Happy New Year! I know, I know, it’s been a while since I’ve graced the blogosphere with my unsolicited opinions. A lot has been happening in my life and the rest of the world for the past few months, and I’ve been thinking a lot about my own relationships with sustainability and a zero-waste lifestyle.
Let me admit something: Over the last few months, I haven’t written much because I haven’t felt like a very good environmentalist. I want to talk about some of the thoughts, changes, and challenges–and yeah, failures–I’ve been working through over the last few months, as well as what I learned about myself in that process.
Reflection 1: The Election
…was a shitshow. I’ll go out on a limb and assume that, because you’re reading a radical left-coast eco-feminist’s blog, you tend to agree. But even if our politics do differ, I think we can all at least acknowledge that this election was divisive, fraught, and difficult for many people in our country and across the world to grapple with.
When Donald Trump secured the Electoral College majority, I felt profoundly sad and afraid. I sobbed. In fact, I wept for a week. I was and am terrified for the future of our planet, civil and reproductive rights, healthcare, racial and immigration issues, and a whole slew of other horrors that we face as a nation this year.
The outcome of the election didn’t just affect me psychologically and emotionally, though: It affected my behaviors. I was f*cking sad, just like the majority of voters who turned out this year (After all, let’s not forget that Hills won the popular vote by 3 million). All that existential dread weighed me down and made it hard to feel motivated to stay committed to my zero-waste lifestyle.
Reflection 2: Becoming a Boss (Bitch)
Not everything that happened over the last few months was abjectly horrifying, though. In fact, there was one unequivocally exciting thing that happened for me and my career: I started my own business!
I won’t bore you with the details, but when I’m not saving the environment with quippy blog posts, I write user manuals in Silicon Valley for a living. Thrilling, right? Recently, I left my full-time job at a startup to create my own technical writing consultant business. If you strip that of all its marketing-speak, it means I became a freelance writer.
Building an independent business was hard work. From October through December, I worked three jobs with three different clients. On top of that, I had to learn the ins and outs of running a business, including paying for my own health insurance, talking to accountants and lawyers, and not starving to death as a freelancer. During that time, I was working around 80 hours and 7 days per week.
I love my new business, but newsflash: Working a million hours a week in three different places during the holiday season isn’t exactly conducive to getting your life together–or resisting the temptation of a double-shot espresso in a disposable cup every once in a while.
Reflection 3: Holidays
As we all know, the holidays are a blessing and a curse. Families and friends and traveling and gift-giving are festive and great! But families and friends and traveling and gift-giving are also kind of of a lot, let’s be honest here.
Over the last two months, I was traveling or away from home for 6 weeks… and let’s not forget that I was still working three jobs throughout much of that time. I was completely exhausted.
To ease the burden of gift-giving, I just ordered gifts for friends and family online. Despite my best efforts, they came in giant boxes filled with plastic and styrofoam and packing peanuts. While I was traveling, I ordered fast food in airports and drank sodas out of plastic bottles and took taxis instead of public transportation.
Because I barely had the wherewithal to shower regularly throughout the chaos of holidays, work, and traveling, I sacrificed my zero-waste aspirations for short-term convenience.
I was spending so much time and energy willing myself out of post-election depression, managing a hectic work schedule, and surviving the chaos of the holidays that I dropped the environmentalist ball in almost every way.
I was ashamed of myself. Every time I bought a bag of chips at a corner store, I felt like a hypocrite. Whenever I ordered takeout in plastic containers, I got angry at myself. If I ordered a package online, I felt like a failure. Because seriously, what kind of self-respecting hippie-dippy environmentalist warrior falls to the temptation of a mediocre airport sandwich wrapped in plastic wrap?
At the end of it all, I had bags full of recycling, mountains of boxes, and a trash can full of non-compostable, non-recyclable trash in my home. If you’ve been paying any attention so far, you’ll know that isn’t exactly the aspiration of the zero-waste gospel. So in case you were wondering where the Sustainable Bitch has been the past few months, I’ve been hiding in the landfill of shame that lives within me.
But the point of this blog and my own zero-waste aspirations is to eliminate landfills, not bury ourselves in them!
When I considered giving up my zero-waste lifestyle, I became incredibly sad. I love living a sustainable lifestyle. I love researching, learning, and making informed decisions about my own consumption. I love finding new and innovative ways to make a difference, no matter how small those differences are. And I love talking to friends, family, and strangers alike about environmentalism and how they can make a difference, too.
I realized that, by focusing on my failures, I was losing sight of the impact of my successes. Just because I was ashamed about a few plastic containers or shipping boxes didn’t mean I should throw all plastic shopping bags to the wind and abandon the cause. After all, eating a packaged granola bar one time probably shouldn’t make us feel like we burned down the sequoia forest or poached the last white rhino. Sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint.
But perhaps the most important thing I learned about myself throughout the past few months is how much I care about our environment and the impact that our current events and policies have on the health of our planet. I found myself caring more about donating money, participating in protests, and rallying supporters around a cause than I did about sharing recipes for zero-waste pastries.*
*Aside: That’s not to say that sharing zero-waste tips, recipes, and DIY ideas aren’t incredibly important. After all, I spend a huge amount of my time trolling around the internet to learn new zero-waste tips and tricks all the time, and I encourage others to do the same! But the interwebs are already full of inspiring zero-waste bloggers who are doing a fabulous job helping others figure out how to live a zero-waste lifestyle. They don’t need my competition.
Yeah, Yeah, We Get It, So What’s Next?
Since I started this blog last year, I’ve struggled to find my own voice and my true passion within the zero-waste and sustainability community. What truly ignited my passions for environmentalism? What made my interests, talents, and voice different from my peers’?
My answer was in my actions. Even though I was more stressed and overworked than I have been in recent memory at the end of last year, I still found energy and passion in environmental advocacy, policies, and politics. I made time at the end of a 14-hour workday to sign petitions and write to my representatives. I found the time to educate my friends and family about environmental laws. I donated extra money from working overtime to advance environmental causes. And I did it because I loved it and felt inspired by it, no matter how overwhelmed I was.
I realized that that is how I should be using my voice and my writing to help this community. I’m way better at advocating for environmental policy reform and teaching other people how they can get involved than I ever was at making homemade soaps, anyway. Sure, I’ll probably still throw out the occasional lifestyle tip every once while, but I’d rather help y’all figure out how we can navigate this political hellscape to advocate for positive environmental change for the next four years.
So from here on out, you can call me Madam Sustainable Bitch. And don’t worry: We got this.