I am an expat from the United States living in Ecuador. I’ve lived here for the last seven years. If you think it’s tough living an eco-friendly life in a Western first-world country, try living in a developing country. Oil is one of the top three industries in Ecuador, a very small country in South America. This results in a marketplace absolutely inundated with plastic. While it is still possible to buy some grocery products in glass jars or bottles, they cost more than double those packaged in plastic.
More eco-friendly practices can be seen in the major cities with Cuenca, the third largest city, leading the transformation among the general population. Public transportation has been readily available and heavily used for decades. Buses powered by electricity are being introduced into the fleet of over 400 buses on a budgeted basis.
Additionally, Cuenca, the city I live in, has a magnificent public park system that are built around the four major rivers running through the city. These public parks feature a huge variety of plants, flowers and trees that are native to Ecuador.
On an individual basis, change is slow. However, personal eco-friendly practices and products are becoming more evident. When I moved to Cuenca just over seven years ago, I didn’t see anyone else using reusable shopping bags. Now, the large grocers are selling reusable bags. Though they are made from plastic used to make 50-kilo livestock feed bags and large quantities of grain for consumers (rice, beans, oatmeal, nuts, etc.), they will last for years as they are stitched with industrial strength thread and the material of the bags is nearly indestructible and they are huge. Just one of these bags easily replaces six of the typical single-use bags used by the grocers. To top it off, they only cost $.59!
Handmade reusable bags using cotton canvas or other natural fibers, are readily available to be purchased or custom-made at nearly all of the huge vegetable and fruit mercados (markets) scattered throughout the city. Being on the equator, we have a 12-month growing season. Local and fresh fruits and vegetables are readily and cheaply available year round. Did I hear someone ask for fresh, just-picked strawberries every month of the year?
Though Cuenca, with the highest per capita income and the largest American and European expat community in the country, may not be indicative of the whole country; I am seeing more and more people using all types of reusable bags at the grocery stores. I find this so encouraging because many men in the U.S. shy away from using reusable bags because they see it as being less than masculine. Yesterday, I saw six other people carrying/using reusable bags at the grocery store. Five of the six people were men and four of the six were Ecuadorean — not expats from the U.S. or Europe.
For the first time yesterday I saw a glass bottle that is eco-friendly ready for the consumer. Glass has always been problematic for recycling because the class container must be clean and label-free. This bottle of soy sauce has a zip-off label. All the consumer needs to do to remove the label is to pull down on a thin thread. One quick pull down of the string and the label falls off. I bought this bottle and took it home to check out this system and it worked exactly is intended. That sure beats having to soak the bottle for hours to make it possible to remove the entire label.