English is littered – excuse the pun – with expressions related to sustainability. Just think of your ‘carbon footprint’ – it doesn’t make you an ‘eco warrior’. Still, there are plenty of green-themed words from languages around the world it could borrow. After all, we can all agree it’s bad to waste food. But do you use bread to mop up leftover sauce on your plate? There’s an Italian phrase for that. And do you appreciate the stories behind blemishes in old objects? That’s something honored in the Japanese lexicon. For anyone into traveling sustainably, there’s a lot to learn from other languages. Here are eight words and expressions that should exist in every dictionary.

Zhuǎn sòng (Mandarin Chinese) 

a woman putting clothes away in a box for donation

Got an old sweater gathering dust in your wardrobe? Don’t just chuck it out – pass it on to someone who might cherish it. That’s the philosophy behind the Mandarin Chinese phrase ‘zhuǎn sòng’. Its closest English counterpart might be to ‘hand something down. The only difference? Zhuǎn sòng is about passing on unwanted presents you’ve received yourself. Regifting never felt so green.

Fare la scarpetta (Italian)

a plate with some tomato sauce and a piece of bread used to soak the sauce

Sometimes a dish is so darn delicious you want to soak up every last morsel. In Italy, this is such a regular occurrence that it even has its own name – ‘fare la scarpetta’. Specifically, it means cleaning the sauce on your plate with a piece of bread. In a world of colossal food waste, mopping your bowl is no bad thing. And perhaps difficult to resist when you’re in front of a steaming Bolognese.

Kintsugi (Japanese)

an image of a cracked dish with the cracks painted in gold

Most of us have an old, battered object that we just can’t let go of. And why should we? According to the Japanese philosophy of Kintsugi, its history is something to be appreciated. Rather than trying to disguise any flaws, Kintsugi teaches us to embrace the imperfect. So, try and repair that cracked dish before throwing it in the trash can. After all, it tells a story.

Drogie jest tanie (Polish)

a woman shopping in a boutique store

Buying a discount coat from a chain store might seem like a bargain. That is until you wear it twice before it starts falling apart. That’s when a Polish speaker might tell you ‘drogie jest tanie’. Translated roughly to English, that means ‘expensive is cheap’. In other words, sometimes spending more is an investment – it’s cheaper in the long run. Just be sure to keep the receipt.

Buen Vivir (South American Spanish)

a picture of a man resting his back on a tree

It stems from the Quechua people of the Andes, who called it ‘sumak kawsay’. In Spanish, it’s referred to as ‘buen vivir’. So, what is it? Well, it’s an entire worldview based around community-centric, ecologically-balanced actions. Seeking harmony with nature, as well as with those around you. Good living – its loose English translation – is all about thinking beyond yourself. 

Waldeinsamkeit (German) 

a picture of a person walking alone in the forest

Being alone in a forest may have been the basis of many a horror movie. Yet when that sun dapples through the tree leaves, there’s no better feeling. In German, being by yourself in the woods – waldeinsamkeit – is the ultimate meditation. It’s the sensation of being at peace with the universe, away from the hustle and bustle of modern consumerist life. And a great reminder of how important being in nature is to our mental wellbeing. (Until you get lost, that is).

Tingo (Pascuense)

a picture of many different object including plates, a map, some tools, an ashtray, a tea cup, a brush and a marble figurine

Reduce, reuse, recycle – these are the guiding principles of eco friendliness. On Easter Island, reusing – or rather, borrowing – is ingrained in the culture. After all, being able to borrow stuff from your neighbors is always handy. But Tingo, as it’s called in the local language, takes the concept to another level. It means you gradually take one thing at a time until you have everything from their home!

Merak (Serbian)

a woman walking in an empty field surrounded by tall grass

A walk in the park, birds singing – it’s the simple things that bring us the most pleasure. That’s the message of the Serbian word Merak. With them comes a sense of oneness with the universe. And in a world of over-consumption (where we’ve all been guilty of indulging in a little retail therapy for some instant gratification) it’s a reminder that the small comforts in life are often best — and free. When things get you down, keep this little word in your head (and empty your online shopping cart).

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