How a German Woman in Thailand Survives By Living Like a ‘Communist’

As an German expat living in Thailand, Madeleine Recknagel felt a huge disappointment in finding garbage almost everywhere she went, even in places that are supposed to be cared for. 

Not wanting to contribute to the growing garbage problem, she decided in 2015 that she will live a zero-waste lifestyle in Bangkok. Two years hence, Recknagel has continued living in a unique manner where she simply doesn’t create trash, reported Coconuts Bangkok.

Producing zero waste, of course, isn’t easy. The average Thai, for instance, produces 1.1 kg (2.4 lb) of trash daily, contributing to the estimated 26.9 million tons of garbage the entire country produced by 2015.

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Realizing the gloomy reality, Recknagel began to embark on her zero-garbage lifestyle by taking inspiration from her life during her childhood in communist East Germany, noting the stark difference in lifestyle with her adult life which she spent in America.

“Growing up behind the Iron Curtain, I owned one pair of jeans, living in the States I had 35,” she was quoted as saying.

The communist government and the poverty it brought to her family have taught her how to make the most of limited resources — while in the U.S., she witnessed how people lived in excess.

In Thailand, she finally had a realization: “I was blown away by how wasteful I had become. I made a personal decision to rethink my habits.”

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She was so committed to her lifestyle that her friends thought she had gone crazy.

Living a life she calls a “nearly zero-waste lifestyle” in Bangkok has been a challenge as there is no current community program in her area that caters to such an approach. She applies her own seven-point mantra of rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, repair, recycle, and rot.

In her chosen lifestyle, she gets to eat without contributing to waste by avoiding food with plastic and styrofoam packaging. Instead of frequenting supermarkets, she buys her goods from traditional shops, stalls and farmers’ markets.

“Every six months, I travel to Chinatown to buy rice, grains, and nuts in bulk, which means less packaging. I carry my reusable bags and small cotton baggies with me everywhere so I never have to use a plastic bag. A reusable water bottle refilled at home is essential too.”

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She does away with disposable utensils and uses glass and wooden wares even when on-the-go. Her leftover food goes straight to her condo’s balcony to decompose so she can later use fertile soil for growing plants.

Instead of using traditional toiletries and cleaning materials that use plastic packaging, Recknagel has found a bio alternatives online which she now uses.

“I also began to make my own everyday products, like toothpaste and deodorant, which I make out of baking soda, coconut oil and cornstarch scented with essential oils. I add beeswax to make a solid version for hubby,” she said. 

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For those who want to emulate Recknagel’s garbage-free lifestyle, she further shares her tips and practices on her blog The Sustainable Self and Facebook page of the same name.

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