Environment & Sustainability

The deceiving art of greenwashing

The deceiving art of greenwashing

As consumers become more and more aware of the environmental and social impact of the products that they buy, they are increasingly choosing sustainable products over other products. 66 per cent of global consumers are willing to pay extra for green products, and in millennials, it is even 73%.

As a whole new market of sustainable products is opening up, companies are jumping at the opportunity to be a part of it. But while the new, more conscious consumer drives many companies to improve their products, others use the new market to ‘greenwash’ their products.

Greenwashing occurs when a company or organisation spends more money to convince the public that they are environmentally friendly than actually implementing business practices that minimise their environmental impact. By using this technique, organisations try to profit from the ever-increasing environmental and ecological movement, while drawing away attention from their adverse environmental effects.

The history of greenwashing

While it might seem that the term ‘greenwashing’ was only invented recently, it has actually been in use for a long time. It first emerged when in 1986 in an essay by Jay Westerveld. He was staying in a hotel, where he found a little card in the bathroom. On the card it said ‘Save Our Planet: Every day, millions of gallons of water are used to wash towels that have only been used once. You make the choice: A towel on the rack means, I will use again”. A towel on the floor means, ‘Please replace’. Thank you for helping us conserve the Earth’s vital resources.’

In his essay, Westerveld described the irony of the ‘save the towel’ movement. When hotels waste resources in so many ways, does it really matter to wash these towels or not? He suspected that, what played a bigger factor, was that corporations would save money by washing these towels less often. He then coined the term ‘greenwashing’, derived from the term ‘whitewashing’ which means covering up scandalous information through a biased presentation of facts.

However, while the term greenwashing was invented only in 1986, the concept was invented much earlier. When the ecology movement began to gather steam in the 1960s, corporations tried to profit from it. Social critic Jerry Mander then described this phenomenon as “eco-pornography”.

For example, in the mid-80s, oil company Chrevon ran the People Do Campaign television and print ads to inform the public about their environmental dedication. But meanwhile, it was violating the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and spilling oil into wildlife refuges. And in 1991, while American chemical company DuPont made a big deal of using double-hulled tankers to guard against oil spills, it turned out that the company was the largest corporate polluter in the U.S.A. that year.

Modern greenwashing

These examples of greenwashing come from a time when the general public relied on newspapers, television and radios to get their information. Nowadays, consumers have access to much more information because of the Internet. This allows them to fact-check any claims made by organisations, and to hold them accountable when their claims do not match reality. But does this mean that greenwashing does not exist anymore? Unfortunately, no. It solely means that greenwashing has become that much more devious.

Some examples

A notorious example of modern greenwashing is “compostable” or “biodegradable” plastics. In 2017, Walmart paid 1 million dollars to settle a lawsuit accusing the retailer of selling plastics that were misleadingly labelled as environmentally friendly. Without disclaimers about how quickly these plastics will biodegrade in a landfill, these claims are misleading. After all, all plastics are biodegradable. They just take a couple of hundred years to do so.

Another, often undetected form of greenwashing is the ‘greenness’ of bottles of waters. Have you ever noticed how many plastic bottles of waters have colourful images of mountains, lakes or wildlife printed on the labels? These companies claim to be green and to care about nature, all while producing single-use plastics that end up in our oceans and in landfills, where they will stay around for hundreds of years.

While our landfills are filled with disposable diapers, this has not kept disposable diaper manufacturers from greenwashing them. Huggies’ Pure and Natural line, for example, invites costumers to discover the “ pure bliss of a diaper the includes gentle, natural materials.” But, while organic cotton is included in the outer cover, the materials used for the rest of the diaper is unspecified. And if Huggies was really concerned about its environmental impact, would it not produce reusable diapers as well?

Why greenwashing is so bad

Of course, greenwashing is unethical. It is an act of deception and lying in order to make money. But the effects of greenwashing go further than that. It muddies the waters of sustainable products, making it difficult for consumers to know which products are genuinely green and which are not.

Imagine being a conscious consumer. You want to buy sustainable and green products. So, you do the best you can to buy only products that are produced under fair circumstances and that have a minimal impact on the environment. But then, the umpteenth scandal of greenwashing breaks. Of all these products that are claiming to be sustainable, how many really are? Can you imagine feeling deceived and confused, and just giving up on consuming responsibly?

Greenwashing decreases the credibility of green products in general, and therefore it hurts companies that are genuinely increasing the sustainability of their projects. Moreover, it makes it more difficult for these companies to talk about their efforts, as this might be received with irony and distrust by consumers. All of this might hold consumers and companies back in decreasing their environmental and social impact.

How to avoid greenwashing?

To help consumers choose sustainable products, Futerra’s 2015 Selling Sustainability Report offers 10 basic signs of greenwashing.

  • Fluffy language: Word or terms with no clear meaning, e.g. “eco-friendly”.
  • Green products vs dirty company, such as efficient light bulbs made in a factory which pollutes rivers.
  • Suggestive pictures: Green images that indicate a (un-justified) green impact, e.g. flowers blooming from exhaust pipes.
  • Irrelevant claims: Emphasizing one tiny green attribute when everything else is un-green.
  • Best in class? Declaring you are slightly greener than the rest, even if the rest are pretty terrible.
  • Just not credible. “Eco-friendly” cigarettes anyone? “ Greening” a dangerous product doesn’t make it safe.
  • Gobbledygook: Jargon and information that only a scientist could check or understand.
  • Imaginary friends: A “ Label” that looks like a third-party endorsement. Except it’s made up.
  • No proof: It could be right, but where’s the evidence?
  • Out-right lying: Totally fabricated claims or data.

Want to know more about what you can do to decrease your ecological footprint? Check out this article about the Zero Waste Movement and about the UN Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Environment & Sustainability
The KonMari Method 2.0; new and improved

The KonMari Method 2.0; new and improved

Ever since Tidying Up with Marie Kondo was released on Netflix, social media has been flooded with pictures of well-organised closets, rooms and drawers. Kondo, with her +15 years’ experience as a consultant in organising, helps Americans to declutter and organise their homes. 

Kondo started a consultancy business when she was only 19 years old. Since then, she wrote two bestsellers on the topic of tidying up, and her work has been translated into 38 languages. Her strategy, called the KonMari Method, offers a roadmap to tidying up one’s home. Here, the house is divided into five categories; clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous), and sentimental items. As you go through all of the stuff that you own, you are supposed to hold each item and ask yourself if it sparks joy. Is the answer no? Then thank the item and throw it out. Once you have done this with all your stuff, you organise the things that are left in Marie Kondo’s signature style; stacking them in such a way that all products can be seen in one glance. 

While many people love the KonMari Method and have re-organised and de-cluttered after watching the series, the new series has also sparked criticism.

Getting rid of stuff

After Marie Kondo helped the family go through all their stuff, tons of garbage bags and boxes full of discarded stuff are carried out of the house. Some stuff is thrown out as trash, some is sold, and other items are brought to second-hand shops as donations. 

In episode two, the family Akiyama estimated that they threw away over 150 garbage bags filled with stuff. And at this point, they were nowhere near the end of their project. Did everyone ever wonder what happens to these trash bags? 

Much of it will end up in a landfill, just as the other 2.12 billion tons of trash that the world discards each year. Here, this stuff will just hang around while the natures takes hundreds of years to get rid of it. 

Other stuff is donated to secondhand shops and thrift stores. But while donating stuff might give a feeling of altruism, it is actually not that ideal. Unfortunately, thrift stores and secondhand shops are often used as a glorified trash bin. As we declutter their houses, we run into many items that we feel are too good to be thrown out, but are broken, out-dated, or personal. Think of broken electronics, VCR-tapes, or old furniture.

These items are then often donated to secondhand shops because we hope someone else can use it. As there is no demand for these products, thrift stores are not able to sell them and inevitably have to throw them out. Not only does this mean that these products end up in a landfill after all, but it also means that thirst shops have to spend money to get rid of these ‘donations’. 

Moreover, while many people are under the impression that the clothes they donate end up with people in need within their communities, this is true for only a small part of donations. The vast majority of clothes are packed in plastic and shipped overseas to countries such as Pakistan and Malaysia. Here, these secondhand clothes tend to disrupt the local markets and undermine efforts to build a textile industry. Developing countries are getting tired of being a dumping ground for the Western world, and some African countries are now issuing a ban on secondhand clothing

Do you still think donating your clutter to charity will ‘help out people in need’?


If anything, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo shows us the consequences of our addiction to consumption. Our houses are cluttered and disorganised because of our insatiable need for new stuff.

Somehow, stuff has simultaneously come to be worth extremely much and extremely little to us. It plays a major role in our life in the sense that we sacrifice significant amounts of time to work in order to buy non-essential stuff. But then, after we have bought the stuff that we want and we have taken it home, it seems to lose all value. We throw it into a closet somewhere and start thinking about the next thing to buy. Companies make it seem as if our identity is tied to the things we buy, and the only way to be happy is to have the right stuff. But be honest. Is all the stuff that you own really making you happy? 

Marie Kondo asks participants to consider whether each item ‘sparks them joy’. Unfortunately, this concept does nothing to counter our consumerist society. While a shirt can spark joy this week, it might lose its spark only a week later. The short life span of the spark does not keep you from buying it. In fact, 99 per cent of the things we buy, end up in the trash within 6 months. And the problem is not just that our purchases pollute the earth after we are done using it. Resources are used to make and transport these products as well, thereby increasing our pressure on the world’s ecosystem.

The KonMari Method 2.0

Frankly, the capitalist system is designed in such a way that we will always want more and that the stuff we have will never suffice. While Marie Kondo advocates for organising our homes to increase our happiness, she fails to address the fact that we will never be fulfilled by our consumption addiction.

To ask yourself if an item sparks joy is a good start to appreciating our stuff and being nicer to nature, but it is far from the whole process. The key to successful tidying up is to be much more critical of our need for stuff and of the items that we buy.  And then, when we inevitably have to get rid of stuff, to think about the best way to do so. It is time for the KonMari method 2.0; new and improved. 

The KonMari Method 2.0 Enlish

Do you want to learn more about decreasing your environmental footprint? Check out these articles about the Zero Waste movement & the UN Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Environment & Sustainability
The corrupting effect of voluntourism

The corrupting effect of voluntourism

Going abroad and helping to dig a water well, build an orphanage, or teach English to local kids. Sounds noble, right? Maybe even heroic? Unfortunately, while ‘voluntourism’ is becoming more and more popular, it often does more damage than good. 

Voluntourism is a clever contraction of the words ‘volunteering’ and ‘tourism’. It describes a trend in which people travel to developing countries to do volunteer work. These do-gooders typically have good intentions. They aim to personally contribute to the development of a community. Whereas these journeys were once only taken by religious groups, we now see lots of variety in those who go abroad to ‘give back’. Youth, retirees, schools and companies, it seems as if volunteering abroad is now as common and popular as going on holiday.

What is wrong with voluntourism?

Along with the increasing demand for volunteer trips abroad has come an increase in the number of agencies arranging such trips. These trips and the accompanying marketing strategies are customised to specific target groups, such as adolescents, companies, and retirees. A quick scroll through such an organisation’s website will teach you that volunteering abroad is not cheap. It is not uncommon to pay over 1000 Euros for a one-week trip. On top of that, volunteers are usually expected to pay for all expenses, such as plane tickets, accommodation and food, themselves. In some cases, they are even expected to bring a donation to the NGO they are working with, money that they have raised through family and friends.

The adverse effects of money and free labour

Some problems that arise from voluntourism come forth from organisations that offer volunteering trips with the sole aim of making money, not caring whether the effects of these trips are good or bad. Many local organisations do not have the resources to create a volunteer project. Therefore, they have to rely on these big international companies to make volunteers come to their project. These companies make large profits from the fees they charge to volunteers. Meanwhile, the local organisations, which do all of the heavy lifting, receive only a small share of these fees. Because of the vast amounts of money that volunteers are willing to pay and the dependency of local NGOs, voluntourism has become quite a lucrative industry for voluntourism companies.

Additionally, both local NGOs and the providers of volunteering trips in a way profit from the unfortunate situation that local communities are in. This can create an incentive to sustain this situation. For example, a story of being a young girl being forced into sex trade in Cambodia turned out to be made up to raise donations for a local NGO. Moreover, many people who have been in Asia will have heard stories about orphanages where children are not actually orphans. These children are ripped from their parents and put in orphanages, only to be used as a tourist attraction. When tourists visit such orphanages, they feel sorry for the children and donate money, food and toys. Unfortunately, these donations never reach the children, but instead, end up in the hand of the orphanage’s criminal management.  

Moreover, as local organisations receive money for hosting volunteers on short-term projects, there is no incentive to plan effective long-term projects. Instead, badly-planned and ineffective projects are maintained, just because it attracts foreign volunteers and brings some money in the bank. To make matters worse, usually, there is no money to continue these projects once volunteers leave. Within months, the buildings that volunteers worked so hard on to build are crumbling. Before you know it, a new group of volunteers will be fixing these buildings, thinking they are making a real change for the community.   

Voluntourism might also have further negative impact on communities. For example, it might take away jobs from people that need it more. After all, why pay for labour, if you can have volunteers who work for free and pay you for it? Moreover, local communities might come to rely on help from volunteers. For example, during several trips to Ghanian to volunteer as a doctor, Lauren Kascak found out that Ghanian locals were less likely to take health insurance. Instead, they relied on international medical volunteers to take care of their medical problems.

Who actually benefits?

Another point of concern is that organisations do not require volunteers to have a particular set of skills and experiences to work on projects in developing countries. You don’t have any experience teaching to children? Doesn’t matter, you can still teach English to children in Cambodia. And even if you have never built anything in your life, you can still build a health centre in Tanzania. The policy often seems to be ‘as long as you pay, you can come and volunteer’.  

Because of their short stay and inexperience, volunteers often do more harm than good. Take the example of teaching English to local children. These projects are popular, as everyone likes to work with kids and pictures with these children will look great on social media. But what is the value of teaching English to local kids if you do not speak the local language? And what is worse, these children meet a different volunteer every few weeks. They play together and take pictures, the children get attached, and then suddenly the volunteer leaves. Because of short-term volunteers, these children get stuck in a pattern of abandonment, causing psychological harm.

Unfortunately, the truth is that voluntourism is aimed at creating a pleasant and delusional experience for the volunteer, not to do some actual good for the locals that live in poverty. 

All of this begs the question: who actually benefits from voluntourism? Is it the local population or the volunteer? The answer clearly is the volunteer. If you really want to do some good, it is better to volunteer in your own country. Or better yet, donate the money otherwise spent on the volunteering trip to an NGO. Unfortunately, the truth is that voluntourism is aimed at creating a pleasant and delusional experience for the volunteer, not to do some actual good for the locals that live in poverty. 

Voluntourism and the image of developing countries and poverty

Another main issue with voluntourism is that it creates the illusion that there is a quick fix for the problems in developing countries. It makes it look like good intentions are all that is needed to eradicate poverty. But in reality, it is not that simple. Poverty is a complex issue, influenced by hundreds of other factors, such as geography, culture and social factors. Framing the solution to poverty as an issue of intentions derails the discussion around poverty and what we can do about it. 

Another issue to consider is the image that is shaped by the many pictures that are usually posted on social media during these trips. You’ll see many images of young volunteers posing with children and of locals living their daily lives. These pictures tend to enforce the stereotype of poverty in developing countries, as if that is all they are. But in fact, they are so much more. Moreover, it reduces locals to an image of poverty, without looking at their background, skills or experiences. Not even to mention the privacy issues that arise from posting pictures of local children and adults without their consent.

Another hard question to ask ourselves is if voluntourism is not just another form of post-colonialism. For decades the west has unrightfully been in the centre of the narrative of African and Asian countries. Through voluntourism, it has now unrightfully become the centre of the narrative around these countries’ development. Moreover, voluntourism is based on the assumption that the help of Western people is automatically helpful, even if volunteers often have no proper background or experience. 

Isn’t there anything good about voluntourism?

All of this might make you think that there is nothing positive about voluntourism, but there is. For example, hosting short-term volunteers may bring in some hard-needed cash for local NGOs to actually do some good for their projects. Moreover, volunteers take pictures which they post on social media and tell their friends and family about their experiences. This is free marketing for NGOs and might lead to more donations.  

Another positive effect of voluntourism is that it brings tourists to remote rural communities. Here, volunteers spend money on food and other daily necessities. This money directly benefits locals and the local community. 

And finally, the experience of travelling and volunteering in an environment so fundamentally different from our own often has a lasting impact. It expands our worlds and thereby makes us well-rounded and more tolerant and sensitive to others.  

How to be better

Unfortunately, the small positive effects of volunteering abroad do not weight up against its adverse effects. So, how can we change voluntourism, so the work of volunteers has the positive and sustainable impact that is intended?

Whereas critics first pointed toward volunteers as the responsible ones in making a change, others now say that this responsibility lies with the industry. The companies that organise volunteering trips should ensure that these trips actually have a positive and lasting effect on local communities. As a positive sign, guidelines for responsible and sustainable travel have been developed recently. However, these guidelines are optional and have not been implemented consequently throughout the industry. A system for accountability is needed in order to ensure that companies keep up with these guidelines.  

However, as long as there is a demand for volunteering trips from people who are uninformed about or uninterested in the consequences of their trip, there will be companies offering such trips. Therefore, much of the responsibility of changing this industry lies with volunteers. So, if you are looking to volunteer abroad, research where your money is going. How does the organisation spend your money? How much of it goes to the local organisation in question? Does the travel organisation follow standards of responsible and sustainable travel? How long has this company been working with this local organisation, and what kind of projects have they completed?  

Moreover, you should only consider volunteering when you have something real to offer and if you are available for an extended period of time. Only then can you make a valuable contribution and have a real and lasting impact. If you have the skills and time, consider volunteering with, for example, the EU Aid Volunteer Programme or with United Nations Volunteers. And if you decide to volunteer abroad, make sure to spend time with locals. Talk with them and really listen to what they are saying. Learn from them and their lives, and ask questions.

But, most importantly, be honest with yourself about the reason you are travelling. Is it just to have pictures with the little kids in front of the school you just build? Just to put the project on your resume? Or do you actually want to do some good? If that is the case, is this really the best way to do it? Why not volunteer in your own country? Or donate the money to a well-researched organisation?

Want to read more about sustainable volunteering and travelling? Check out this article about San Jose Calderas in Guatemala.

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Environment & Sustainability
The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World

The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World

Decreasing your environmental footprint, contributing to a fairer society, fighting against poverty, and keeping our oceans clean. Saving the world can be overwhelming sometimes. Luckily for us, we do not have to reinvent the wheel ourselves. One of the many benefits of the Internet is that information is now readily available at our fingertips. Just fire up Google, and you will find endless amounts of information and tips on saving the world. Hey, we at Idealism101 proudly consider us one of those!

But it is precisely because of this abundance of information that we may feel confused and apathetic. Since everyone is free to write whatever he wants, online advice and information are often contradictory. Not to mention that the problems of our time are paralyzingly big. It is hard to stay motivated to take action when it seems like every effort you make is futile.

The United Nations Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World

For those of us that feel confused and apathetic or are just too busy to do anything about the crumbling of our planet, the United Nations might offer some answers. The UN Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World is filled with easy and science-based things that we all can do to have a positive impact. Although it is a lazy person’s guide, action points are grouped according to difficulty, presumably not to scare off the laziest of lazy people.

No! Change starts with you. Seriously. Every human on earth—even the most indifferent, laziest person among us—is part of the solution. Fortunately, there are some super easy things we can adopt into our routines that, if we all do it, will make a big difference. 

United Nations

To start simple, the first category includes things you can do from your couch. But funny enough, these are mainly things that you should stop doing. Think of leaving electrical appliances plugged in while you are not using them, printing documents that you do not need, and leaving the lights on after you left the room. Moreover, even the laziest person in the world can do some online research to ensure that he buys sustainable and environmentally friendly products. Have you mastered all the things in this category? Congratulations, you can now call yourself a Sofa Superstar!

The next category includes other small steps we can do in the house. Think of taking shorter showers, eating less meat, and composting your food waste. Moreover, we could easily save electricity by letting our hair and laundry dry naturally and adjusting our thermostat. Does this sound like a piece of cake to you? Congrats, you are a Household Hero!

Okay, let’s step it up now! The next category describes things you can do in your neighbourhood. Some of the things included are shopping locally, bringing a reusable bottle and shopping bag, and travelling by bike, on foot or by public transport. Moreover, the Neighbourhood Nice Guy surely only takes the napkins he needs, shops vintage instead, and donates stuff that he does not need any more!

Finally, to save the planet while on the job, and to deserve the title of Exceptional Employee, we should donate fruits and snacks that we do not need to people in need, mentor young people, and most importantly, let our voices be heard. Stand up, for example, for access to healthcare, equal pay, use of energy efficient heating and cooling, and against discrimination. Only when we do all this, we can say we have mastered Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.

It is easy to feel numb and powerless in the face of climate change, poverty and injustice. That is why a guide with easy steps to take to have a positive impact is more than welcome. But remember, this (or any) guide does not mean that you should put your life upside down from one day to the other. Setting too high a goal might ultimately lead to disappointment and loss of motivation if you cannot reach your incredibly high set bar. Instead, remember that every little step you make counts. It is a bit of positive impact that would not have happened if it were not for you!

Click here to see the full UN Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World.

Want to know more about decreasing your environmental impact? Check out this article about the Zero Waste movement

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Environment & Sustainability
San Jose Calderas; Volcanoes and community development

San Jose Calderas; Volcanoes and community development

In rural Guatemala, on the foot of the stunning Acatenango volcano, lies a small community called San Jose Calderas. The town has found a way to use its beautiful location for good. It started a project where men are trained as guides to take tourists on a hike up the volcano. Here, great experiences of erupting nearby volcanoes, cloud forests, camping and sunrises above the clouds await at a spectacular height of 3976 meters. So, what does the work of the guides look like? How did these changes affect the lives of people in the community? And what is it like to do the two-day hike? We stayed a few nights in the community, hiked the volcano, and found out.

APRODE and the community

The work of the guides of San Jose Calderas is overseen by Aprode, an association for the development of the community. In 2011, Elvin Soy Lopez, now coordinator of the association, proposed for it to take a new turn. With a background in tourism studies, Elvin had the idea to arrange tours to climb the volcano. Local men were trained to serve as guides. Since then, Aprode has certified 30 guides. Guides now take tourists up the volcano nearly every day, varying from private tours to big groups of over 20 people. Aprode offers a number of tours to volcanoes and nature sites in the area and all over Guatemala. But its most popular tour is the two-day Acatenango hike.

Little boy in front of volcano Agua.
Little boy in front of the Agua volcano

Aprode provides an extra source of income for local families, but also has a wonderful impact on the community. A percentage of the money that is made is put directly back into the community through projects, such as the renovation of schools and churches. Moreover, Aprode has grown to be a point of contact for national and international development organisations. For example, it works with ConstruCasa, a Dutch organisation which looks to improve housing in Guatemala.

The lives of guides

Being a guide is not a full-time job for the guides of San Jose Calderas. They typically have jobs and a piece of land that is used to grow crops. Their work as guides is just a parttime job, but it brings in some hard needed cash. “Earning some extra money as a guide makes it easier to take care of my family,” says Juan Jose Gonzalez, a 27-year old guide whose recently became a father. “I only went to school until sixth grade. If I weren’t a guide, I would probably earn only 50 Quetzales (approx. $6.75) a day. That would be very tough because a pair of jeans is 200 Quetzales. The money I earn as a guide really makes a big difference in my life”.

Juan (right) at the top of the Acatenango volcano
Juan (right) at the top of the Acatenango volcano

Compared to the other guides, Juan has a significant advantage, as he spent five years in the USA and is fluent in English. “People feel better when the guide speaks English because they know they can ask questions. If you speak English, you also get more work because you are recommended by other tourists who did a tour with you in the past.” Juan explains that the people in Guatemala do not learn English in school and that most guides only speak Spanish. “Because most tourists only speak English, it is essential that we have volunteers that come here and practice English with the guides.”

Volunteering in the community

Aprode receives volunteers on a regular basis. They stay a week or longer and contribute to the community in various ways. For example, former volunteers have taught English to guides and children, maintained the association’s website or helped out with the promotion of tours. Volunteers usually stay with Elvin’s family. Here they are expected to help with the work in and around the house and on the land. This includes making tortillas, cooking, picking peaches, helping with the tourist groups, and all little chores around. In return for the help, volunteers get free accommodation, free meals, and an unforgettable and authentic experience. A pretty good bargain if you ask us!

Yes, it is hard, but you will forget all about the sweat, blood and tears it took climbing up once you reach the summit and watch the sun rise above the clouds and volcanoes.

Hiking Acatenango, what is all the fuss about?

When in Guatemala, hiking the Acatenango volcano is an absolute must-do. Yes, it is hard, but you will forget all about the sweat, blood and tears it took climbing up once you reach the summit and watch the sun rise above the clouds and volcanoes.

The hike starts in the morning when, after meeting your guide and maybe renting some equipment, you are brought to the foot of the volcano at 2200 meters. Since you are spending the night on the volcano, you need to bring warm clothes and three litres of water. So, expect your backpack to be pretty heavy. Do not worry, you can pay for a porter or a horse to help you carry it. On the first day, you hike up to the base camp at 3600 meters, taking six breaks along the way. You hike through four micro-climates until you reach base camp, after which you will be utterly exhausted. Just remember, your guide probably hikes volcano Acatenango one to two times a week, while carrying a 25-kilo backpack. What a hero!

You will be able to rest while the guide prepares your tent with a sleeping bag and mattress. Then, he will cook a delicious dinner for you. From the base camp you have a clear view of the nearby active volcano Fuego, spectacularly erupting every 15 to 20 minutes. As you will undoubtedly notice, the climate is very different at 3600 meters high. Warm clothing, jackets, hats and gloves are no luxury. Make sure you bring some!

Volcano Fuego erupting
Volcano Fuego erupting (and I didn’t even photoshop this picture!!)

The next morning you wake up very, very, VERY early to hike the last 400 meters to the summit in the dark. This is the hardest part, and you will think about going back to base camp a million times. DON’T!! The views on the summit are breathtaking, and you do not want to miss it! After spending some (freezing) time on the summit, you hike back to base camp. Here you have breakfast before walking back to the foot of the volcano. You will reach the starting point of the hike around noon, after which you are brought back to your hotel. What’s left is the worst muscle ache of our life, simultaneously bringing a grimace of pain and a smile of happiness to your face as it reminds you of your heroic achievement. Good job!!!

Interested in hiking or volunteering?

If you are interested in hiking one of the volcanoes or spending time in San Jose Calderas as a volunteer, be sure to contact Elvin via +502 47082809, find Aprode on TripAdvisor and Facebook, or visit Aprode’s website for more info.

Want to know more about sustainable traveling and volunteering abroad? Check out this article about the corrupting effect of voluntourism.

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Environment & Sustainability
Going zero waste: what, why and how?

Going zero waste: what, why and how?

It seems as if our role in environmental problems is finally getting the attention it deserves. Think about it. You have probably been urged to stop using single-use plastics, and you might have heard that micro plastics are ending up in our food chain. Zero waste is one of those environmental movements that is gathering steam, and which you might have heard of by now. So what is the zero waste movement? What is its raison d’être? How would you start a zero-waste lifestyle? What would you need? And where would you go for inspiration and information?

Why change?

I can almost hear you think: “I recycle, isn’t that enough?”. Well, to be honest, no. In the EU, 472 kilos of waste is produced per person per year. In 2016, 47% of this waste was recycled or composted. The other 53% either ends up in landfills or is burned. In the US, the percentage of waste being recycled or biodegraded was 26% in 2015.

Much of our waste is not recycled because it is too expensive to do so, or because it is a mix of materials. This is the case, for example, with drink cartons or paper coffee cups. Moreover, there is a limit to how many times materials can be recycled. Whereas aluminium, metals and glass can be recycled indefinitely, other materials cannot. Paper can usually be recycled only five to seven times, and plastics only once or twice. When plastics and paper has gone through its last recycling process, it is discarded just like all other waste.

When plastics end up in landfills, it can take 450 to 1000 years to decompose. During this process, it leaks hazardous chemicals into the ground. These chemicals affect our waters and the food that is produced on our soil. Our waste also often ends up in oceans and other waters, be it intentionally or not. Contradictory to the belief of many, plastic does not naturally decompose in water. Instead, the force of the waves breaks down the plastic in microplastics. These pieces are then often eaten by sea life, thereby ending up in our food chain. Burning our waste might be a preferred option to putting it in landfills. After all, the generated heat can be used to warm offices and homes. However, this is not a perfect solution either, as this process causes for many hazardous chemicals to be released into the air.

The issue with packaging is not just where it ends up after we are done using it. The production of any kind of material takes resources, such as oil and wood. These resources are extracted from the earth, exported to and processed in factories, and distributed to factories or stores. In this process large quantities of fossil fuel are used and a lot of emissions if produced. Because of the scarcity of fossil fuels and the immediate effects of the build-up of greenhouse gasses, increased use of fuels and emissions is the last thing we need.

In 2018, World Overshoot Day was reached on August 1st. This marks the day at which we have used more resources than our earth can renew in a year. Essentially, because of our use of resources, we need 2 earths per year. As the forecasts show that the world’s population will continue to expand, tackling our use of resources must be one of our priorities.

If you are looking for social reason to join the zero waste movement, consider this. Over the years landfills have been moved closer and closer to urban areas. Generally, they are put close to disadvantaged communities, as these communities are less likely to protest new developments. The devaluation of land and the pollution of soil caused by landfills contributes to inequalities between communities and socioeconomic groups. Moreover, as recycling is often not profitable in the Western world, much of our waste is transported to developing countries. Here, employees have to deal with chemical hazards while barely being paid or protected by laws and regulations. What is more, this non-recyclable waste ends up in nature and oceans, thereby endangering sources of income.

What is the zero waste movement?

The zero waste movement tries to reduce our use of resources and the pollution of the earth by minimising the waste that goes to landfills. In short, the movement is about avoiding making any waste that cannot be recycled or biodegraded. To reduce our waste, we have to move from a linear economy (where resources are deposed in landfills after use) to a circular economy. In a circular economy, the same resources are used indefinitely, and nearly no new resources are needed.

To minimise their waste, zero wasters follow a set of set principles, called the 5 Rs of zero waste.

Refuse: Single use plastics and plastic freebies should always be refused. Want a straw for that drink? No! A bag to carry your groceries? No! A free pen at a convention? The answer should always be no. Most of these items will only be used for a few minutes or just end up at the bottom of your purse. It takes resources to create and transport them, and these products will stick around long after us, increasing our strain on the earth. Of course, there are more environmentally friendly alternatives, such as paper bags and straws. Whereas these are preferential to plastic alternatives, the best option remains to take your own reusables, such as cotton bags, and bamboo cutlery.

Reduce: We should minimise the amounts of packaging and plastic products that we buy and consume. Try to swap products in plastic for products packed in paper, or better yet, products that come without any packaging. You can also decrease your consumption by buying only high-quality products with a long lifespan. These should replace cheaper products of low quality that have to be replaced every so often.

Reuse: Before throwing something out, consider if you can reuse it. Glass pots, for example, can be reused to stock food, as drinking glasses, to freeze soup or sauce, or to organise your kitchen cabinets. Another way to reuse products is by repairing them. Ripped shoes and clothes can often easily be fixed, and in big cities, you can usually find repair shops to repair electrical appliances. By repairing instead of throwing out, you reduce the demand for new products and resources, you prevent waste ending in landfills, and you often save some pennies as well!

Recycle: Properly recycle products that cannot be reused. Sometimes you may need to separate the different materials in a product or package. For example when packaging is made of plastics and paper.

Rot: As the ultimate zero-waster you are no longer buying anything that would end up in a landfill. Therefore, every bit of waste that cannot be recycled should be organic. After you are done using it, it should be left to rot. It is essential that organic waste does not end up in landfills. Here it is covered in waste, where it does not have the oxygen needed to rot. This causes it to stay around for a long time while emitting greenhouse gasses. Therefore, the best way to let your organic waste decay is by creating your own compost pile.

However, the zero waste movement is about more than just how to prevent and responsibly get rid of waste. It is also about changing consumer habits and addressing our eternal desire to buy stuff. After all, our consumption habits account for a huge demand for resources, use of fossil fuels, and transportation. By following the ‘buyarchy of needs’, much of these environmentally unfriendly practices could be avoided. The ‘buyarchy’ helps us handle our need for new stuff by using what we have, borrowing, swapping, thrifting, or making stuff. All these options should be considered before thinking about buying a new product.

How to start

Starting a zero-waste lifestyle does not mean that you have to change your life from one day to another. Zero waste should be seen as a goal or ideal, and every little step you take is a significant accomplishment. After all, every time you drink from your refillable bottle instead of buying a plastic bottle, this means one less bottle ends up in a landfill because of you. It is important to be gentle with yourself and to accept that in changing your habits you will make mistakes. Just try to learn from them and move on!

One thing you definitely should not do is throw out anything that is not zero waste. Its environmental impact was already ‘decided’ the moment you bought it. So now the most environmentally friendly thing to do is finish and use this stuff until it runs out or breaks beyond repair. If you really cannot stand having these products in your house, always consider donating, selling or regifting them before you throw them out.

Of course, zero waste shopping and daily life require some preparations. Here are some easy ways you can prevent creating waste.

  • There is a reason that the first R of zero waste is Refuse. Rethink whether you really need that straw, napkin or bag you are being offered. Often we accept single-use plastics and freebies without thinking about it and throw it away without using it. In case you do need it a napkin, just take the number you need, instead of taking a hand full.
  • Bring a reusable bottle to prevent buying single-use bottles of drinks. Yes! We know you have heard this a hundred times, but it is important! In the US, only 23% of water bottles are recycled, while the rest ends up in landfills, oceans, or is being burned.
  • Bring a reusable bag to prevent having to use plastic bags to bring home your shopping. And while you are at it, try to use a bag made of natural materials. A bag made of synthetic materials cannot be recycled at the end of their life cycle and sheds microplastics that end up in water.
  • While we are talking bags, consider bringing small bags to replace paper and plastic ones during shopping for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and bread. These can be bought online or made from an old sheet. Moreover, those little bags that are used for washing bras and stuff? They can be used for the same cause.
  • If you like to take a coffee on the go every now and then, bring a reusable cup. Many coffee shops even give a small discount when you bring your own mug!
  • As supermarkets are all about convenience, do not expect to shop waste free there. Instead try shopping at local bakeries, butchers, grocery shops and markets. Here you are more likely to receive higher quality products and to have more options for packaging. Moreover, there is a growth in the number of bulk stores, where products are not pre-packed. You just bring your own bags and boxes to put your products in. If you have one of these stores in your neighbourhood, make sure to check it out!
  • If you like having food on the go, consider bringing your own food in a container. Most meals and snacks consumed on the road come in a plastic package, which often cannot properly be recycled. If you cannot remember to pre-pack a meal or withstand the temptation of buying lunch at your favourite lunch place, consider sitting down to eat instead of taking it to go. Moreover, to minimise waste, you can choose food options with more environmentally friendly packaging, bring your own utensils instead of using single-use ones, and refuse napkins and bags.
  • The bathroom is generally an area in which we use many products, and which is the source of much plastic waste. However, it does not need to be. Bottles of shampoo can be swapped with shampoo bars, bottles of body wash with soap, and plastic toothbrushes can be replaced by bamboo alternatives. Toothpaste can be replaced by toothpaste tablets in a glass jar. Moreover, many products that are used in our hygiene routines can be replaced by package free alternatives. Many products can also be home made with just a few household products. As an extra advantage, these do not contain the chemical substances that most commercial products do. Just use google to find recipes for alternatives. Trust me, your skin will thank you!

So what if you have taken these first steps to a zero waste lifestyle and you want to do more? What is next? Now you should take a closer look at your trash to identify patterns. What is the sort of garbage you are throwing away? Are there areas where you can make simple changes to minimise your waste, such as buying different products, or learning to repair items?

The next thing to do is to take upon each area of your life one by one. What products are you using in the bathroom, and how can you replace them with more environmentally friendly options? Now do the same for your grocery shopping, your free time, your garden, and so on. By focusing on one area at the time, you make sure you do not get overwhelmed while still making progress. And again: know that you will make mistakes. Things will go wrong, and you will have days where you do not have the energy to do the zero waste thing. Do not be discouraged when this happens. Every small effort you make is great, and next time you will do better!

Where do I look for inspiration?

As the zero waste lifestyle is becoming more popular, it is also starting to play a role in social media and popular culture. Here are some platforms you can turn to for inspiration and tips.

  • Zero waste home was founded by Bea Johnson. Although the zero waste movement existed before Bea came along, it really took off after she started writing about it in 2009. She published a book and began travelling the world to raise awareness for environmental problems and the zero waste movement. Make sure to check out her blog, social media accounts, and this inspiring Ted-talk.
  • Going Zero Waste: A true zero waste veteran, Kathryn has been committed to and writing about the zero waste lifestyle for a long time. On her blog, you will find dozens of useful articles to get you started and to grow in your own zero waste lifestyle. Want to know how to make personal hygiene products such as toothpaste or face toner? Kathryn knows! Need tips on second-hand clothes shopping? Kathryn has them! Need advice on zero waste cleaning, cooking, or holidays? Turn to Kathryn!
  • Jane and Simple Living is a blog about living a life that is good for the environment and for your health. Jane started the zero waste lifestyle in 2016 and took us with her on her journey to make her life more and more zero waste. Let her inspire you and teach you about applying the zero waste principles in your daily life.
  • Your RV Lifestyle wrote a comprehensive guide for living a zero-waste lifestyle while travelling or living in an RV. But even if you have never even seen an RV from up close, this guide is still super useful because of its advice on how to reduce your waste during your travels or at home. After all, RVs combine the best of both worlds.
  • The Minimalists: Not directly about the zero-waste movement, but certainly very relevant to it. The Minimalists help us address the never-ending pressure to make more money and buy more stuff. They demonstrate how it leads to permanent unhappiness and environmental problems. They teach us to minimise our belongings and only to keep those items that are essential or make us happy. Make sure to check out their documentary on Netflix called ‘The Minimalists’!
  • The Zero Waste International Alliance: Admitted, ZWIA is focused primarily on business, communities and governments that want to work towards zero waste. However, it also includes interesting articles about the zero waste movement and the way forward. Moreover, in case you have pull in a business, community, or government, ZWIA might just help you introduce the principles of zero waste.
  • Ecocycle aims to build zero waste communities in the USA and provides useful information for everyone who wants to know more about the zero waste lifestyle. Moreover, it contributes to school programs teaching about the zero waste movement on schools. it also funds research about zero waste to add to the political discussion.
  • There are many groups on Facebook which you can join to share problems and lessons learned with other like-minded people. Some examples are ‘Begin the Journey 2 Zero-Waste’ and ‘Journey to Zero Waste’. Looking for a group where your native language is used? Just use the Facebook search engine to search on ‘zero waste’, and you are sure to find one.

Looking for more inspiration? Have a look at the Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World and our pick in books that every Idealist should read!

Posted by Chantal Verdonschot in Environment & Sustainability