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Going Green: How to Be a more Environmentally Conscious Expat

Moving overseas can have a huge impact on the environment but it can also offer new opportunities for you to become more environmentally friendly. InterNations member Gabrielle has put together some steps you can take towards a more sustainable expat life.

There are many considerations to keep in mind when moving abroad, but one thing that many expats might overlook in this great undertaking, is the impact that relocating has on the environment. Moving countries can provide new opportunities to be more aware of how our decisions impact the world around us and how we can practice becoming overall more environmentally friendly individuals.

Regardless of whether you are a new or experienced expat, anytime is a good time to tweak your usual rituals and start (or continue further) eco-friendly practices. Below are just some ideas to help in implementing a greener lifestyle for any stage of the expat process:

Consider Greener Modes of Transportation: Biking, Public Transportation, Car Pooling

Relocation means new commuting opportunities. When you move you might be in a situation now which changes your previous standard means of transportation. Depending on your distance from your home to your new work place and the environment in between the two, this might open up the opportunity to have a more active or social commute that does not require solo driving. Some methods to consider:

Cycling or Walking

Cycling is one of the greatest forms of commute because it is active, making it beneficial health wise (physically and mentally), and it can also save you money on car expenses. If you are really close to your work place, walking there is also an option.

Take Public Transportation

If you are living in a big city or one designed for convenient public transportation, taking the bus, subway or train may be an option. Without having to use a car you will personally avoid juggling through traffic, and you can use the time to catch up on reading, listening to some music, or maybe just some people-watching.

Organize Carpooling

Know other people who also live in your neighborhood or nearby? Carpooling can make the commute less solitary, and you will all save on gas money. It might even help you make a new friend or further develop an acquaintanceship.

Become Familiar with Waste Removal System and Trash Separation

Removal of rubbish is not the most glamorous of topics, but it is a significant practice that differs from country to country. Moving to Germany, I was introduced to a whole new world of possibilities and trash separation became a way of life. How does your new country sort their garbage? Do they throw everything into one bin or do they carefully separate items into specific containers depending on the material they are made out of?

Also important to note is the recycling protocol: what can or cannot be recycled? Do certain reusable materials need to be dropped off at recycling centers or are they picked up on a regular basis?

Become familiar with the rules, know where you drop off items, along with what and when it is picked up. It requires minimal effort.

Get to Know the Locally Grown Products

Being in a new region, there is a good chance there could be new produce offerings or a whole other category of regional specialties you were previous unaware of. What is native to that area? Who is the provider? Maybe there is even a weekend farmer’s market which sells local goods. Find out what is in season, what is locally produced, and incorporate these products into your life.

Support Local Business

Even though you may have loyalty to certain chain brands you know from back home, be open to explore the local business. See what they are offering and don’t just stick with what you are familiar to. Supporting local business, as it cuts down on the environmental expense caused by transportation, promotes a greener lifestyle and also encourages local development.

Borrow or Buy, Sell and Trade Used Goods

Even though it can be nice to purchase a brand new product, in many cases a pre-used item or simply borrowing something from an acquaintance, can sufficiently serve the purpose that we thought we needed to make a new purchase for.

If you just need an appliance for a one-time-only job, ask around in your social circle and see if someone can lend you the appliance. Sometimes local hardware stores also let you rent such single-job specific tools.

In terms of buying previously owned items, often supermarkets have bulletin boards with postings of people selling used goods. Communities near military bases or ones with many expats are full of people who are regularly coming and going and often want to get rid of their belongings quickly and for bargains. Usually there are plenty of online communities which also post items they wanted taken off their hands.

The same practice holds true when your assignment is over or there’s something you no longer need. Do not just throw out usable goods. See if there is a place that it can be sold, or donated. The most important practice is to avoid the unnecessary waste of functional items.

Sharing Is Caring

Share what you do have — books, household items, etc. You finished reading a book? Trade it or give it to another expat. Especially English books are a hot commodity with expats. Do you have leftover food, or bought too much? Share it with your friends or coworkers. Sharing food is also a great way to make new friends. Don’t just throw it out.

Make Small, Positive Changes to Your Regular Routine

There are many habits we undertake in the course of a day that we can be more mindful of and easily alter to be more green. Some of these common daily changes could be

  • bringing a reusable bag to pack your groceries;
  • taking a reusable, refillable mug when you are getting a takeaway coffee at a café instead of using a disposable cup;
  • taking shorter hot showers;
  • turning off the light in a room when you are not in it;
  • printing both sides when possible;
  • turning down the heat just a bit in the winter.

 Essentially any proactive step to lead a more environmentally friendly life is a good one, whether you are able to adopt all of these practices and other ones not listed here, or just a few of them, every little step counts. Over time all of this adds up to a reduced ecological footprint and becoming a more aware and responsible expat.