Indonesia. Vietnam. Thailand. Malaysia. India. Nepal. Sri Lanka. After spending months travelling through these countries, seeing piles of waste lying on the streets or plastic floating in the ocean almost became normal. I felt utterly sad and angry and developed a genuine concern regarding our oceans and planet. Being more intentional about the way I consume and reduce my footprint became my new goal. I asked myself how travellers could integrate sustainability in their day by day travel life and chatted on this topic with longtime zero-waste aficionado and lovely soul, Franzi from Greenderella Blog. What came out? An insightful and inspirational interview.
Your blog, Greenderella is a colourful potpourri of subjects ranging from vegan food, sustainability, travels and zero waste lifestyle. How and when did your journey begin?
Thinking about it, I could actually start in my childhood. My family became vegetarian when I was about 5, so I started to be aware of the topic pretty early. I simply loved animals and nature since I can remember and always felt the need to protect them. In elementary school, two friends and I even started a nature club and my brother and I once organized a trash collecting rally with other schools. In my teens, I was distracted with other things so it wasn‘t until later that I picked up on being more active about the environment again. You can laugh about it, but it was around the time Michael Jackson died. To me, he was a big influencer for positive change in the world. With him being gone, I thought to myself „Who is gonna heal the world now!?“ And I literally started with the woman in the mirror! That‘s when I started to write my blog Greenderella to simply share my own journey and hopefully inspire others to also live a „greener“ life.
You started your own business of eco-friendly reusable produce bags. Tell us what triggered this idea? What kind of struggles and perks did you encounter along the way?
After watching the documentary „Plastic Planet“ (which I can highly recommend) I was so shocked about the plastic madness we created in the world, that I started 2013 with a new years resolution to stop using plastic. This was much harder than I thought because almost everything comes in plastic! But I found my ways. One of the only things that were really missing was a fruit and veggie bag that I could use in the supermarket. It would have to be reusable, lightweight and seethrough (for the cashier). Since I couldn‘t find this particular product on the German market, I immediately knew that I wanted to change this. Though I thought to myself that it couldn‘t be so hard to have a final product in my hands, it turned out to not be as easy as I thought. Especially since I studied music, something not nearly useful to my business idea. Finding the right producers, getting the design and materials right, solving legal things to start a business and brand... there were so many small steps to take, so it all took much longer than expected. It was nerve-racking and fun at the same time. Boy was I excited when I finally received my first boxes of the final product!
How much did your lifestyle change along the years?
It did change a lot over the years but then again I know that it will continue to change in the future. It‘s a journey and I‘m always astounded how much more there is to learn. Also about yourself. There are so many things one could do to help the environment: eating more plant-based, using less plastic and palm oil, creating a smaller CO2 footprint, saving resources, stop waste, support fair trade and so much more. Nevertheless, living in this society also means that doing EVERYTHING right is nearly impossible. So while I tried to change my lifestyle to be more earth-friendly, I also had to learn to not beat myself up if I can‘t always do the right thing. It‘s all about finding the right balance and this also means compromises. I think looking at it from this angle also gives others more motivation to live more sustainably. It would be terrible if nobody did anything just because they thought they can‘t make a difference - every small act of kindness truly matters and no one has to be perfect to create change.
How much waste did you produce before the switch? What about now?
Though I can‘t really put a number on the amount (because I never lived alone and there is always trash in the household) I know that my own amount of waste reduced drastically. There are so many things that can be replaced or homemade and it‘s actually lots of fun to go back to the basics. Also shopping at the farmers market is so much nicer than the supermarket. Overall, once you stop using plastic you instantly become more connected with the roots. It‘s very refreshing and calming in a way! But talking about compromises and balance... when my life gets very busy and stressful at times there is also more waste because I might not have the time to go the extra way for some groceries or make things at home. Luckily the waste-free lifestyle is becoming more „mainstream“ so that there are more and more plastic-free products in the regular stores!
Living the sustainable, zero waste and vegan lifestyle is remarkable and something that I look up to, but there certainly are situations when it all gets difficult, like during travels. What's your approach to sustainable travel?
Yes, travelling is also one of those things that often means compromising our good habits. But something I do to avoid many of the “traps“ is doing lots of research before each trip. It‘s something I actually enjoy so I can spend hours on researching eco-friendly places, activities, and supermarkets at my destination. Choosing train over the airplane is always the more sustainable option and also at your destination, there can be ways to lower your CO2 footprint, for example by renting a bicycle or using public transport or simply walking around. Not all places make sustainable travelling possible but it‘s worth checking out all the possibilities before the trip.
Travel talks. Some countries simply cannot be reached without hopping on a plane, every traveller is thus adding a significant amount of earth warming gases to the atmosphere. However, some airlines offer the option to buy carbon offsets – What's your opinion on that? Do you think that's something flyers should do?
I think it‘s definitely a good idea! I just hope that people don‘t use this tool to simply get better consciousness and then stop thinking about the issue. It should rather be a reminder of what is actually happening to the planet and hopefully, it‘ll motivate people to do more good things for our home planet. After all, if we don‘t take care of it, we won‘t be able to experience beautiful nature and places in the future. And isn‘t this what travelling is all about?
While travelling, some plastic products like straws and cutlery can be easily avoided but some others, like bottled water, cannot. That's mainly an issue in countries where the tap water isn't potable. Do you see a solution to that?
This is a hard one. I know that there are refill-bottles with special filters or you could buy tabs that you put in the water to clean it, but I‘m not sure if these work for all places. There is also a really cool invention my friend just told me about. It‘s water bubbles that are made with edible/compostable seaweed packaging. Hard to explain but check out this link to see what I mean: skippingrocklab really hope that inventions like these will revolutionize plastic bottles.
Most travel goodies or souvenirs do not follow a sustainable production chain. Knowing that, what kind of products do you buy during your travels?
I love that question! Whenever I see those touristy shops, I have to think of how either humans, animals or nature were exploited for the mass production. A lot of it made in China, which is ironical unless we actually travel to China. Why not bring something locally made or something with emotional value? At the very least it should be something that is actually useful or meaningful to the receiver, otherwise, we just create waste for no reason. I, for example, like to bring back local produce (like olive oil) or handmade products from local farmers markets. And I loved when my friend once brought me some tree bark and little rocks from a place that I also have a connection to.
What's your advice to people that consider switching to a more sustainable living and travel style?
There are so many things you can do but to get started my first advice would be to use all of the great resources out there. Luckily there are so many people who have explored these topics and reading their stories or guidance will not only save you time but also make you reflect your own habits and get motivated. Also, consider that your wallet is like a voting machine. Each time you spend money YOU decide where it goes and what it supports. Don‘t get frustrated if you can‘t do everything at once, but simply ask yourself and google before buying or booking something if there is an even better alternative. This way you might even discover new amazing things!
How does Greenderella travel?
Being a real foodie, this is of course always an important topic for all my trips! Here is what I do: I bring my own snacks (like homemade muesli bars, energy balls, veggie sticks and hummus, sandwiches...); if I travel via plane, I pre-order the plant-based menu; and most importantly I do loads of food/restaurant research before the trip. Reading reviews and making sure not to miss out on that vegan doughnut or awesome food truck! My tip for this: make your own personal map on Google Maps. This way you always have your favourite places on hand and you can get the directions easily. Most times I end up with many more places to eat at than I could ever try. That‘s sad and awesome at the same time!
Happy sustainable travels!