From France to England- a student’s journey to sustainability

We’re really at the point when we have to take action and changing the way things are being done,” says Aisha Baalawi. And her way of making a change? Living sustainably.

Baalawi moved to London just two weeks ago, and she’s still getting used to implementing her lifestyle in a new country after moving from Nice in the South of France. She had been trying to live sustainably for years before coming to England and since moving she’s already seeing hurdles to overcome.

Baalawi credits her original inspiration as the book by Bea Johnson The zero-waste home. The book taught her how what we consume and the way we consume it affects our planet. After taking a course in sustainability Baalawi began to review her everyday habits. 

“The transition is going very slowly; I still have a long way to go. I’m not as zero waste and sustainable as I’d like to be,” she explains.

Baalawi started by not buying anything for a year and afterwards started only shopping in second-hand stores or from sustainable brands. Following that, she made changes at home: the way her and her family shopped, buying organic and mostly locally grown food and avoiding anything that was pre-packaged, especially in plastic. 

But since moving to England she’s experienced a huge change when it comes to living sustainably. She claims the commonality of plastic packaging in supermarkets and the lack of zero waste health stores in city centres are among the hardest changes to adjust to. However, she has found some upsides to sustainable living in the UK. 

“Here the recycling is much better,” Baalawi says. In Nice it isn’t as popular and they don’t separate much of their recyclable and compostable waste.

“I’ve always been conscious of my impact on the planet and after I left university, I really started to think about how I could live a more sustainable lifestyle,” says environmental blogger and activist Georgina Caro. Over the last five years Caro has been taking more and more steps towards the zero-waste lifestyle, but she said, similarly to Baalawi, that the biggest inspiration can come from other people. 

“Surround yourself with people who are also making sustainable changes in their lives. Being around like-minded people helps to keep me motivated and we can share tips and experiences,” advises Caro. 

Now a mother of two, she says that her views on sustainability and the impact of human consumption on the planet have become even stronger. “These days my main drive for being more sustainable is my children. I worry every day about the kind of future they will have.” 

Similarly, environmental blogger and author, Zoe Morrison says that her children were largely her motivation to live a sustainable life. “I have always been interested in being eco-friendly, but when I had kids my interest ramped up a notch!” 

After having her second child, Morrison felt overwhelmed by juggling a career, children and a home, so she decided to quit her career to become a stay at home mum and blogger. “I decided to investigate how to save money and be eco-friendly.”

Morrison advises against ‘greenwashing’, a concept of using sustainability as a marketing tool. 

“I think there’s a big difference [in how generations approach the idea of sustainable lifestyle] and I believe it’s down to timings,” admits Caro. She sees a difference in the environmental approach of her grandmother, a representative of the war ad post-war way of sustainable living, and her parents, the baby boomers, who grew up surrounded by consumerism, with a government that has been actively encouraging people to spend more money.

“I think our generation is more aware because we’re probably one of the first who got taught about climate change and global warming in primary school,” says Baalawi.

“Before it was just numbers and statistics, the effects weren’t tangible, but now we’re hearing all these crazy weather disasters and natural phenomenons that are happening all over [the world],” she points out. “Now it’s kind of become unavoidable.”

But if we’re talking about young people leading by example and advocating for climate change awareness and action, we need to ask the question – how can young people, many of whom have only just left their family homes, can deal with living sustainably on a budget? 

“There is a common misconception that living a more sustainable lifestyle is going to cost you more money,” says Caro “Yes, some things do cost more but ultimately you will be buying less so, in the long run, you will save money. It’s about buying better quality items and taking care of them so they last.”

Baalawi says that zero waste living is actually cheaper long term. “I feel like a lot of people have this idea that you have to be well off to be able to live sustainably but you don’t,” she says. She does point out that of course, you can end up spending a lot more than you’d like. With the rise of sustainability and zero waste trends on social media, many are now trying to capitalise on it. 

“They’re selling lots of products and things you can reuse and things that are made sustainably but you don’t need to go and buy that stuff, you can just use the plastic Tupperware that you already have in your drawer,” points out Baalawi.

There are certainly struggles to sustainable living. Baalawi herself admits that she still faces a lot of everyday difficulties, one of them is having to always be prepared and planning ahead.

“If you decide not to accept anything that you can’t reuse or compost, then you have to either plan ahead or always have containers or reusable cup or whatever it is you need with you,” she says. A simple example she gives is wanting to grab a drink or a something to eat at a cafe, but not having a reusable cup or a container with you. “You wouldn’t be able to get that drink or that sandwich or whatever it is, but there is a solution to that,” she points out. “You can always make sure you have something with you. And of course, you might find yourself walking around with a lot of stuff in your bag, but you know, you can’t have it all.” 

Morrison urges people to start their sustainable living journey with a small step. “Start with one small action which is easy to implement and will benefit you and the environment,” she advises. Actions and challenges like Zero Waste Week, Plastic Free July or Second-hand September could be a great start.

As Baalwai puts it, “any positive change you make is great.” The community of people who are trying to make a change, live sustainably and with the purpose of making a positive impact on the environment, is growing, and is looking for people to join their cause.

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