With so many things happening in the world at any given time, we forget that the smallest things we do today can deeply affect our future. To be more specific, we forget that we are one world, and that we are destroying it one piece of trash at a time. We pay little attention to what we do when we throw away our trash, which more often than not, ends up in landfills, but a lot of it can easily end up in our oceans, making “garbage patches.”

Back in the US, we’re lucky if we have two trash cans, one for all sorts of trash and one for recyclables. On campus, we have paper, plastic, and “regular” trash cans spread out throughout campus. But what about on the streets, at the malls, at parks? Our trash is just something we don’t think about. So what can we do to ensure our planet stays green and our oceans free of plastic?

Living in Portugal, I have become much more aware of all of the trash I produce and the plastic I use. Here, as many other European countries, when you go grocery shopping at big marketplaces, they ask you if you need plastic bags to carry out your groceries, and you get charged for them if you do, so you always need to carry a tote or just grocery bags just to go grocery shopping.

Out in the Lisbon streets, there are these big green tanks, most of them have street art all over them. These big tanks are for glass waste. In Portugal, as well as many other parts of Europe, you can drink alcohol on the streets and because glass is a common material for beverages, after drinking on the street it would only make sense you need somewhere to get rid of your glass.

When I come home and make food at home, I have to always have to remember to separate trash by cartons, plastics and organics, as well as glass, every single day. But it doesn’t end there, just about everywhere on the streets, the parks, malls, etc., there are different types of trash cans specifically so that everyone can do their part by simply just placing our trash in the right place.

Other than having to adapt to this “greener” way of recycling, for one of my Portuguese classes, we have presentations of some sort and then projects related to that. Last week we finished our ecology theme, and we had a presentation by a woman named Nicole, who decided that she wanted to take a step further than just recycling. She found different ways of reducing her “waste footprint,” like switching to bamboo toothbrushes instead of using plastic toothbrushes, carrying a glass mason jar instead of buying or using a plastic bottles or cups when she eats out. She uses canvas bags for grocery and overall shopping, and buys mostly everything local to ensure she is not part of a consumerism that will expand the demand for global shipping, thus reducing the personal carbon footprint there is in buying exported goods. She also makes her own cleaning agents, such as detergents, deodorants, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. And all is done with things that can be found in her own kitchen. Another interesting thing she brought to my attention, as taboo as it is to talk about, was the topic of menstruation. As women, we have to deal every month with menstruation, using tampons and pads that are actually full of toxic chemicals that can cause serious health problems, and recently it has become more a trend among women everywhere to make the switch to menstrual cups as well as reusable pads or underwear with absorbent materials. Its these extremely personal changes that can make a big impact in the long run.

This was a lot to take in, and definitely not changes that can easily be made overnight. But it definitely got me thinking on what more I can do to be greener. Hopefully this can also give you, whoever you are, wherever you are, an idea of how to make little personal changes that can make a big impact for all of us, and for our future.