Fifteen Ways to Live a Sustainable Lifestyle

San Po Beach, Northern Taiwan. A shoe, cigarette buts and a glass bottle are some of the thousands of pieces of marine debris that can be found on San Po Beach. TEIA, an Environmental NGO in Taiwan, does regular beach cleanups and beach actions to educate people on marine debris and environmental issues facing the ocean. Photo Lizane Louw

Live eco-conscious, think eco-friendly!

Living sustainably is not a trend, it is a lifestyle. A balanced lifestyle, putting nature first, is not something I have to consciously think about every day. I am grateful for my upbringing close to nature in South Africa. My style of living and life choices are inspired by my upbringing in the vineyards in Paarl. My education and experiences in the Western Cape set the framework for a lifetime of eco-conscious and sustainable living. I grew up respecting nature, nurturing the environment and enjoying the outdoors.

I spent most of the past 25 years travelling and exploring the world. I learned a lot from other cultures and traditions. Living in Asia for a decade also shaped my mindset and made me more aware of the impact we have on the environment. I learned from observation, I learned about things in my everyday life I can change and Iearned to have a solution based mindset. My adventures in Asia also inspired me to live a simple balanced life, in harmony with nature.

The most important thing I learned in a career in journalism is that I can make small changes with my camera. In 2016, after a story I did on marine debris in Taiwan, my whole focus in my career changed. I decided to start focusing more on environmental stories and solutions journalism. This shift in my work aligned with this fire in me to fight for the environment and the health of our planet.

How do you start to live sustainably? For me personally, my work towards the health of the environment starts at home, in my immediate environment and in how I live every day. It all starts with your lifestyle.

I can write a book on my thoughts on sustainable living, and I probably will, but for now, I would like to share my fifteen ways to live a sustainable lifestyle. These actions are tried and tested by me and work. It is easy to implement and will put you well on your way to be an environmental activist.

We can all learn from each other, stand together to advocate and collectively work to protect the environment against climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, destruction and pollution.

#OnlyOneEarth Practical Guide, published by UNEP

#OnlyOneEarth Practical Guide

A Practical Guide to living sustainably in harmony with nature developed for World Environment Day 2022.

If you don’t know where to start and feel a bit lost in the sea of information on the internet, UNEP published a practical guide that you can use as a resource to learn what actions you can take to start living more sustainably and to learn to protect and restore our planet.

This guide inspired my listicle and I am happy to share my ways of living sustainably with you!

Learn to make sustainable living the only option!

My fifteen ways to live a sustainable lifestyle

1. ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE

First and foremost, I will continue writing stories and doing photo projects on environmental emergencies, including climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Slow multimedia journalism and photography projects that advocate change, my focus, and I will continue to advocate against climate change and pollution.

You don’t have to be a journalist to write stories or take photographs…

2. SPREAD KNOWLEDGE

We live for nature and will continue to spread our knowledge, research, experience and actions we are taking with friends, family and our wider community and networks via social media.

All of us have access to social media, use the tools to advocate for the causes you personally support.

3. GET INVOLVED

I join and support local organizations in Berlin and the countries we travel to. I work with organizations that support sustainability and that focus on environmental projects. Solutions-based thinking by campaigning for systemic change is crucial for me.

There are so many actions organisations, governments and people can take, research a cause you want to get involved with, take the initiative and join the conversations, and be an environmental activist.

4. ETHICAL INVESTING

My husband and I will continue banking with a sustainable bank. GLS was the first sustainable bank in Germany, founded in 1974.

Research and choose financial institutions that are socially and environmentally responsible.

Photo GLS Bank Germany.

5. LIVING IN ENERGY-POSITIVE HOMES

Our living space is green. We live in an energy-positive apartment in Berlin with Photovoltaic systems on our roof that generate electricity from the sun’s rays.

You don’t have to fork out money and invest in solar panels; there are numerous other ways that you can make your living space green. Sustainable energy and clean energy are the future; with a little bit of research, you can start by making small changes.

Solar Power from roof panels in Berlin. Source: Der Taggesspielgel

6. CONSERVE ENERGY

Living energy conscious- are always thinking about saving energy, turning off lights and electrical appliances when not in use, and using only high-quality appliances with high energy-efficiency ratings in our space.

It is essential to research electrical appliances before you buy them. Make sure your investments are of good quality, and also, in the end, this does not only save you money but will also cut your energy consumption.

It is cool to know that our fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, oven, induction stove and all the lights in the house run on clean energy.

7. EATING A BALANCED PLANT-BASED DIET

We will continue following a plant-based diet, experimenting with local ingredients at home and in the places we visit and sharing recipes with friends and family.

Following a plant-based diet is not only healthy, but it reduces the reliance on foods that use more natural resources to produce.

8. USING ALL OUR FOOD

Plant-based living makes us focus on bying green. We will continue buying only the food we need. Less for me is always more.

9. GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD

We have been getting our hands dirty in our urban garden here in Berlin.

We have been growing our own herb and tea garden here in Germany for two and a half years. We grow avo trees, lemon Bonzai, tomatoes, and sunflowers. We have a selection of herbs we grow to cook with too. We experiment a lot.

Get your hands dirty, plant some seeds.

10. CHOOSE NATURAL, CHOOSE NATURE

We buy products supporting ecosystems and local communities, such as wood, bamboo, metal, and clay. We use organic textiles and fibres and no plastic and one-time-use products.

When I travel, I like to attend textile workshops. I enjoy printing my own textiles.

I look at clothing labels and choose quality over quantity. Check the labels of clothing, fast and cheap textiles and fashion will cost you in the long run.

11. SLOW FASHION

We will continue to buy fewer and better clothes; we invest in high-quality textiles, primarily organic textiles, not fast fashion. We are big fans of the brands Armed Angels and Vaude and prefer eco-friendly and eco-conscious brands to anything else. Living a sustainable lifestyle is not just a trend for us, it is a lifestyle.

12. DITCH DISPOSABLES

We don’t use products that can’t be reused in our homes. We are always looking for sustainable options. We limit single-use plastic and avoid it where possible.

13. BEING ACTIVE

We enjoy walking and exploring, other than using a car.

Berlin is a photographer’s dream. So naturally, with me having a passion for street photography, we are out and about on weekends, exploring the streets, markets, museums, exhibitions and all the magic this vibey city has to offer. We travel by tram, train, or the underground metro system, this very convenient public transport system takes us where we need to go.

14. DITCHING FLIGHTS

We explore holiday destinations close to us in Berlin and explore by train, bus, and bike. We use slow travel, when possible, by train. We are especially keen to use the 9 Euro train ticket that was implemented by the German government this month.

This low-cost ticket lets you use public transport and regional trains nationwide in Germany this summer!

This initiative is part of a larger package offered by the German government to support residents, citizens, and visitors with the rising fuel prices resulting from the war in Ukraine.

Not only does the ticket help with financial relief by offering low-cost travel, but it is an attempt by the German government to reduce oil and gas consumption, and it will also promote climate-neutral travel with the use of public transport.

15. GO CLEANER WITH TRANSPORT

We use electric vehicles with car-sharing options. We do weekend breaks always close to home and around Brandenburg, visiting lakes, parks and thermal spas. We book our rental cars from we-share.io here in Berlin, they offer 100% electrical carsharing. We avoid air travel when possible. If we do fly for a holiday, work or visit family, we try to make choices that support our efforts in living a sustainable life.

“We must shift from harming the planet to healing it. ” A practical guide to living sustainably in harmony with nature. UN Environment Programme #OnlyOneEarth

#WorldEnvironmentDay #OnlyOneEarth

What actions do you take to live a sustainable lifestyle? Freel free to add your thoughts in the comments below the listicle.

Like what you read? Share the good vibes!

Created with love in Berlin!

Bubble Tea and The Fat Straw

Straw alternatives, metal straws

08/12/2018. Taipei, Taiwan. Quan Chang Co. in Taipei manufactures eco-friendly stainless steel straws. These straws are natural alternatives to the multicoloured plastic fat straws traditionally used to drink the trendy bubble tea drink in Taiwan.

Bboba nai cha

No tea story will be complete without writing about bubble tea.

Originally, bubble tea was an iced tea drink that contained a particular ingredient, tapioca pearls, at the bottom of the drink. Today, this drink is not always served as iced tea; it can have fruity notes and real fruit as ingredients. This tea or fruit infusion tea today has many varieties and flavours. This trendy tea drink, wildly popular in Taiwan and, in fact, all over Asia, was traditionally made with tapioca pearls and iced tea, hence the name bubble tea. This drink goes by many names, the most popular, Bboba tea, pearl tea or boba nai cha.

The name bubble tea comes from the tapioca bubbles or pearls at the bottom of the drink and the way this delicious milk tea beverage is prepared. The vigorous shaking of the milk in the preparation process also leaves bubbles and foam at the top of the tea drink. Hence the name, bubble tea.

There are many disputed origins of this trendy Taiwanese beverage. The most famous story is that Bboba nai cha originated in Taichung. However, the story goes that Liu Han Chie of the very renowned Chun Shui Tang Teahouse claims that he invented this drink back in the 80s.  Whilst travelling in Japan, Chie was inspired by Japanese iced beverages. So, when he arrived back home, he experimented with cold milk tea by adding various fruit, sweeteners and tapioca pearls.

The rest, they say, is history. This trendy ice drink’s popularity spread worldwide, and you can find this delicious, refreshing ice tea or iced fruit drink with tapioca pearls in coffee shops and juice bars in most countries.

Apart from this tea drink traditionally served in a transparent plastic “glass” so that the consumer can see the tapioca pearls, it is served with a noticeably thicker and fatter, more colourful straw. This is so that you can slurp up the tapioca pearls and chew these as your drink your sweet iced tea. These pearls are chewy and soft jelly balls. They glide up the straw as you drink your tea.

These fat straws are also causing a big stir in Taiwan; this is reported in the media; the whole bubble tea tradition is being challenged by the Taiwan Government’s crackdown on plastic.


I searched for the best bubble tea in Taiwan and landed at Chun Shui Tang, the teashop famous for inventing bubble tea. I visited their most highly recommended teashop in Xinyi District, Taipei City. This famous shopping district is also home to Taipei 101. A landmark building with 101 floors that was once the world’s tallest skyscraper.

When I visited the shop in Taipei, I had to wait for about 25 minutes to have a seat. When I looked at the English Chinese Menu that patrons get, the first line and item on the menu read, “The Creator of Pearl Milk Tea”. There was a tiny bubble tea symbol, two different sizes and “iced” or “hot drink” next to this menu item. Even though I wasn’t in the original shop in Taichung, a city more south, I realized that I was about to taste one of the most famous tea drinks on our tiny blue planet, made the way it was traditionally made in the 80s.

The rest of the menu looked appetizing, too; apart from the variety of tea drinks, like Sesame Milk Tea, Jasmine Milk Tea, and Pearl Jasmine Tea, something else caught this wannabe tea connoisseur’s eyes. Oolong Beancurd with Bonito Flakes. In short, Tofu and tea. My two favourite tastes combined. Heaven.

08/12/2018. The world-famous “The Creator of the Pearl Milk Tea” as this tea is named on the menu of Chun Shui Tang. Pearl Milk Tea and a very fat straw. Photo Lizane Louw

The Fat Straw

I had many varieties of bubble tea in my four years living in Taiwan. Back in 2002, when I visited for the first time and also now, I also enjoyed the more modern, trendy versions of this milky tea beverage. On visits to the street stalls and night markets, I noticed how much plastic gets used for packaging food.

When I go to a regular bubble tea shop, I will get the tea in a plastic “glass”, usually thin and see-through, and there would be a plastic top lid with the now infamous but much-beloved fat straw.

I became very aware of the waste I produce every day after a documentary I shot on plastic pollution with TEIA (Taiwan Environmental Information Association). I am, as a result, consciously reducing my plastic consumption, limiting the harm I cause to the environment.

The government of Taiwan also acknowledged the calls from so many environmental campaigns regarding plastic pollution and marine debris. Consequently, the government is taking a very firm stance on plastic.

In June last year, the EPA’s restrictions on plastic straws were introduced. A notice was posted on the EPA’s website, an excerpt from the Environmental Policy Monthly, dated June 2016.

According to the notice, due to the growing urgency to address marine plastic pollution, the EPA has drafted the restrictions on single-use plastic straws. The draft stipulates that the following four businesses will be prohibited from providing single-use straws for customers dining in-store: public sector entities, public and private schools, department stores, and shopping malls. This ban will affect 8,000 businesses.

Taiwan’s beloved sweet milky tapioca pearl drinks will be affected by this ban. Since this notice, the internet has ignited protests, and the debate is continuing. The main question is, “how will we drink bubble tea without a straw?”

Since the announcement of the EPA’s preannounced restriction on plastic straws, the milk tea industry and all lovers of the famous Bboba nai cha, or bubble tea, are discussing it. The conversation on the ban reached all street corners of Taiwan and all the tiny street alleys of all villages and cities.

In the press over the past couple of months, various stories have reported on this bubble tea frenzy online.  According to many reports, the Taiwanese can’t imagine not having their favourite drink without a straw.

Plastic straws are single-use plastic items that are not recycled. As a result, these plastic utensils are one of the most harmful trash pieces in our oceans.

“After plastic straws are used, they are discarded in the environment where they break down into small plastic pieces or are ingested by animals. According to the EPA website, the ingested plastic can absorb toxins in the environment and then accumulate and be consumed by animals higher up in the food chain.”

“However, the EPA urges businesses to take early action by not providing plastic straws unless customers request them. The public is also encouraged to prepare their reusable straws to reduce plastic pollution and waste of resources.”

Marine Waste Cleanup Statistics

Taiwan Environmental Information Organization (TEIA) released its 2017 Marine Waste Clean-up (International Coastal Cleanup) statistics earlier. The data presented reflected those straws were among the top three marine debris found by various organizations doing marine waste monitoring operations. The total number of straws found in monitored areas where 23,113. These monitoring operations are done in small square blocks on beaches and do not span the entire monitored coast. This proves again that there is a growing problem with plastic, specifically straws ending up as marine debris on the beaches of Taiwan.

Marine waste monitoring operations collected data from September 2017 – to October 2017. Source: TEIA.

According to the data collected in the 2017 Marine Waste Clean-up, the Top 5 marine debris:

  1. Plastic bottles – 49,305 pieces
  2. Plastic caps – 32,347 pieces
  3. Straws – 23,113 pieces
  4. Glass bottles – 17,321 pieces
  5. Plastic bags – 16,436 pieces

Alternatives to Plastic Straws

Quan Chang Co. in Taipei is an environmentally conscious company that has offered an alternative to plastic straws. Instead, the company manufactures eco-friendly stainless steel straws.

08/12/2018. Taipei, Taiwan. On display at the Quan Chang shop, there are a variety of eco-friendly stainless steel straws. Apart from the stainless steel straws, glass straws are also on display. Photo Lizane Louw

I visited the shop in Taipei to learn more about these eco-products and buy some of their products that came highly recommended as alternatives to the straws that would be banned in June/ July 2019.

“I made a bunch of straws. They are going back to America, “says Ocean Chang, owner of Quan Chang.

As it is known, QC is a Taiwanese brand that cares for the environment and cares for our health, a handout of the products proclaim. “In fact, for the health of the people, for the health of the environment,” answers Chang to the question of the company’s vision.

On this handout, neatly illustrated and explained are examples of 19 straws. Then, in extensive, bold letters, “ARE YOU STILL USING TOXIC STRAWS?”

“It is a straightforward idea. It is to be good to oneself, be good to others and the environment, and do a kind thing at the same time,” he said.

The whole shop is “green”. I scan the shop again as we speak. I look at the tiny GongFu tea set neatly arranged in the middle of the heavy wooden table. I am seated on a big wooden stump, balancing myself in the middle of the rings of the chopped tree. Everything smells like earth. There is soft Buddhist chanting playing in the background. We drink honey water out of see-through recycled glasses with yellow rims, and I had my first experience with a glass straw. We eat fruit out of wooden bowls with stainless steel utensils, and we drink more tea as we exchange ideas, him not speaking any English and me with my 200 words Chinese vocabulary. We communicate with the assistance of a translation device.

“Some people will change and buy these alternatives, but the others will probably still use the public straw, says Ocean’s wife, Nancy Chen.

“People are upset because they don’t want to make this change; it is seen as an “inconvenience.”

“It is difficult to change people’s habits,” Ocean adds, “But this is a product of environmental protection that can change people’s habits. Then we need more people to be green to spread the word and educate people,” he said with passion.

Ocean is sitting across from me, speaking Chinese into this small translation device. I have never seen anything like this, and I am rather impressed at how we manage to communicate, me speaking into this tiny little machine in English and my words immediately translated into Chinese. Ocean listens with attention to my questions and answers again in Chinese.

“Plastic straws are toxic. So people need to buy alternative options like stainless steel. Habits that are focused on environmental protection are needed.”

“But how do you get people to choose green straws,” he asked. “We must continue to create these kinds of green products, products that are good for the environment.”

Three people enter through the door. Our conversation is cut short. They are welcomed like family.

The lady close to me starts a conversation in perfect English.

“We came here, especially for the straws. I work in the environmental administration department with this idea or policy to ban plastic straws. It is challenging, as the Taiwanese love bubble tea. The problem is that the policy did not introduce a replacement for the straws. Instead, one official saying we can eat with spoons, “said Jeanne Wei, Environmental Protection Administration System Analyst, Department of Environmental Monitoring and Information Management.

Department of Waste Management specialist Lee Yi-Hua said, as reported by the media in Taiwan, “people could use a spoon instead of a straw” these words have caused a massive outlash by netizens and the public alike. This is also now the topic in the shop.

Wei was visiting QC with family members, and all of them were making investments for the environment. Her brother Charlie bought a couple of straws to take back to the US.

“In Taiwan, drinking bubble tea is a cultural tradition. So people are not happy about the straws ban,” affirmed Wei.

From the ongoing debates, it is clear that public opinion is against the ban on straws.

There is a lot of waste on the beaches, and as the data of environmental efforts have shown, many straws are found as marine debris. So the problem is shown in the data and on the beaches and in the trash bags collected.

“The proposal was disapproved by many people”, according to Wei, “it is a difficult situation to implement this ban.”

Taiwan is currently nr 3 in the world in recycling; a country is a well-oiled machine for reducing, reusing and recycling. “The global ban for using plastic bags, Taiwan was very early to implement that. We did pretty well. When I went to New York, I realized that our plastic bags are thicker than those used in the west. I know that people in the west use a lot of plastic bags, with no restraints, but in Taiwan, we have to pay to use them; this helps people be more conscious about using plastic bags; I think this is a good thing “Wei said.

On banning plastic straws, she said it depends on education too. “If we can teach children, it can help.  We have to start from the young; this year, I also heard stories about how young people influenced their parents to vote in the referendums.” According to Wei, banning straws is a new idea. “We need to educate children on the uses of plastic and other options to take care of the environment. This is a very new thing; people need to be educated.”

Jeanne and her family left after discussing plastic pollution, environmental protection and tea. Ocean cut more fruit, and we drink more tea.

“Every country has environmental groups. We must be united to be strong. This “green” straw is very durable and of good quality. You will save a lot of money relative to buying and paying for plastic straws. In the end, this will also help the environment. This is much better for your health too.

But the quality has to be good for it to have this value. So if the quality is not good, then it is not a good product and utensil, “he continues.

According to Chang, there are many people out there who are willing to invest in good quality utensils that are eco products; these straws are good quality and good for the environment.

“Environmental education and education about these Eco eating utensils are critical if we want to protect our environment for the next generation,” says Chang. He looks over at his daughter sitting in his wife’s lap.

I noticed a tear running down his cheek, and he sniffed and wiped his nose. At that moment, I realize that I am speaking to a very passionate man about his work with the environment and that he is speaking into this small translating device with his whole heart.

I saw his heart, and I felt his concern in his expression and words.

“Plastic cause a lot of environmental problems”, he said with a heavy heart.

08/12/2018. Taoyuan. I invested in a whole set of environmentally friendly eco products, wooden chopsticks, spoons, and two groups of stainless steel straws. One special straw from their collections was a gift. This small gift, Ocean said, was a thank you for what I also contributed to protecting our environment. Photo Lizane Louw
 
 

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