At this point, you’ve chosen to start making small changes and wrote out your lists of goals. As time passes, you’ll get to congratulate yourself on your successes, but you’ll also run into negativity that can make those goals hard to stick to. Part 4 in my How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste series addresses various ways of avoiding pessimism caused by feelings of inadequacy, eco-anxiety, and judgement. Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 before continuing.
Part 4 – Avoiding Pessimism
You see the effects of human existence more and more each day. From litter on the street to oil spills and mass deforestation, humans are dirty and the general public still seems to be moving in the wrong direction. The news on TV is depressing and the little voice in your head asks, “Are we too late?” But even when you turn to like-minded communities, you can be met with discouragement.
Something I’ve noticed since sustainability has become trendy and more mainstream is that it often ends up discouraging people by setting up high expectations and unattainable goals. So many times I have come across this statement “I’m not anywhere close to zero waste, but [insert a whole list of great things they do for the environment]”.
I myself fallen victim to its perfectionist tone. We try to be truthful about our current situation and misrepresent our carbon footprint, but on the flip side, we convince ourselves we aren’t good enough. Despite everyone saying that zero is just a goal and not something anyone can actually do, the lasting impacts of trash jars compared to your big garbage bag are much more resonant.
I wrote this post not too long after performing one of my occasional audits of everything disposable I own and what’s in my trash. It made me disheartened. I was comparing myself to others who are so much better than me, even if it’s only because they’ve been at it longer, and I became upset that I wasn’t doing enough.
I feel like a lot of us fall into this at some point, feeling like we aren’t doing enough and what we are doing isn’t making a difference. In this post, I’ll discuss five tips for avoiding pessimism about both your personal future and the planet’s.
This is something all humans do naturally. We compare ourselves to others to see how good we are, and it can be a handy device. But when you’re comparing entirely different living situations, it becomes like apples and oranges. I have always liked this quote:
“Don’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.”
And something to add to that is “You aren’t even reading the same book.”
Some of us have access to bulk bins and money to spend on those items, but some of us don’t (see How to Shop without Bulk Bins). Some of us live with others who control certain aspects of your situation (see Living with Non-Zero Waste People). And some of us don’t live near farmers markets or public transportation.
Every situation is different, and you can’t sit there and throw a pity party because someone’s seemingly doing a bit better. By comparing yourself to others instead of focusing on yourself and what you can control, you will end up discouraging yourself from doing better.
Work Through The Judgement
It’s going to be impossible to avoid some type of judgement during this journey. Waiters may look at you funny when you pull out your container from home and start scooping in leftovers. Your family may push back against wishes for sustainable alternatives or trips to farmers markets or thrift shops. You may be told you’re a hippie for working toward a better life.
You just have to keep going.
Don’t let words or looks discourage you. If you’re confident enough, take these moments as a chance to explain why you’re making these changes. Start up a conversation, but avoid being preachy and holier-than-thou. If you prefer to stay silent, lead by example.
If you’re struggling with pushback from people in your household, check out my post on Living with Non-Zero Waste People for more information on how to encourage others to start making changes and focusing on your own journey by continuing to make the decisions you can control.
Focus On What You Can Control
Like I said, everyone lives a different life. There’s no point in getting stuck on the fact that you don’t have a grocer with bulk bins. You can still limit the amount of packaging you purchase. You can still choose to walk or bike instead of driving if your destination is just down the road. You can still refuse, refuse, refuse trash from coming into your life.
There’s no set instruction manual on reducing your impact on the earth. If you can’t make some certain change in your life, move on to the next idea but keep that skipped one in the back of your mind. Maybe someday you can make that change once something in your life changes.
It’s okay if you can’t do everything right this minute. What matters is that you are doing the best you can with the resources you have.
Reflect On How Far You’ve Come
The only comparing you should be doing is to your past self. Everyone needs a little building up sometimes. When I start feeling like I’m not doing enough, I list out some changes I have made and think about what impact those have had.
I think about all those plastic bags I didn’t bring home from the grocery store and those foam takeout clamshells I refused at restaurants in favor of the container I brought.
I also think about the community and all the good they have done. This isn’t a contest; we’re a team. It isn’t about who can generate the least trash in a year. It isn’t about who can own the most eco-friendly products. This is a movement toward ensuring a better future for our planet.
So many people have taken steps, however few or small, to better this planet we live on, and that number is growing. Remembering the good we have done encourages me to seek out more changes I can make in my personal life.
Find Solutions And Work Toward Them
If looking back on what you have already done doesn’t work, look forward! After I completed that trash audit I mentioned, I went through the list and tried to find solutions to reduce its length the next time I audit myself. My free trash audit worksheet not only helps you document waste, but it also helps you brainstorm solutions. Click here to get yours!
For example, I noticed I eat a lot of single serving snacks, so I decided to cut back on them and eat foods that come with less packaging (portioning out from a larger container, choosing different foods entirely, etc.). Now it’s rare for me to eat single serve foods, and I meal prep most weeks.
Although my bathroom still has quite a few plastic items, it makes me happy knowing they will not be replaced once finished. I’ve used up all my body wash and have switched to bar soap, I’ve switched to bamboo toothbrushes, and I can’t wait to switch to compostable floss hopefully sometime this year.
In the meantime, I can busy myself with working on reducing my impact in other ways so I don’t have time to even worry about what someone else might be doing better. By keeping busy with yourself and hopes for the future, avoiding pessimism will become easier and easier.
Using these tips has stopped me multiple times from giving up on trying to live the lifestyle I want. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we’re on the same team, we can only do what we can do, and we can still keep moving forward.
The key to avoiding pessimism comes down to one thing: remembering why you’re doing this in the first place, which is the topic for the fifth and final post in the How to (Finally) Start Going Zero Waste series. We’ll finish it up on next week!