As the plastic and climate crisis continues unabated, people are increasingly being moved to action in simpler ways. While peoples across the globe may not be able to stop the climate crisis in the twinkling of an eye, there are certainly roles we can all play for the betterment of our planet. This role is best reflected in the personal lifestyle choices we make regarding sustainability leading to the practicing of plastic-free and zero waste (or low impact) living.
Now if you can’t go zero waste because you neither have the time nor the will, that’s fine because no one is perfect. You can make some substitutions in your life or household that works too; the important thing though is that you begin. From where you are and with what you can.
So here are a few suggestions collated for you from the average African lifestyle which can be considered ‘sustainable’ in comparison with the high environmental impact lifestyles of those in the West. These are some of the items I used growing up and still use today. They combine aesthetics with function while also providing the opportunity to avoid plastic and support the artisans in the ways you can.
1. The grass sponge
The grass sponge popularly known as “Kankan” is made from the fibrous innards of the roots of vines. After the roots are harvested, they are taken through the “washing” and “beating process” which essentially involves repeatedly beating the cleaned roots with specially carved wood. This “beating” increases its tensile strength and makes it last longer.
Now I figure it might be possible to make it with machines, but as far as I know, these sponges are entirely made by hand. When the process is complete, these sponges can be used either for bathing or for washing the dishes, whichever works for you. A properly made grass sponge can last over two years of continuous use. When disposed, it degrades quickly as it has almost been broken down by use.
Plus, you don’t have to wait till your next African vacation to get one of these. Thanks to the internet, you can easily purchase one online.
2. Wooden plates and cutlery sets
This is one of my absolute favourites. I have a personal belief that food tastes better when eaten from a wooden plate and with wooden cutlery and growing up, these were very popular on visits to see my grandparents in the village. These utensils are carved by the village craftsmen who learnt the art from their parents, and would in turn pass the craft down to their own kids.
Made from various trees from bamboo to oak, these wooden plates and cutlery are durable and eco-friendly. And what’s more, they look really really good on your kitchen table and in pictures too.
Just like the grass sponge, you can easily purchase these wooden sets from online stores and even second-hand from thrift stores and sites such as eBay. I would advise though that you look for authentic products, preferably crafted by hand as this increases the chance that the wood used was ethically sourced and not mass produced.
3. Simple chewing sticks
If you have ever searched for a substitute to your tooth brushes and toothpaste, search no more. Chewing sticks are literally sticks prepared for use in cleaning your mouth simply by chewing on them. ‘Chewing’ sticks, get it?
You can make a chewing stick yourself by cutting and drying a twig from the trees around you. You can also find it in some popular retail outlets where it is labelled as “organic toothbrush” or “branch toothbrush”. However, I would advise that you buy the ones already prepared especially by African shops and sellers.
The African chewing sticks are derived from the stems, roots and twig of trees like bitter cola, miswak, guava, orange, walnut, olive trees etc. These are generally organic because they are not planted with artificial fertilisers (organic farming is still the default agricultural method in Africa). The plants also grow naturally and are infused with many minerals and antioxidants.
The chewing sticks contain natural antibacterial properties and other properties like alkaline and silica that are really good for your teeth.
4. Leaf plates
If you are a no-plastic kind of person, then this eco-friendly lifestyle ideas is definitely for you. As the name implies, these plates are made with leaves and they are especially great for light snacks and outdoor events. Also, more than a few of our local foods are straight up served hot in freshly cut leaves. Nice right?
Now some of the best leaves to use here are banana or plantain leaves. Eating from these leaves (either fresh or sun-dried) has been shown to have health benefits because they contain polyphenols, which are natural antioxidants. The warm food served on the plantain leaves stimulates the polyphenols which gets absorbed in the food.
You can use other leaves that meet your needs but please do make sure they are not poisonous. Also, there are really cool instructional videos on how you can easily and quickly turn those leaves into a picnic plate.
5. Homemade eggshell scouring powder
If you are a food lover like myself, you might just find this useful in your kitchen. There are few things I find as frustrating as removing burnt patches of dried food from my pots and pans. Well, not since I remembered to grind my eggshells anyway.
This recipe is so simple it’s actually easy to forget. Still, the next time you cook or fry your eggs, be sure to save the shells! They make for great abrasive cleaning products, are less toxic than those expensive chemically made powders you buy and are super kid-friendly.
All you need to do is to set aside your empty eggshells and let them dry for a bit (I sun-dry mine but you can use your oven too, set at low heat). Afterwards, use your mortar and pestle or any other grinding tool to grind the shells into fine powder and then, mix in a little baking soda. Store the powder in any empty jar with a lid and you’re done!
Subsequently, you can use the mixture just as normal: just wet the dirty surface and pour your powder. Then scrub to your desired level of shine (and thank me later).
These are a few simple eco lifestyle tips from the African lifestyle that are great for the environment as well. They are easy transitions to make if you are new to low environmental impact living, and if you already live green, these tips can be easily incorporated into your daily life. So try your hand at some of these and feel free to share how you go!
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