Why “Guilt” Has No Place in the Zero Waste Lifestyle
Why do I love the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyle? Well, there are lots of reasons, but a big one is this: knowing that every single day I can make a difference and have a positive impact. Every single day I have the potential to create waste, and the opportunity to avoid it.
We all do.
This is something we can all be excited about, and embrace.
There are so many things in the world that are out of our control. Decisions we have little or no influence over. Policies or actions we cannot change. Despite this, we do have the ability to look at our own personal choices.
We all have some influence, even if it is at the household level. We have control of our own personal actions, and we can do the best we can.
We can choose carefully, considerately, and deliberately. We can do our best.
And that is something to feel really good about.
Which means that embracing the plastic-free and/or zero waste lifestyle should be something we feel good about.
Yet all too often, those good vibes are mixed in with something else.
How is it that doing something good can make us feel guilty?
Because it shouldn’t. Yet it does.
For me, I think guilt comes from falling short of “perfect”.
We can strive for improvement. We can aim for better. Indeed, setting goals and working towards improving has plenty of positives.
But it can also be exhausting. We all have our limits.
Most of us will hit these limits long before we reach “perfect”. If perfect even exists.
There’s a gap between wanting to be perfect, and coming up short. This is where guilt sets in.
When it comes to living plastic-free and zero waste, guilt isn’t helpful. We want to feel good about the actions we take and choices we make. Feeling good is the best way to keep going.
Feeling guilty can be paralyzing; like it’s all too hard. Guilt can lead us to think it’s-not-good-enough-so-why-bother-anyway.
That’s not what we want at all! Something is better than nothing. Trying is better than not trying. However imperfect it may be, bothering is most definitely better than not!
Guilt is a topic I keep coming back to. I’ve talked about how being perfect is an illusion. I’ve talked about how it is important to share all the bits of zero waste living, not just the best (photogenic) bits.
There’s another aspect of guilt that I think we need to talk about. How we support one another in our imperfect choices, and the things we say. We have the power to encourage, and we have the power to deflate.
What we say, and how we say it.
It’s so easy, when we’re excited or passionate about a topic, to trip up on this. However well-meaning our intentions are. For example, someone tells us about their newly purchased reusable. And we point out that there’s a better or more ethical version. Or we tell them that it’s easy to find that same item second-hand.
We’re excited to share our knowledge. We’re excited to encourage the next steps.
But it can leave the person feeling judged and inadequate. It can make the person feel unsupported. It implies that they fell short… and that can mean guilt.
It’s not the intention, but it can be the outcome.
I had this experience recently when I threw away my old bag. I received a couple of comments, obviously well intentioned: Couldn’t I have coated the bag in wax? Couldn’t I paint it? Couldn’t I cover it with new fabric?
By this point, the bag was already in landfill. I immediately felt guilty. Guilty for not trying harder to salvage the bag.
And then I thought… no. I try really hard to reduce my waste. I rarely send anything to landfill. (This bag is the most I’ve sent to landfill in years.) I share my tips and insights, and encourage others to reduce their own waste. I do a lot already. I know I’ll never be perfect, and I never said I was perfect.
No, I should not feel guilty for not learning to sew, or researching fabric paint (that comes plastic- and packaging free).
No, I should not feel guilty for discarding one old, worn out thing; and buying one new thing in its place.
No, I should not feel guilty for not being perfect, or not putting up with something that has really served its purpose.
The point is, I did the best I could.
Don’t we all do the best we can?
In which case, shouldn’t we be cheering one another on?
Any change in the right direction is a positive, however small and imperfect it might be. When others make changes, it shouldn’t matter if it’s not the change that we would make. Let’s celebrate their achievements. There’s no need to point out the “better” choices.
There are so many people in the world oblivious to the impact of plastic on the environment, unaware of the resources wasted with single-use items, too wrapped up in the culture of convenience to realise how much it’s harming the planet. Let’s not rebuke those taking steps to do something better.
Judgement and guilt-tripping is not going to inspire anyone to keep trying. Encouragement and inclusiveness, that’s much more motivating.
Let’s be kind. We’re all in this together. We must celebrate the wins. Applaud the steps in the right direction. Cheer on any decision that’s an improvement on the previous one.
In my view, the plastic-free and zero waste lifestyles are all about encouraging others to make better choices. And any step in the right direction is better than no steps at all.
Let’s not berate others for how far they’ve got to go. Let’s celebrate how far they’ve come.