I’ve been working towards making our sharehouse ZERO WASTE in Tokyo. Because I have just started this project by myself and felt a bit overwhelmed by how much changes this house will need to make to be more sustainable, I’ve hired a volunteer in order to get the zero waste house project started, and it went amazing!
His name is Ejvind, from Denmark, and he stayed with us for a bit less than a month in October. He helped me with:
- Making Bokashi compost bran
- Exploring the neighborhood to find more eco-friendly stores (in Tokyo there’s so many shops, so many plastic. So it can take time and effort to find the right places to shop)
- Organizing a clothing swap event
- Researching/writing in English
This blog post is from Ejvind, about what he’s done here, his off-the-grid experience in Europe, what he’s learned, and so on.
I’m so grateful to have had him especially in the starting stage of this zero waste project!
If you’re interested in sustainable, zero waste, and/or slow living in a big city like Tokyo, please join me with the adventure!
So, here’s what he had to say;)) ↓↓
Ejvind the Volunteer!
Hi, I’m Ejvind! For the past two weeks I have been the Igor to Yumi, running all around western Tokyo in search for sustainability.
From seeing Tokyo though a thin layer of plastic film to eyeing a culture of “superficial sustainability” in Denmark and being knee-deep in the sustainable culture of the new age hippies in the French Pyrenees, sustainability is something I have been playing with for quite some time now.
Today I want to share my experience with you.
My story in a slightly enlarged nutshell
First of all a small introduction. I am 20 years old and at this moment, I live in Japan. Before Japan, I was living in Denmark, which is where I was born and raised on principles that were, in my conventional hometown, very much regarded as alternative.
My family was known as the bicycle family and the reason is not that we were excellent bicyclists and owned several fancy, expensive bikes, no. The reason was that we didn’t own a car, even though we were a family of five, living in a house in a small province about 5 km from the city. In the early days, my mother would prepare her three boys for a cold bike ride before dawn and then, with me in a wagon attached to her bike and my brothers on their own bikes, deposit us at three different locations, all at least 2km away from each other, before catching a train at 7:30 to go to a whole other town, about a marathon away, to work as an physiotherapy intern.
This is the environment I grew up in. We were three brothers that were always covered in grass and mud from playing in the fields and our parents were solid DIY’ers, to use a modern phrase.
All of our clothes was passed onto us from other family members or neighbors. You could be sure that the shirt I wore had been worn by both my brothers and a couple of people before that. We didn’t have a lot of money, as my dad was studying and my mother a paid intern, but we still bought as much organic food as we could get our hands on.
Their philosophy was that you can save on a lot of things, but food is not one of them. As I grew up and grew more independent, I brought this mindset with me, so in my daily life back in Denmark I bought mainly organic produce, and never any meat, and the few times a year that I bought new clothes, I bought it second hand.
For about one and a half year before I left for Japan, I was working as a barista with specialty coffee in the culture capital of Europe: Aarhus.
Japan and a zero waste lifestyle in Tokyo
In the end of August, I bought a two way ticket to Japan, scheduled five weeks ahead. My stay was going to be more than ten weeks, and I had not thought the decision through at all. Over the course of a month I got a new passport, the necessary vaccines, a working visa and I even managed to secure two job positions.
I found Yumi’s place about a week before I was scheduled to leave, and I thought straight away that it was a unique opportunity for me to explore methods of living more sustainably while seeing a bit of the hassle of Tokyo.
When I arrived, I found myself in a completely foreign culture and I felt somewhat uncomfortable being so out of place. The work I had to do improved this situation greatly, though, and one week into my stay I was enjoying every hour of it. I had some unrealistic expectations about the extent of the no-waste, but what I found was a serious, but realistic approach that was doable in Tokyo, where I was shocked to find everything wrapped in plastic.
My work consisted mostly of walking around in the area around Ogikubo, where I have been staying. During the first days I would have the objective of finding spent coffee grounds and whole wheat bread that wasn’t wrapped in plastic. Both tasks proved themselves more difficult than I would’ve thought, and I didn’t find any bread nearby before a week into my stay.
The popular coffee chain Doutour was my savior when it came to the coffee grounds and they are yet to let me down. These coffee grounds we are using to make a bran for a type of compost called bokashi composting, which turn food scraps into more readily available nutrients through an odorless anaerobic process. This means it’s great for people living in the city who want to do something with their food scraps.
The bokashi compost leaks a liquid called bokashi tea which is a potent fertilizer for soil, which can help make your plants grow nice and strong. Sadly the bran takes three weeks to activate, so I won’t get to use it, but the fermentation is going in the right direction!
I also went around to most of the nearby vegetable stores to write down what vegetables and fruits they offered without plastic. We are using this info to make a list and later a map over the area that shows where you can buy which produce plastic free.
The hope is that this will make it easier for the people in this area to avoid plastic. I was also sent out to rice and tofu shops that offer their product in bulk, meaning you can bring your own container and buy as much as you’d like while avoiding plastic.
All the rice shops and the one tofu shop I visited boasted such a lovely local vibe, and the rice stores have usually been in the same place for ages meaning it’s tiny, old and super traditional. The tofu we bought at the tofu store was the softest and tastiest tofu I had ever had. So basically, my job was to walk around in my own mellow tempo in local areas and visit cute and dainty shops and see what they offered and sometimes buy a bit of whatever we needed for supper. I usually went out around lunch and took a break in the afternoon in small cafés. Now when I think back, it sounds almost too good to be true!
The above mentioned was the main type of work I did, but now and again I would do other small jobs like making food, putting up a fence for the cats on the terrace, preparing for a super typhoon (casual, huh) and writing articles, presentations and blog posts. One of the days I spent in a sweet little coffee bar just reading up on sustainable fashion. I must say, it’s for sure the most delightful work I have ever done in return for food and accommodation! The last time I volunteered, the work involved a lot more toiling, feuds and feces…
Ecovillages in Southern France
In April this year, I set out on what would become my biggest and most life-changing adventure yet. I had resigned my apartment in Aarhus and quit my job and decided to go travelling for a couple of months. My plan was to go to the French Pyrenees, where I had contacted a small farm via the WWOOF website.
To avoid flying, I hitchhiked all the way and found myself in a beautiful medieval French village, surrounded by snow-capped mountains in about five days’ time. About 16 km away from this town was an old, traditional village hidden by steep mountain hills and blooming trees. Beside the village, nestled in the bursting springtime nature, was a tiny hamlet with five small houses at the top of thin, overgrown, slithering stairwells.
My room smelled of smoky wood and the view from the window was the beautiful wooded Pyrenees and the unreal wonderland that was this farm. Most of the work we did was to prepare the soil for planting. This was done by removing all the unwanted growth as well as rocks and roots and after that loosen the soil, all by hand.
We had big meals twice a day and worked about five hours five times a week. All the produce they grew was for their own consumption. Their method was to buy food in spring for the workers and themselves and from late summer they would live off of their land. To earn the money they needed for the food and plants, they all had jobs on the side. The place was collective living meaning it was very social and all the food was shared equally.
To live a sustainable life, they said, you must find sustainable ways to cover your basic consumption needs: Water, food and energy. The water was naturally sustainable in this hamlet, as it came from a river that sent clean water from the top of a snow-capped mountain through miles and miles of filtering moss. Water was considered almost an infinite resource in the area and in the middle of the tiny hamlet stood a pool of water with a tap that was always running.
The source of their food was sustainable in different ways. During spring they had too little in the garden to feed themselves and all their workers, so they bought all of their food at the farmer’s market that was held every Friday in the nearest town, Foix. Here they bought all their food directly from local, organic farmers, supporting the local community.
To earn the money they needed for they food, all the inhabitants had part time jobs on the side, living a sort of double life. From late summer they were able to live self-sufficiently from their garden.
They had not found a way to harvest the energy from the river and turn it into electricity, so their source of energy was not yet sustainable. However, they had greatly reduced their consumption of it by not having electric heating or fridges or televisions and other things that gobble up power like a vintage American car.
Other ways they managed to live with a smaller impact on the environment was to reuse and recycle a lot of their items. Most of their furniture and tools was second hand and often free, meaning that it wasn’t ideal to work with, but it got the task done. They had two dry toilets and no regular toilets, which you get used to after a while – even though emptying the bucket is a “hella gnarly task” as my Californian friend called it. Normal toilets waste a lot of water, which we all know, but on top of that they are avid polluters of the ground water due to, well, to the shit that’s in it.
Their approach to a sustainable lifestyle is of course not something that you can implement in the city, as there isn’t the option for free running water, a large garden for vegetables and dry toilets.
What I have learned
Both journeys have in different ways helped me realize just how unhealthy our modern lifestyle is for the planet that we owe everything to. Even though Tokyo has been much less extreme than France, which I still recall like an absurd dream, I have gained some perspective and new knowledge. I know that I will be more aware in the future of how much plastic I waste, and especially while I am still in Japan.
I was overwhelmed by the sheer amounts of plastic that is used in Tokyo – the city is basically covered in a vast, conventional and convenient plastic film. In Denmark I have been focusing much more on whether it was organic or not, as the plastic packaging is much less overwhelming than in Tokyo, meaning you forget a bit about it.
I will definitely also remember what I have researched about the clothing industry. Even though I have never been a devout shopper, I do occasionally buy “fresh” clothes, without caring much about the product. I will try to be good at spreading the word about the clothing industry when I get back, as this is a thing that Denmark sometimes seems to be blindsided with, and we have the money to make the right choices.
In Denmark, as I see it, we like things that look sustainable. If we follow the superficial sustainable guidelines, we can feel good about ourselves and carry on with our lives the way we like to. Many of us cycle or take the bus to work and organic shopping is also common, however we are bad when it comes to travelling, shopping and streaming, which all take a toll on the environment. People in Denmark like their small prolonged weekend trips to hot places, and I have already been protesting these habits to friends and others, but I would like now to also protest our fashion habits, just to make people aware of the choices that they’re making, and I think it’s easier to convince someone to buy second hand clothing than to not leave Denmark when they have the winter blues and the money to go.
I have really enjoyed my time here with Yumi; she’s such a friendly soul and a delight to speak with. I got to burry myself in sustainable practices on the city level, which is where it applies for the most of us, instead on the rural level, as I did in France. I think this will help me make my habits more sustainable on a day to day basis, and I heartily encourage anyone who reads this to give it a try! Spend your days wandering about in peaceful neighborhoods at your own tempo while learning how to live a better life. I mean come on, what’s not to like!