In 2019, after watching blue planet II and getting inspired by this TedTalk I decided that my new year resolution was to produce less waste and living more circular. Normally, I am not one to make new year’s resolutions, but this felt important enough to make one. In order to reach my goal, I started reading blogs, following zero waste/ sustainable influencers and watching videos in order to get into greener habits. However, I got so overwhelmed as I did not know where to begin, or how to make this sustainable lifestyle happen in Groningen. After a while, I realized that a sustainable lifestyle doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a process – and I have to take small steps and make small changes. Now, a year later I hope through this blogpost to inspire you, and providing you with a few easy tips on making your life as a student in Groningen a little bit more sustainable without costing too much money.
Even though the government and organizations are taking steps for the Netherlands to be circular in 2050, you can already take steps to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
Tip 1. BYOB (bring your own bag)
In the Netherlands, we use around 3 billion plastic bags yearly (rijksoverheid). While the ban on free plastic bags seems effective, still 32% of the population regularly pays for a plastic bag.
At Albert Heijn, you pay 0,25 cents for a plastic bag. What if you do groceries 3 times a week, you spend 0,75 cents a week on a bag which is 3 euros a month – you can buy 2 extra beers at your favorite bar on a Thursday night. Wouldn’t it be an idea to bring your own bag instead? There are multiple alternatives to a plastic bag, however the alternative should be used a number of times. This UK study found suggests you should use a:
- paper bag (3 times)
- plastic bag (4 times),
- polypropylene bags (11 times)
- and cotton bags (131 times)
So, mindfully choose your bag, and use it as many times as possible.
Why stop there? Take it a step further and bring your own fruit and vegetable bags, which can be bought at Lidl and Albert Heijn (2 for 0.69 cents). According to Lidl, 60 million single-use fresh food bags are taken from the store every year in the Netherlands (Volkskrant).
Tip 2. Sustainable grocery shopping
The term “food-miles” can be described as a measure of how far food travels between its production and the final consumer. The food-miles increased due to an increase of international trade in food. As a result many environmental advocates, retailers, and others urge a “localization” of the global food supply network and regions should “buy locally”. According to this study, fruit/vegetables represent 23% of total CO2 per US household’s food miles.
So, reduce your food-miles! Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday there is a farmer’s market on the Vismarkt. By going to the farmers market you support local farmers and the food chain is shorter because most food is locally grown. Also, keep in mind the environmental score of fruit and vegetables on this tool showing the environmental score of fruit and vegetables. The environmental score indicates how environmentally friendly a product is compared to other fruit and vegetable products at this time of year.
Also make sure to pay a visit to Le Souk – a North African grocer located in the Folkingestraat. They offer package-free products such as rice, quinoa, various legumes, nuts, herbs, spices and bulgur – make sure to bring a bag or container!
Tip 3. Embrace second-hand
Clothes are often discarded when much of their potential lifetime is left – an example is this video showing the lifecycle of a t-shirt. This study has revealed that clothes reuse can significantly help to reduce the environmental burden of clothing. According to RTLNieuws, the number of second-hand stores is growing in the Netherlands, just as is the image of second-hand items. Thrifting is hip! And Groningen has a variety of thrift shops and events to satisfy your thrift heart:
- EM2 Kilo Sales
- Vintage kilo sale
Facebook is a great tool for offering and buying second hand items:
- Clothes & Accessories in Groningen
- Marktplaats van het Noorden
Tip 4. Switch to reusable
Plastics and plastic packaging are an essential part of the global economy and deliver many benefits, however their linear, take-make-dispose value chains involve significant environmental drawbacks. Single-use plastics, including plastic bags, have been recently identified as one of the major contributors to marine litter in addition to other environmental impacts. While companies, such as Unilever, are moving to circular packaging you can already make a change by being circular on an individual level and eliminate single use products.
Therefore, you can for example, purchase a:
- Water bottle
- Reusable coffee cup – a lot of places offer you a discount if you bring your own cup
- Reusable containers
- Reusable straws
- Reusable utensils
Tip 5. Recycle
According to the municipality of Groningen, an average person produces 400kg of waste. In Groningen, we are very lucky in terms of recycling. The waste sorting plant is able to separate most of the waste, such as metal, plastic and juice cartons. The only thing we have to do is separating our paper, glass and textile waste. In terms of paper and textile, once a month the municipality will pick it up so you the only thing you have to do is place your waste on the side of the road. Check Afvalwijzer for the specific dates! The glass containers can often be found around supermarkets or in the neighborhood.
Recycling does not only have an environmental impact, it is also important for our well-being. By recycling we are saving resources and sending less trash to landfills, which helps in reducing air and water pollution. Every little counts, and it’s okay to make occasional mistakes – in the end we are still students and we have other things on our plate.