What New Zealand Taught Me About   Sustainable Living

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

One of the lessons I never expected when I came to New Zealand is learning how wasteful I’ve lived! In fact, I feel a bit badly that I haven’t reflected on this before now. Perhaps, in fairness, what New Zealand gave me, that I didn’t learn before, are concrete lessons on how to be less wasteful going forward. Here are some of the things I’ve learned and incorporated into my daily life as a result of living in New Zealand for so long.

1. Use Recyclable Cups As Much As Possible

I love a good coffee. The flat white in New Zealand is one of the best I’ve had in my travels. Though I normally drink coffee at the cafe, in a ceramic cup, sometimes I do get a coffee to go. (Especially in lockdown.) Enter my favorite Sup Cup! Whenever I plan to get a coffee-to-go, I bring my cup with me. It cuts down on paper cup waste, and, actually, the coffee tastes a lot better in it than in a paper cup. I plan to use this internationally.

2. Tupperware Isn’t Necessary

When I got stuck here in the first lockdown, I ran to the supermarket and bought all sorts of plastic containers to store leftover food. This seemed like a staple item everyone should have. When I got back to travels in New Zealand, after lockdown 1.0, I donated all that plastic to charity. OK, points on donating rather than trashing, but, still a lot of waste. The next time I stayed in one place for a month, it suddenly occured to me that bowls, covered with a beeswax wrap are all I need. They’re already in the house, create less waste, and do the storage job perfectly.

3. You Can Recycle Your Leftovers

Before life in New Zealand, leftovers would go in the fridge to be eaten “eventually.” A good deal of the time, I “didn’t want to eat that, again” for so many days in a row that the food went to waste. I’ve now watched my friends here pull out last night’s leftovers, throw in a few new ingredients, and create, what feels like, an entirely new meal, made from leftovers. I’ll never look at them as a “one-meal-wonder” again!

4. Try To Grocery Shop With Intelligence

Cooking for one can definitely mean more leftovers and food waste, unfortunately. But, so can blind grocery shopping. What I mean is, my old way of grocery shopping was, enter supermarket with the question “what might I want to eat this week?” I might buy something I wasn’t planning to because it was on sale. You know “just in case” I want it. I purchased random ingredients with no thought to how I might prepare them, or whether they’d last for a few days or longer.

My new way of shopping is to look at what I have in the house and think about “what goes well with that?” If nothing is in the house, I think about basic ingredients that can last a while (e.g. cabbage) and only buy groups of ingredients I know I’ll use this week. I now focus on buying what I need now, rather than “just in case” items. This way, instead of things rotting in the back of the fridge, they get consumed with care.

5. Buying New Clothes At The Op Shop Is Cool

As a New Yorker with a corporate job, my training was that second-hand shops are a place for donations, not a place to buy things for myself. In New Zealand, I’ve learned they are a treasure trove. In fact, I find the clothes in the Op Shops more interesting than the regular shops. This could be because lots of tourists donate their clothes to Op Shops here, bringing in brands otherwise not easy to come by. From designer brands to merino/possum blend sweaters, you can have a great wardrobe for just a few dollars an item. A few things I love about buying second hand is that if something gets stained, it’s not such a drama. And, it’s a lot cheaper to donate my own items that will go unused, than ship them home.

6. Compost Should Be Required And Easily Accessed Everywhere

When I leave New Zealand I’m going to have a tough time not composting my food. It’s become a habit to put all my food waste into a special bin. I know some places in the world do that, but I haven’t seen it as widely done as I do in New Zealand, and it’s just one more thing they do that makes me feel like I’m doing something good for the environment.

I love how travel has taught me to be more aware of so many other ways of being in the world. This is just one more set of wonderful guidelines I plan to use these lessons everywhere I can. Thanks, New Zealand!

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