I tend to approach new endeavors with an excess of enthusiasm, and when I get into something, I get really into it. An environmentally friendly lifestyle was one of those things I embraced with zeal, and I’ll readily admit that I went a little overboard at first.
Honestly, it’s kind of hard not to. When you begin to educate yourself about environmental issues, it can be challenging to not turn every tiny decision into an agonizing situation where you imagine the negative environmental impacts of your choices. Getting a coffee to go brings to mind the hundreds of thousands of years that plastic lid will languish in landfills. Being served a drink with a straw reminds you of that horrific video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw embedded in its nose. Shampoos are filled with phthalates and SLS. Conventional sunscreens may actually cause cancer. Organic food is better for you and the environment but gets flown thousands of miles to get to you, potentially negating any positive effects.
It’s completely overwhelming and seems to prove definitively the adage that ignorance is bliss. Even when you begin making positive changes — composting, biking to work or making your own home and beauty products — it can be far too easy to focus on all the ways you could be doing better. The car that you still own. The plastic-wrapped products you still buy. The things you can’t recycle. Or, sometimes, after reading zero-waste blogs, even how much you’re recycling.
It’s been more than eight years since I began consciously choosing a more environmentally friendly life, and I feel as though I’ve finally found the middle ground between ignorance and agony. I’m now able to feel good about the decisions I’m making and continually strive to do better, without needlessly beating myself up in the areas in which I fall short. Here’s how I got here:
5 Ways to Beat Recycling Guilt
1. Start slowly, continue sustainably
Sustainability is an important concept in environmental policy, but it’s also an incredibly valuable concept to integrate into your own life as you begin to make changes. It’s far better to make slow, gradual changes that will stick rather than doing a massive overhaul of your life all at once. When you run out of paper towels, begin using rags instead. Switch to recycled toilet paper when you finish your last roll of the eight-ply cushy soft stuff. Learn to make products only as you use up their store-bought versions. Keep your plastic Tupperware until it breaks or wears out…