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How To Stop Feeling Guilty About Climate Change — And Actually Start Making A Difference

More and more people are committing to sustainable practices every day, and for this reason, we can have hope.

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Gball/ Shutterstock
Gball/ Shutterstock

The following is an excerpt from “A Pocket Guide to Sustainable Food Shopping: How to Navigate the Grocery Store, Read Labels, and Help Save the Planet.”

Once you begin to notice plastic and other needless waste, you won’t be able to stop noticing. You’ll wonder why that tin of organic nuts you bought had to come with a plastic seal. You’ll roll your eyes at plastic straws, kick yourself for allowing a beautiful bunch of carrots to shrivel, feel physically ill from taking a swig from a plastic water bottle, and question why the hell you have so many Christmas ornaments, anyway.

I’ve spent a lot of time feeling really terrible about every imperfect purchasing decision I’ve made. (Sometimes I can’t bear to tell a cashier I have my own bag when they’ve already expertly packed my stuff.) Anne Marie Bonneau, aka the Zero-Waste Chef, has dubbed this condition Environmental Guilt Syndrome.

Environmental Guilt Syndrome

Environmental guilt syndrome, or EGS, stems from the desire to be perfect in the decisions you make to cut your plastic consumption and never let a sweet potato sprout eyes and wrinkle again. But “it’s impossible to be perfect,” Bonneau says. “I think if you try to be perfect, you’re just going to be paralyzed, and you might not do anything.”

EGS is along the same lines as “eco-anxiety,” a condition the American Psychological Association describes as the feelings of helplessness and dread associated with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.” This is real stuff.

There’s a saying that’s popular in the waste-focused space that might help you shake some guilt: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

Also: the gargantuan amount of waste our world has produced, collected, and improperly disposed of—none of that is your fault. “Our society is not set up to make it easy to live sustainably,” Bonneau points out. “We’re all swimming upstream.”

But the point is we’re still swimming. More and more people are committing to sustainable practices every day, and for this reason, we can have hope.

I ask you to find solace in the fact that you will never be perfect (in your fight against food waste—or anything, really).

Accepting this imperfection will free you to make progress.

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