The challenges of living a sustainable lifestyle in Venezuela (from a Venezuelan’s point of view)
So many of you have been reaching out recently asking me about how people do the whole “zero-waste-sustainable living-thing” in real life. You’ve mentioned how everything looks so easy and perfect on social media but when you try at home, while you’re going about your busy days, etc. things aren’t always as convenient or as simple as you hoped. And I get it, transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle is not easy, and honestly, it takes time and patience — it doesn’t happen overnight (I myself am a work in progress over here).
As a result, and to encourage you along your zero-waste journey, I’ve decided to explore and share the challenges, lessons learned, and experiences individuals from all walks of life are facing when it comes to living a more sustainable lifestyle.
Today, I want to introduce you to Vanessa Campitelli, a sustainable lifestyle blogger and translator from Caracas’s Venezuela who is currently obtaining her masters in the field of Climate Change.
Vanessa reached out to me a few weeks ago about the challenges she faces as someone trying to live an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle while living in Venezuela. We texted back and forth, chatting about some of the more serious problems facing the country today during this time of political and social unrest (food shortages, lack of access to consistent clean water, blackouts, disease, etc.) and the impact it has on one’s daily life, health, and overall wellbeing.
Here’s what Vanessa has to share about her zero-waste journey.
Q&A with Vanessa Campitelli, founder of “More than a Lifestyle”
(Note: I’ve made a few edits to her text but wanted to leave her answers as true to her own voice as possible.)
1. Place of birth: Caracas, Venezuela.
2. City of residence: Caracas, Venezuela.
3. In under 5 sentences please define your blog: More Than a Lifestyle is a conscious and responsible living lifestyle blog that I created to help others realize that our actions, no matter how big or small, can make a difference. No matter where you are, you can always be part of the solution.
4. How long have you been living more sustainably? What inspired the shift?
Three years ago I decided it was time to walk the talk. I’ve been an animal lover, an advocate for the planet since I was little, but I actually never acted as one. So three years ago I decided to be honest with myself and make the shift to living more sustainably.
5. What does being a conscious consumer/living a sustainable lifestyle mean to you?
Well first, for me sustainability means a balance between the economic, the social and the environmental aspects of life. Ethical means that social values are present and respected in the process and development of an activity, a product or even a system.
But before I can explain why I decided to live a sustainable life or share about the challenges I’ve been facing, I need to give you a bit of background on my country, Venezuela.
We have been living under a dictatorial communist system disguised as democracy. Our government has a total control of waste management, it has created some measures such as the establishment of prices on foods that are far below their real value, the creation of a currency exchange control that has a negative impact on the productive system; as well as establishing a minimum wage of $6 per month. All of these have resulted in a lack of sanitary control and an increase in the amount of garbage in the streets, food and medicine shortages and a lack of decent wages for a decent life for most Venezuelans. Of course, these have repercussions on the environment, the economic system and the community.
When I decided to start living a sustainable lifestyle, about two years ago, I knew it was going to be a challenge because, for example, I can not afford most of the ethical brands in the international market nor can I realistically offset all my carbon emissions. But, I also knew that this could be a solution that could help solve some of the problems in my country or at least those I was facing due to my country’s current situation. So, I decided to start making small changes in my life like composting and reducing the amount of plastic at home. For example, before making this transition, we used to produce four big bags of trash per month. And, because the garbage trucks don’t pass by regularly, these bags would often just end up laying on the sidewalk for weeks. Since we’ve transitioned to living a more sustainable lifestyle we only produce about one trash bag per month. I also decided to start growing my own vegetables so I could eat more organic and I have access to food that I couldn’t always find at the market.
Unlike a lot of people in my country, I consider myself pretty lucky. I work for a foreign company online and obtain a foreign currency which has allowed me to buy and replace certain plastic items in my life, such as straws. But there are other items that I can not replace and that are difficult to avoid, such as detergent bottles. Even though there are places where you can recycle these bottles, it’s not something that happens regularly. Another example is when I go to the supermarket to purchase the items I need, my options are sometimes pretty limited. Often the only remaining products are those that are wrapped in plastic. Even finding vegetarian options is hard for me.
6. Why is being a conscious/eco-friendly consumer (individual) important to you?
I think that being a more conscious consumer has helped me gain a better understanding of how things work — the production process, the effort of those who are involved, and the real value of a product. For me, this has been a journey of personal knowledge and growth, one that can allow me to help improve the situation in my country. It has also given me an opportunity to share the lessons I’ve learned with others — I try to encourage others to live a more sustainable lifestyle by sharing small changes they can make in their own lives. I think I’ve given myself the task of understanding all of this so I can help explain to others how this type of lifestyle can be good for them and our planet. It’s my way of making a small contribution to build a new society and rescue the values that have been lost after so many years of misery in my country. So, even though this started as a personal journey, I want to teach others and to help them to have a better quality of life.
7. What is the most challenging aspect of trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
I think that the hardest part has been trying to find organic food or even vegetarian options as well as bulk shopping. These concepts are not very common in Venezuela and, if there are options, they’re extremely expensive.
8. What is one thing you try to do every day to make our planet a better place?
As I said before, I try to teach others the importance of sustainability as a way of living and its benefits. I also organize monthly beach clean-ups. This gives me the opportunity to show and demonstrate the impact of plastic in our coastal areas and how it affects us as humans. This is really important because, due to the food shortages, a lot of people from the coastal areas depend on fishing, so this is a way of showing how humans are eating plastic as well. I also try to teach others that are a bit more privileged about sustainable fashion, help out a few small local brands that are open to becoming more sustainable, and I support all types of eco-friendly projects in my country.
After almost a year and half of having made the transition to living a more sustainable lifestyle, I can see how things have changed in my life. It is very important, for me, to encourage others to demand that a sustainable system be implemented in our country as I believe this could help solve many of the problems that have caused this humanitarian crisis affecting so many in Venezuela today.