Climate change is real. The fact that we need to change our lives is real. The thought, in the back of my mind, that I could contribute more: also very real.
Earlier this year, probably influenced by the climate strikes going on all around the world, the scientific reports published at what felt like a daily frequency and my academic deep-dive into courses centered on green politics and sustainability, I decided to go zero-waste for a month. A self-experiment to find easy ways to change my life and hopefully reduce my personal impact on the world I live in. So here are some lessons I learned during that time, which I hope might inspire you to take your own steps, however small or big.
I have never felt so in charge of my own life as when I went to the market with my grocery bags and two little jars and tupperware in my backpack. Attempting to live zero-waste really forced me to think ahead. When I would do my grocery shopping, what I would eat in a week, what stores offer which products I needed… It sounds time and money intensive but it was the complete opposite. It took me less than an hour to get all my food at the market and then visit one or two other stores for my bulk goods (The Nieuwe Weg, Le Souk and EkoPlaza are good options). And the market is ridiculously cheap so that I cut my insane weekly grocery budget by more than half.
I knew this before, but Groningen really is a haven for all things eco-friendly, vegan, plant-based and so on. I could still get hummus (bought at LeSouk), I didn’t have to stop eating pastries (from the market), and chocolate and any other snack foods, I just bought them in bulk (at EkoPlaza). If you want to try and live more sustainably and perhaps even go zero/less waste then Groningen will provide you with all the possibilities. Even mainstream grocery stores, like Albert Heijn or Jumbo, are more than happy to let you pack their bread in your own bag, and even sell reusable produce bags.
The municipality in Groningen really is trying to do a lot to push for sustainability and green living. Of course not as much as some are hoping for, but the presence of green politicians is really showing. The Dutch are masters of recycling! An average of 50% of household waste is recycled – that’s the largest amount of any EU country. Apart from the very basic, paper, glass and general waste separation we all do at home, the garbage disposal also sorts through your waste, so that the least amount possible ends up in the landfill.
From time to time, the municipality, but also the Green Office of the University of Groningen and other independent organisations will organise workshops and lectures on how to live more sustainably. So keep an eye open for any events, go and educate yourself and take advantage of all that this city has to offer!
After having so many successes with going zero waste in Groningen, it can be really difficult to accept some defeats. During exam weeks, for example, my priorities shift, and I might not have the will power to go to the market or the time to cook my own dinner. And traveling home you might realise that not every city gives you the same possibilities as Groningen. I kept track of all the waste that I produced during my one month of ‘zero’-waste and here are just some of the things that I just had to accept as being necessary waste (in my own personal life, some of this might not apply to you at all): stickers on bread or produce from weighing, tampons and pads, analog film, a phone charger packaging and condoms. I think it’s important to remind yourself that all steps, however small or big, are good… as long as you are taking them!
Asking the farmer to put the beans in the bag I had brought, handing the Albert Heijn worker my bread bag, looking for tips on sustainable options with friends and strangers… Soon enough I realised that living sustainably is a community effort. If you want to you can quite easily meet new people, like at the market, or bring awareness to your existing friend group… Exchanging tips and tricks, like where to get the best zero waste dips and spreads or how to do personal hygiene á la zero waste, became hotly debated topics in my friend group. I realised that I could have a positive impact on not only my ecological footprint but also my community.
Changing our relationship with climate and consumption is not going to happen overnight. All the ways in which I try to cut plastic bags from my life aren’t going to offset the impact of coal mining; it’s a start. And a much easier one at that if you live in a city full of passionate, dedicated and like-minded people and nearly endless possibilities, like here in Groningen!
Written by Hanna Baars
PR & Graphics Committee ESN Groningen