A New Approach to Eco-Living



Eco-living can be hard to define. We all make a raft of decisions throughout our lives that could be anywhere from eco-friendly to disastrous for the environment. It’s often hard to measure the true impact that some decisions have, and it’s only as time goes on that we gain more understanding of the repercussions of our actions.

For example, just a few years back there was little awareness around the devastating impact that microbeads and microfibers could have on our oceans. Marine scientists have since discovered that these fibers have the potential to poison the food chain when fish and other wildlife consume these micro-particles. Discoveries such as these can prompt eco-conscious consumers to make different purchasing choices that have less of a harmful impact on the environment.

My personal eco-living approach

Personally, I have become more aware of the potential ecological impact of my choices over the past 10-15 years. My journey started with the decision to choose a vegetarian diet and to make as many vegan choices as possible.

As the years went on I began to understand about the potential impact my other actions were having. I started choosing natural and organic household and personal care products and began making many of my own. I would select reusable rather than disposable options, choose natural fibers over synthetic, and find ways to repurpose items. Overall I consumed a lot less as I became more aware of the impact of product production as well as disposal.

Why my approach needed to change

A year ago I was living in New Zealand and I was pretty happy with the eco-living decisions I was making. We had recycling bins that would go out every two weeks and we had compost at home so we produced little household waste. A box of locally sourced organic fruit and vegetables would arrive on my doorstep each week and I had a mental list of all my favorite shops and eateries that had what I deemed to be eco-friendly values.

Then we packed up and left New Zealand to pursue a location independent lifestyle. We ended up living in Malaysia where it took me a while to adjust into a new way of eco-living. To begin with, I became stressed that I couldn’t make eco-friendly decisions as easily. Of course I realize that one of the main joys of travel is to be able to embrace different cultures and a new way of life, and that I should expect things to be different. However there were a number of times that I just felt terrible that I had taken a step back on my quest to live in an eco-friendly way.

Eco-living in Malaysia

We began living in a condo with no access to a compost or green waste bin. I was grateful that there were recycling bins, although a little perplexed that the bins provided would have served two to three households in New Zealand. Our condo housed hundreds of people, yet there was rarely much added to the recycling bins. This gave me an indication of the lack of awareness around recycling in countries such as this.

When we first arrived I marked all the vegan eateries, as well as organic stores that I could find. I was excited to be able to make purchasing decisions that I thought would be in line with my values. However, I was shocked to find out that nearly all packaged products I found in many of the stores, contained palm oil. When I spoke to the owners of these shops they seemed to have zero awareness of the devastating impact of palm oil on the environment.

The biggest adjustment for me was being around so much single use plastic. I brought my own produce bags to the supermarkets, which were met with pointing and amusement from shop assistants. Sometimes they’d even try to slip a plastic bag over the top of them! Often I’d be faced with the decision around whether to purchase imported fruit and vegetables that I could pack into my own bags, or plastic laden local produce. Plastic straws, bags and takeaway containers were everywhere, and sometimes difficult to avoid if I wanted to support the local food vendors.

plastic waste overflowing from a park bin

My new approach

I now try really hard to focus on my overall eco-living picture. Instead of being perpetually hard on myself I aim to take a holistic approach. Sometimes I may feel disappointed that I was unable to foresee a plastic food container from a street vendor. However I also try to remember that I’m supporting a dad to feed his family rather than a multi-national corporation. The food was probably locally grown and freshly cooked, herein emphasizing the holistic outlook on my purchasing decision.

Although I avoid purchasing packaged products containing palm oil, I’m now aware that nearly all my locally purchased meals will have been cooked in it. With a few exceptions, virtually all restaurants and local food vendors use it in their cooking. I don’t agree with palm oil plantations at all but I now understand how ingrained into society it is over here. It’s a cheap option that allows local food vendors to survive and the way the locals see it, their livelihoods depend on it. They don’t see other viable options. There are certainly other routes for the local economy but I now understand that it’s more complex than I originally perceived.

The next stage of our journey will take us to Indonesia, a Nation that is less developed than Malaysia, especially with a lack of rubbish and recycling facilities. There is no doubt I’ll be faced with new challenges around my eco-living decisions. Overall I’m going to continue to make the best holistically-minded decisions I can. At the same time I will actively try to increase awareness of environmental issues and help bring about positive change.

How are you changing your lifestyle towards eco-living? Let us know your suggestions in the comments!

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