You can guess that growing up in post Soviet Kazakhstan in early 90's was significantly different than growing up in any developed country. Our lives could easily be a plot for Hollywood movie. There were tough times for many people in my country as well as all neighbouring countries which were once part of powerful union. Long queues for essential products, major unemployment and shortage of food. Most of the people were vegans before it was mainstream. Although, things were not always safe and sound, people were living a good deal more sustainably.
It has been 27 years since Soviet Union collapse, Kazakhstan is now an independent country. I grew up and moved to the UK. I learned about sustainability and conscious consumption, that plastic bags are dangerous to the environment and fresh farm milk is better than pasteurized. And guess what? Things that were once embarrassing to do in my childhood, now is something that could save our planet from complete destruction in the long run.
So, here are three sustainable things I used to do back in the days:
1. Collecting glass bottles
We used to collect glass bottles and hand them over at bottle collection points. Those who really needed money would dig in big garbage containers looking for a glass bottle. Who else would also take bottles to collection points? Of course children! Needless to say we never hovered around the garbage containers, only took what was already at home. It was our honestly earned pocket money.Your payment could be collected at the spot. Except it was a really small amount money, identical to around 50p per bottle, bottles of different shapes and sizes would cost differently. I'm sure that all who were collecting bottles thought that they would not do it for any money when they grow up. Nevertheless, here we are after almost 20 years I started to collect bottles for recycling! And this time I’m not even paid!
2. Buying fresh farmers milk in aluminium milk cans
These aluminium milk cans look very much like IKEA Socker vase.
In 2000, when I was just over 10 years old, there was already a huge selection of pasteurized milk in Tetra Pak in supermarkets. However, many people still preferred to drink [boiled] raw milk, which could be bought directly from a farmer. To buy fresh milk you had to go to a certain place at 8 in the morning. And since there was a high demand for fresh farmer’s milk, you had to go out at 6-7 AM to buy both cottage cheese, sour cream and 3-4 liters of milk. Do you know how difficult it was? Getting up at 7AM when you're just 12? I remember how I convinced my granny, who was for the record a famous microbiologist, that pasteurized milk in Tetra Pak is as good as fresh farmers milk! I’m now so ashamed of my words. Now I'm 30, and not so long ago I realized how wrong I was. Now, of course, the service is more developed, and fresh milk is brought directly to your home by the milkman, and you do not even need to meet him at the door if you live in United Kingdom. In Kazakhstan, you will still need to get dressed and go out. In any case, today I prefer fresh milk to packed, and secondly, I'm ready to use my own can. It's brilliant! There is no need to use unnecessary plastic that no one needs or buy Tetra Pak and spend money on recycling.
3. Cut kitchen paper towels in half.
I'm sure most of us at least once in our lifetime used kitchen paper towels. When kitchen rolls reached Kazakhstan, our frugal grannies would tear off one towel and then cut in half. I will not lie if I say that all the "cool" teens out there once shouted "whyyyyyy?". In response heard "it’s too much paper!". But we were too cool to understand that. Then some of these teens grew up and realized how much problems caused destroying forests for the sake of making paper. Now me and many of my friends are cutting towels in half. Especially those who have children will understand me. You can never have enough napkins for them.
Another cool thing to do if you want to go waste free lifestyle - use a fabric towel. In Kazakhstan there is even a word for such a fabric towel which you wipe greasy hands with while cooking. It’s “mailik”, and comes from the word “mai” – fat. Everyone should have their “mailik” in the kitchen!