How to be Sustainable When You’re Swimming Against the Current

I have two passions: raising my amazing little flower children to be healthy, happy World Citizens; and the environment crisis here on our lovely planet. We moved to Puerto Rico to enrich their sense of culture, but we knew maintaining an “organic/natural lifestyle” would be a challenge on the island.

Spraying them with homemade mosquito repellent, in a glass jar, on the first day of school.

I am privileged in the fact that I have a husband who works extremely hard and is able to provide for myself, as a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) and for our children. I also realize that being born in the U.S., and in particular, being raised in Pennsylvania, has afforded me even more accessibility to the lifestyle I desire for my family.

Despite the fact that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the economy is pretty dismal: the median household income is half as much as the States’ poorest state and the cost of living is higher, with grocery store prices being up to 25% higher than at large U.S. cities. There is also the electricity disaster you have probably heard about after Hurricane Maria; and the hurricane aftermath which has since severely contributed to the existing landfill crisis here.

My little Pennsylvania bubble was quickly popped when I got here and experienced on the daily how good I had it back home. “It’s easy to be sustainable!” is something you will not hear come out of my mouth. Not that I really thought it was that easy in the States to begin with, but there truly are people and places who just don’t have the option to live my prior lifestyle. To be honest, I’m realizing I’m not as sustainable as I had once thought, and I have a long way to go, especially down here on the Isla del Encanto!

So, how do I try to do this? First of all, I packed a ton of shit! But not clothes and “useless” stuff, but things that I thought would help reduce our consumption. You know you have more serving spoons and screwdrivers laying around than you know what to do with! These are random ass things I threw in the luggage, but you know what? I needed them and I didn’t have to go buy more (and now there’s less junk in our house for Uriah to deal with). I packed canvas shopping bags, my extra cast iron frying pan, dry beans (lots of beans lol) and other foodstuffs, those Ikea zip-flat drawer separator things. And these were all extremely useful without needing to buy new. We flew Southwest (can you say great reward points system!) so we were allowed several free bags (and we didn’t even take as much as we could).

Next, we stayed at an Air B&B rather than a hotel for our first week while looking for an apartment. Vacationing at a place with a kitchen is always the way to go when you’re trying to be healthy/save money. Plus, it’s a way to “shop small”, giving a real working person some income. We were able to buy some produce and meat to go with what we had in our luggage, we cooked and stuck to our diets by packing before we left each day.

We found an apartment near the beach, so there’s an excellent breeze, meaning we actually don’t need our air conditioners! (Though I do put it on low at night in the girls’ room because it’s not as breezy in that location.) It was also furnished so that cut down our would-be consumption significantly.

We bought a used car rather than new–out of financial necessity–but that is still “reusing” lol.

We had been on the look out for farmers markets since we got here but we keep seeing the exact same produce everywhere we go. So I’ve been trying to work these local items into our diet as much as possible.

I bought some soil/seeds/seedlings and I’m attempting to balcony-grow a few things, but the aforementioned breeze is not being very kind to my new babies! I also am trying some very basic compost out there in containers, but that doesn’t seem to be going so well either.

I also use “family cloth”, a concept that I learned about while cloth diapering the girls. Essentially, you use cloth wipes when you use the toilet, instead of flushing toilet paper. These wipes are washed and sanitized to use again. Now before you think “that’s gross”, try to be realistic. You know that washcloth in the hotel room you wash your face with was used to scrub clean someone’s balls…but then they’re sanitized and it’s ok! Same with restaurant napkins and utensils and all sorts of things that are out of sight out of mind for most folks. We use family cloth and save a ton of money on TP (and our butts are cleaner, thank you very much 😌).

That’s about the extent of it, unfortunately. I still buy a ton of packaged produce from Costco, I have more trash (since I’m not composting), I did buy several cheap plastic things (like a soap pump, ice cube tray, ugly cheap dish drain). I would love to have gotten more sustainable items but I’m just not wealthy enough. We can barely afford to be here as it is, so I do what I can for now. So until a bag of money magically appears at my doorstep so that I may afford to only buy from local artisans, I’ll just keep picking up trash at the beach and hope it’s helping.

A bag of trash I collected at a beach in Aguadilla

One Reply to “How to be Sustainable When You’re Swimming Against the Current”

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