I am extremely excited to announce that Konstanz finally has its first plastic-free store!
On June 14th, Unverpackt Konstanz made its grand opening, and for me it was a dream come true. I have been working with Sladja and Michael over the last half year as they busied away to set up their beautiful shop, and it is amazing to see all of their hard work come to fruit.
Unverpackt Konstanz is based at Fürstenbergstraße 93, an easy 15 minute bike or bus ride from the Konstanz Altstadt. Sladja has created a small, cosy shop that lives and breathes its motto: “back to nature”: wooden and glass dispensers, beautiful hand-me-down furniture, and shelves full of unpackaged food, toiletries and household necessities. It covers almost everything I need on a day to day basis.
What can I buy there?
As with Unverpackts all over the world, Unverpackt Konstanz stocks mainly dried foods. This includes different kinds of lentils, beans, rice and seeds, which are presented in dispensers along the walls. In addition you can also find jars full of unpackaged dried fruits, chocolate, gummi bears and coffee.
However there is more than just food. Unverpackt Konstanz also stocks deodorants, soaps, shampoos, toothbrushes and even toilet paper for all of your hygiene needs! And for the household, you can buy liquid soap, house cleaner, washing powder and detergent and dishwashing liquid. You really can find all of your everyday needs there!
Of course, the shop has been open for less than a month, so it is still expanding its range of products. For example, they do not supply any bakery products or fresh produce, as they are first stocking the basics before expanding. Nevertheless, I am so pleased how far Sladja and Michael have progressed already, and I am so excited to watch how Unverpackt Konstanz blossoms over time.
How does it work?
In my previous blog post I explained how to shop at other packaging-free shops in Germany, and the same logic applies here! You bring your own jars and bags and weigh them instore. Once you have written down their weights on the paper provided, fill up your containers to your heart’s content! Once you have everything you need, take your goods to the desk along with the noted weights, and the cashier will deduct the weight of your container from the overall weight, so you only pay for the food inside. Remember that you cannot mix your products in the same container as they each have their own price per gram!
A lovely bonus in Unverpackt Konstanz is that they also sell their own mason jars and bottles, as well as little cloth bags if you want to buy a small quantity of something but don’t have a spare jar. What’s more, they also have a “borrow a jar” service, where you can use spare jars provided by the store if you don’t have enough, and bring them back the next time you are visiting.
But don’t just take my word for it! Last May, Sladja was featured in Bodensee magazine Akzent and in the Südkurier this July, both publicisng the opening of Unverpackt Konstanz and the plastic-free story behind it all. Living zero waste is becoming more mainstream and “on trend”, which is fantastic for spreading our message to a greater audience!
A new member of the Unverpackt family.
Unverpackts are popping up all over Germany, with shops found in Mainz, Karlsruhe, Berlin and beyond. Konstanz is a small holiday and university town, so it is great to see an Unverpackt finally open here, as it shows that people in all sorts of countries, districts and cities want to embrace a zero waste lifestyle and start changing the way they live to reduce their negative impact on the environment. A small locally owned plastic-free shop may not seem like very much, but in reality it makes a huge difference: it is a symbol demonstrating against conventional packaged goods, promoting a healthy and environmentally friendly way of life and supporting the ever-growing zero waste global community. So danke schön to Sladja and Michael for all your hard work!
I recently joined Instagram as @nowastebee, and I think this is one of the best decisions I have made! The insta zero waste community is so supportive and creative, always sharing new ideas on how they cope in different daily situations without plastic. Not only has this group united plastic-free people around the globe, but it has also put me in touch with other locals who are also embracing the zero waste lifestyle.
This brings me to the heart and soul of this article: a fantastic zero waste instagram account called @lesswaste_lessworries. When I reached out to other zero wasters, and Laura very kindly agreed to answer my interview questions. Like me, she is also based in south-west Germany, and she focuses on living as a zero waste minimalist.
I find Laura really inspiring- she currently has 18.6k followers on Instagram- that is a lot of people she is encouraging to live zero waste! She also runs her own website, which is equally full of exciting and novel ideas and blog posts about taking on waste-free minimalism. To me, she is a local hero!
You can check out the interview with Laura below:
1) Tell me a bit about yourself.
l live in Saarbrücken, in the south-west of Germany with my husband and I’m interested in all things related to
waste reduction, environmentalism and minimalism. I studied to be a teacher and linguist and I’m literally about to start looking for a job.
2) When or how did you become conscious about environmental issues, plastic and producing less waste?
When writing my thesis on the language of television cookery shows to finish my teaching degree in 2012, I started to become interested in the environmental impact of our dietary choices. Research in this field somehow pretty quickly lead me to discover the plastic-free movement in form of Beth Terry’s blog “My Plastic-free Life” which I read within a few days. I had not really put any of my newly gained knowledge into practice, until I found myself standing on the top of Wadi David at Ein Gedi in Israel looking down on the Dead Sea a few weeks later. I realized how small the Dead Sea had become and that the spring of the David brook was diverted elsewhere so that the water could be used for agriculture and to be bottled and sold in the cities. This made me realize how precious the resources on earth actually are, even though this is something we don’t often realize in northern Europe. During the same holiday, I also found a good amount of plastic trash on the beach after a more stormy night and I realized that I had to start implementing some changes in my life.
3) Can you tell me more about your key values of waste-free living and wanting to become a minimalist?
Minimalism very important in my life and for the longest time, I thought I only did it because owning fewer items and keeping them for a long time meant that I was using less resources. I only realized very recently, or better said, my husband (not so) kindly pointed it out to me: I have to be a minimalist, because I’m super messy. I tend to never put stuff back to where I took it from, I pretty much put it down wherever I am at that moment. I never close cupboard doors and I really like “storing” things on the floor. This means that I was often running around the flat looking for my keys for ten minutes and having someone over required an entire day of tidying up before the flat was presentable. Significantly reducing the amount of stuff I own makes tidying up and finding stuff so much easier.
When it comes to zero waste, I try to look at the bigger picture. It’s very easy to be so focused on the amount of tangible plastic trash a product creates and to forget the other bigger environmental implications of that product. For instance, is it really a good idea to try and avoid the last bit of plastic your recycling toilet paper comes in, if your alternative not recycled option in the cardboard box has to travel to you all the way from China?
4) What made you want to start "lesswaste_lessworries"?
I started my Instagram account in 2015, because I did not know anybody in real life who tried to drastically reduce their trash. I felt and still feel that being part of an online support community makes it easier to bear the stares I still sometimes get when I ask for food to be put directly into my own container. Of course I also want to use the account to make others aware of and inform them about the zero waste lifestyle.
5) What are your best tips for waste-free living?
When people ask me how to best reduce the amount of waste they create in their household, I always tell them to transition slowly. The transition can take a lot of time and it’s important not to get to frustrated in the process. I tell them to use each product or object in their home until they have used it up or it is broken, then do their research and buy a waste free or waste reduced alternative, or no alternative at all. Going out and buying “zero waste essentials” in the beginning of a journey towards zero waste makes little sense to me. It’s better to use what you already have and then, once you are a bit further along the journey and you have gotten a feeling for what you really need, you can still go out and buy whatever you feel is missing.
6) What is your essential "thing" that helps you go waste-free?
Uh, that’s a difficult question, there are lots of things helping me to live waste-free. I would say that keeping the 5Rs of zero waste in mind when going grocery shopping helps me a lot so that I’m not tempted to buy useless products with ridiculous packaging. In terms of objects, I find that a simple cotton produce bag and my old stainless steel container really help me to reduce the amount of waste I bring into the household.
7) Can you tell me more about your workshops? I saw you gave a make-up tutorial at the beginning of last March!
I never thought that I’d be doing workshops on zero waste living, but I’ve always enjoyed giving talks and having studied to be a teacher, I also like guiding pupils or participants through the different whys and hows of completing a task or making something. So when I commented on the newly created Instagram account of the first unpackaged shop in Luxembourg, OUNI, telling them that I was looking forward to visiting them one day, they asked me if I’d like to give a talk or workshop at the shop. And that’s how I got started. I have since given a few talks and workshops, most of them on how to avoid waste in the bathroom for the sake of our own health, but also for the sake of the environment. I give a short talk about the underlying principles, introduce some alternatives and then we make body butter and deodorant, or lipsticks and mascara, depending on the audience.
8) Do you have any success stories where you feel like you have impacted other people's lives, made them more aware of the plastic problem, encouraged others to move away from the throwaway lifestyle?
I have a lot of small anecdotes that make me realize that I must have some impact on the people around me,
although most of the time it does not feel like it. From time to time friends will proudly tell me when they’ve gotten rid of their single use nespresso machine, bought a lunette menstrual cup, baked a bread only using a bag of paper, stopped using google etc. On Instagram, several people have thanked me for inspiring them to switch to a renewable energy company or tag me when they’ve managed to buy a meal in their own container for the first time. I love when things like that happen, because they easily make up for those times when people tell me that what I do does not make a difference.
9) What do you think is the best way to spread the message of waste-free living and to encourage others to do the same? We seem to be living in a world where people are conscious about the problems but don't actually want to do anything about it.
For me, the best way to spread the message is by living by example. Every time a customer in an organic store or on the farmers market sees me shopping with my cotton bags, jars or containers, they are exposed to the idea of waste reduction, even tough they might not be aware of it yet. This way, you might reach people who are completely new to the idea and who you won’t reach if you give a talk about zero waste living, for example. In my experience, the people who attend talks and workshops are already pretty aware of the environmental impact of their actions. People often ask me about the produce bags when I’m out and about and then I tell them where I got them from, why I use them and what I use them for. However, I don’t tell them that I try not to produce any trash whatsoever. I feel that that would be too intimidating to them and that going completely zero waste is not what most people really want to do. I tell them that I try to avoid the thin plastic bags for produce and most of the time they tell me that they think that’s a great idea. I feel that they then have a relatively simple first step they can focus on.
Here in Germany, it is starting to look like spring! (Besides the sudden snow storms we had last week…) Yet, even as we are saying goodbye to the flu season, the constant runny noses and sore throats will continue as hay fever hits the unlucky people who have pollen allergies.
I was always the first person to turn towards medication to get rid of any symptoms of any inconvenience I had: painkillers for headaches, multivitamins for health, antibiotics for infections… However I realised how used I had become to turning to over-the-counter tablets whenever my body felt a little bit uncomfortable, when actually I am lucky enough to have a strong, in-built immune system that can fight infections and allergies, and get all of my nutrients from just eating healthily. And for every tablet you consume, there is a small chunk of plastic going into the rubbish bin, and eventually into the oceans. That might not seem like a lot, but when you think about how many people take medications and vitamins and tablets every day, it adds up to a huge amount of unnecessary plastic which I would like to avoid.
Hay fever has hit me pretty hard this year, but I plan to take on the spring with no hay fever medication, just with plastic-free counter-measures and a little common sense.
Disclaimer: I do not promote that you do not take medication necessary for your health. Living plastic-free is a wonderful act for the environment, but you need to be healthy to do that. Life quality-improving medication that is essential for healthy living should always be taken as prescribed by your doctor.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is caused when the body is exposed to an allergen, which triggers an allergic reaction from the immune system. Internally, there is inflammation of membranes inside your nose, which results in the external symptoms of a blocked runny nose, and lots of sneezing!
Different people can react to all sorts of allergens from different sources, for example cat and dog hair, mould spores, or dust mites. Hay fever is an allergic response to pollen, which can be from trees, grass or flowers depending on the time of the year. Hay fever affects people of all ages and ethnicities, and can range in its intensity, from dry eyes to extremely congested airways. All in all, it can be pretty tough to get through hay fever season without any sort of medication or aids to battle the symptoms.
What can you do?
For those of you who don’t want to be trapped inside for the next few months, here are some suggestions to support you through the hay fever season without having to turn to plastic-covered medication.
1) Drink ginger and lemon tea.
This is my go-to solution for when I am feeling under the weather with allergies or flu symptoms. Both ginger and lemons are great boosts for your immune system. Ginger helps to reduce the inflammatory response of your lymphocytes to allergens, reducing the congested feeling in your nose. Lemons on the other hand contain a lot of vitamin C, which has been shown to improve antimicrobial and killer cell activities against antigens and pathogens.
However, it should be mentioned that if you are eating a well-balanced diet every day, then you should be getting all of the nutrients from lemon and ginger naturally from other sources. This is just a top up!
Just take a cup of hot water, and cut a chunk of ginger and a wedge of lemon into it. I tend to reuse the ginger and lemon for the whole day to get as much out of it as I can, then I add the ginger to my veggie scraps bag and save the lemon for cleaning the bath!
2) Try a homemade cooling gel.
One of the worse symptoms of hay fever for me is dry, itchy eyes. Not only do your eyes feel grainy and constantly irritated, but they go all puffy and ugly and can physically hinder your work.
If drinking lots of water does not help enough, I suggest some sort of cooling ointment you can rub or spray onto your eyelids. These can be pretty difficult to find without plastic, so I prefer to make my own. I quite like the following recipe below that I found from the excellent book Homemade Beauty:
Blend half a cucumber, ¼ cup of aloe vera gel and 5 drops of Vitamin E oil until smooth. Refrigerate for two hours, then you can rub it around your eyes. It can keep up to three weeks.
I can’t find vitamin E oil here but the other two products are easy to find plastic-free. Instead I make sure I moisturise around my eyes afterwards. It is great for cooling down your eyes and stop them from itching so much.
3) Sleep enough.
Tiredness is a less-talked about symptom of hay fever. When your body detects allergens, it overreacts and goes into defence mode by triggering inflammation and production of mucus. This is not only uncomfortable for you, but it also means your body is working around the clock to fight this perceived attack. This uses up energy, leading to you feeling more weary throughout the day. Thus it is important to rest when you can!
4) Put vaseline around your nostrils.
Pollen enters the body through the nasal passages, hence your nose is the greatest sufferer during the hay fever season. A good way to trap this pollen before it reaches your membrane lining is to rub petroleum jelly around your nostrils before you head outside. The allergens stick to the jelly and so do not get sucked up into your nose, and instead can be wiped away! Although I would suggest refreshing the jelly regularly so there isn’t a build-up of pollen over time.
5) Remove external allergens.
I am allergic to a lot of stuff: tree and grass pollen, mould spores, cat and dog hairs as well as bees and wasps! Many of these culprits stick onto your clothes, hair and shoes, and so even when you go inside, the hay fever symptoms continue as you are still surrounded by the antigens.
The best way to get rid of these therefore is to vacuum/sweep your room every day during hay fever season, and to brush down your clothes before you enter the house. Even better, have a shower whenever you return from outdoors, and put your outside clothes straight into the washing basket to avoid contamination in your home.
In general, this should reduce your hayfever symptoms at home, allowing you to get some sleep!
6) Use cloth handkerchiefs.
Having a runny nose is also a crappy hay fever symptom, which results in hundreds of single use tissues ending up in the trash. Of course, the tissues themselves may not be plastic, but think about their production: hundreds of trees are cut down, transported back and forth across the country (if not continent) as they get chopped, processed, mixed with other chemicals, bleached, piled up and then wrapped up in a layer of plastic packaging, which itself has gone through its own lengthy chain of processes in order to be created and branded. All of this production for the convenience of blowing your nose for five seconds before throwing the tissue away, where it ends up in landfill and in the oceans.
It is far better to use reusable cloth handkerchiefs that you can use and then wash when they are too dirty. Though these require an initial investment (unless you get hand-me-downs like I did from my father!), you will probably end up saving money on buying countless packs of tissues in the long run.
7. Apply menthol products.
Sometimes hankies are not enough, and you need some extra help to clear your nasal passageways. Medicinal products for this are very difficult to come by plastic-free, thus I still use packaged materials, in particular eucalyptus oil for inhaling, and Vicks for rubbing on my back and chest. Both of these really help when I cannot breathe through the night, and the eucalyptus oil is great to carry around on a handkerchief during the day.
Even though products like these are plastic, I think I would rather use them than individually wrapped hay fever tablets, as at least I can reuse the pots and bottles I accumulate, and in my experience they last a much longer time than a packet of tablets.
I hope these ideas help you get through the allergy season! If you have more ideas, I would love to hear from you, so comment below or send me a message. Otherwise, enjoy the beautiful spring!
The world of zero waste can be a challenging but extremely rewarding lifestyle. Every decision, choice and action you make has a meaning and a responsibility. But it has opened me up to a range of other green lifestyles that I never quite appreciated before, for example, buying seasonal and organic produce, supporting local businesses, and eating plant-based and avoiding animal products. For me, all of these different concepts are important, and I am slowly trying to work them all into my life, in particular, eating plant-based.
Living plant-based and plastic-free can get quite tricky, and one of the most common questions I get is:
"How do you get enough protein?"
In fact my mother checks that I am eating enough every weekend call I get!
Since I am someone who spends every morning before work lifting weights in the gym, my protein intake is also of considerable importance to me too. And although It took me a few months to work out a plan, I now have a list of plastic-free protein sources that are available in Konstanz and probably most cities.
Living waste-free is can be a difficult when you are just starting out, so it definitely helps when you have support from a like-minded community. If you live in a bigger town or a city, you may be lucky enough to find a packaging-free store. These are revolutionary shops that sell a diverse range of food products and other household goods, but without any of the conventional packaging. Instead, you can buy reusable containers to fill, or you can just bring your own!
How does a packaging-free store work?
Doing your weekly shopping in a packaging-free store is a bit less simple than the standard shop, but I also find it much more fun! What’s more, in the shops that I have visited, the attendants are always friendly and very happy to help you.
The motions are pretty much the same in every store you visit. If you are buying containers, they probably have a set weight that is already logged in the cashier’s system, so you can just fill them up directly. But if you are bringing your own jars, here is what to do:
One of the things that really helps me with my plastic-free adventures is when I see others who are also braving the journey. It is great to see the network of waste-free livers growing across the world, using books, websites, talks and social media to connect and share their tips and experiences. That's why I plan to feature some of these inspiring people on NWB, as part of the blog series "Plastic-free people" (you can see the first post here).
And today I have for you zero-waste minimalist Lindsay Miles: blogger of the infamous "Treading My Own Path" and author of "That's a Wrap- the eGuide for plastic-free living". I discovered Lindsay through a friend at The Wilderness Society in Perth, WA in 2014, and her blog was one of the major encouragements for me to start a waste-free life. It really got me thinking about not only cutting down on the rubbish I am producing, but to stop being so attached to stuff that I didn't really need. What's more, when I sent her an email to ask to interview her, she was very happy to oblige! It is great that zero-wasters can communicate and collaborate even on opposite sides of the world.
Check out my interview with Lindsay below:
Plastic is all around us. It covers everything we buy, we eat and drink from it, we eat it in general, we wear it, we build with it, we drive with it… we seem never to stop using it. A lot of the plastic in our lifestyles can be cut out by just being vigilant, however it seems that plastic has edged its way into all corners of life, even some we don’t know about. Here are a few common things that may seem “plastic-free”, but are actually laden with plastic, which will often end up in landfill and the oceans.
1. Coffee cups
People always say to me, disposable coffee cups are recyclable! They are made of paper, duh...
Going waste-free is an incredible way to reduce your negative impact on the planet. You are caring for the Earth, for ocean life, and reducing your exposure to harmful toxins. However there are many other ways you can also benefit the environment. One of these is going vegetarian or vegan, and these are things I struggle with immensely.
As a family we have always eaten meat (except on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because yay Indian culture), however two years ago, my twin sister became vegetarian, and regularly cooks vegan dishes (you can check out some of her amazing dishes here). I found this utterly inspiring, and always wished I could do make that change too.
And to be honest, there is nothing really stopping me, just my own desire. Of course it isn’t so easy to cut out something you have always eaten, especially in a world obsessed with meat consumption. What’s more, I love body-building and sports, so I need to eat a lot of protein (I aim for approximately 60g a day), which is not so simple with a vegetarian lifestyle. Finally, since I went plastic-free, finding food I enjoyed eating was already difficult, never mind embracing a whole new diet. Of course, my meat was already reduced since I no longer bought packaged meat in the supermarket, but this still seemed impossible.
However, last week we both went to Philadelphia, where I was introduced to the fantastic meat-substitute: seitan.
And what a journey it has been!
One year ago today (approximately) I posted my opening blog on No Waste Bee, where I announced that I would embark on the journey to a waste-free life, by cutting down on the plastic I use. Over this year, I have made both big and small changes to my lifestyle to embrace a more planet-friendly way of living, and have posted my developments every few weeks or so on here.
A lot of my learning has been trial and error, fitting around a very busy work life, and struggling to find a balance with optimising my health or personal preferences in this not-so-easy regime. But a year is a long time, and I definitely have learnt a lot about myself (and my rubbish…) during this period.
So... what have I learnt?
Here are what I think are the five most important things I have realised this year of living plastic-free:
So finally, I have one part of my life entirely plastic-free, and that is my daily washing routine. Apart from the food and drink I am putting into my body, I think for me, this is probably one of the things I want the most to be plastic-free, since I am putting this stuff on my skin every day.
What’s more, I think having a plastic-free bathroom is one of the easiest things to achieve (even if it took me the better part of a year…). The methods I have switched to are simple, and a lot of the products are readily available from stores around Europe, or online. Though some options can be a bit on the expensive side, I think overall I spend much less now on washing products than I did before.
And, of course, the reduction in plastic-consumption is enormous! Think about all of those plastic bottles you have lined up on your bathroom shelf: shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, razor creams, aftershaves, mouthwash, toothpaste… and often there will be multiple types of each. I came to think, what’s the point? It’s the constant adverts on TV and billboards telling us we need hundreds of different products for our faces, body, feet, hair to be beautiful and attractive, when actually what all I really care about is being healthy and well… clean. So, I decided to stop using plastic in the bathroom, and looked for simple, general-use alternatives.
Before: shower gels
Now: bar soap