will significantly cut our plastic use.
When I’m out and about I always carry my reusable Chilly’s bottle with me. It’s perfect for the Spanish summer as it keeps water ice cold for up to 24 hours.
While many supermarkets near us have stopped the use of plastic bags a lot of smaller shops will still offer you one when you shop. Luckily, I have a fondness for cotton tote bags – I had over a dozen at the last count – so I always have at least one in my handbag. We always have a supply of bags for life in the boot of the car too.
Another favourite bag for shopping is my Onya bag. They’re now made of recycled plastic bottles, fold up small and hold a surprising amount. I’ve had mine for about 15 years now (when they were originally made of parachute silk) and it still does the business.
One thing I have done with all the large water bottles is to repurpose them into seed trays. Cut sideways they’re deep enough for most crops and the satisfaction of growing my own herbs and veg was a therapeutic side effect of lockdown.
I’ve also ordered this fab flamingo which will convert a plastic bottle into a funky watering can.
Something that’s in the news now, of course, is the use of facemasks. While disposable masks are picked up easily in pharmacies here in Spain, there have been problems with littering. I’ve purchased some reusable ones which are easily washed and left to dry overnight.
Although I recycle plastics, tins, glass, and paper there’s one area where I do have a big black mark against my name and that’s my love of my Nespresso machine. Although the official Nespresso capsules can be recycled, I tend to buy supermarket versions which can’t. Even if Mark and I only have a few cups of coffee a day the number of capsules soon mounts up. I’ve been researching reusable capsules so I think that’s going to be my next purchase. If you’ve tried reusable ones and have any recommendations please do let me know.
There are other ways I’m moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle too.
One of the great things about living in Spain is the wealth of markets. Most towns and villages have at least one weekly market selling seasonal fruit and veg which is ideal as it’s fresher and cheaper. Unfortunately, lockdown put a temporary hold on the markets so we had to use the supermarkets for our fruit and veg and, often, it’s heavily packaged. I did buy some reusable mesh bags for my supermarket shop so I could at least choose loose fruit and veg.
I’ve also just discovered a finca in my area that does weekly grocery boxes so I intend to sign up for a regular delivery which means that not only will I have less plastic waste but I’ll be encouraged to get more creative in the kitchen as I won’t know what’s in the box until it arrives on my doorstep.
Lockdown led to many people (including me) unleashing their inner domestic gods/goddesses. This was partly out of necessity, as panic buying in the early days of the pandemic led to shortages in the supermarkets, but also to avoid making unnecessary journeys and potentially being exposed to the virus.
I may not have succumbed to the sourdough craze but I have made a lot of focaccia over the past few months and am definitely going to keep baking. If you fancy having a go at making your own, here’s the recipe I use.
The Spanish haven’t really embraced the ready meal the same as other countries which obviously means less waste from packaging. I’ve always cooked a lot of things from scratch anyway – why buy a jar of pesto when it only takes five minutes to whizz up a batch with basil from the garden?
With lockdown meaning a reduction in cars on the road, and the number of planes in the sky unlikely to get back to normal levels for some time, the lower pollution levels have been obvious. I’m sure most people have seen the pictures of the clear waters of the Grand Canal in Venice and the subsequent memes about how nature is healing.
I’ve always tended to walk most places (where possible) and am planning on buying a cycle shortly. Public transport where I live is pretty good so I used that daily when I was at work and I’ll continue to do so in the future.
I’ve long been conscious of my carbon footprint particularly as, coming from the Isle of Man, if I wanted to travel outside the UK it involved at least two trips – one off the island and another to my final destination (more if I was flying long haul).
It’s possible now to offset your carbon footprint – this calculator works out your carbon emissions not just from flights but also your car, public transport and the household energy you use.
It remains to be seen what the future of travel will look like. While some destinations will require a flight for the average traveller (although I do know a few people who decided to travel from the UK to Australia by boat) it’s a chance for people to slow down and make a move towards other modes of transport.
Europe has an extensive rail network and, with overnight trains, it’s possible to cross the continent without missing days of your holiday. I’ve travelled by Eurostar from London a few times, and one of my first travel experiences was inter-railing through Europe.
Now that Plastic Free July is nearly over, I have to say that I haven’t been completely successful. However, I’ve definitely cut down on purchasing single use plastics and have a plan of action for other changes I can make, whether that’s substituting plastic items such as toothbrushes for ones made of bamboo, or swapping handwash for soap (once my pre-pandemic purchased stock has run out!). Lockdown has also meant that I haven’t had my regular take out coffees but I do have a reusable travel cup ready for when I’m back at work.
It’s also true to say that, while Spain may lack green credentials in some areas, it doesn’t let me down in others. With summer temperatures in Andalucia often passing the 40c mark, it doesn’t take long for washing to dry – when even super king size bedding can be air dried in less than an hour there’s really no need for a tumble drier.
If you have any tips for living more sustainably I’d love to hear them so please drop a comment below.
If you’re looking for reusable products, these have all been inspired by Andalucia. Click on the images to see more.