This may come across as a strange question, but those who know me, know that eating chips is my biggest guilty pleasure. Okay, maybe fries fall into the same category. The point is, I cannot live without potato chips and french fries in my life! But chips are wrapped in plastic bags, so what do you do when you start living a zero-waste lifestyle? I've tried to make my own chips from potatoes but it wasn't a great success, most likely thanks to my cooking skills. Does that mean I’m never allowed to eat potato chips again?
What is eco-guilt anyway?
When I just started living a more sustainable lifestyle I experienced a lot of eco-guilt, but what do we actually mean by that? Eco-guilt is when you feel guilty because you could have done something for the environment but chose not to. Anyone can feel eco-guilt, no matter how environmentally conscious you already are.
I started my zero-waste journey by using less plastic and especially in the beginning I was very hard on myself. I went out of my way to buy groceries in bulk and spent a lot of time searching for alternatives for my personal care products. I even stopped eating certain foods because they were wrapped in plastic. The good thing about taking things so seriously is that you discover the many options that are available, alternatives that have now become normal to me. Although I wouldn’t recommend anyone to change their life so drastically all at once. Simply start with small changes that make you happy. You’ll end up at the same point but will enjoy the process more.
Once I more or less mastered how to reduce my plastic intake, I started to think about where products come from. The most eco-friendly option isn’t always obvious because a Dutch tomato isn’t necessarily more sustainable than a tomato from Spain. Sustainability is about the entire process, from soil to mouth. Warm countries don’t need high-energy cost greenhouses to grow tomatoes, so despite the transport to the Netherlands, it can still be more environmentally friendly to import products from abroad. Of course, eating seasonal vegetables would be the best solution, but nowaday we are so used to eating avocados, mangos and bananas all year round. So many products are transported from tropical countries to the Netherlands but maybe it’s better if I skip the banana for breakfast and enjoy a sweet Dutch apple instead.
Then I started to reduce my meat consumption. By now, I don't eat meat anymore and even eat mostly vegan. Anything I can replace with a plant-based option I do, but so far I haven't been able to find an alternative to a really good piece of cheese or pizza. I still feel guilty when I eat dairy, but I try to find a balance between enjoying life and my role as an eco-warrior. Another dilemma is that some vegan or vegetarian products are wrapped in plastic. Is it then better to not eat meat or to avoid plastic packaging? In this case I would think not eating meat is the best option, but sustainability questions can really cause you to go down this rabbit hole of difficult questions.
Let’s not forget to consider where you buy your stuff. I prefer not to buy anything at all but if I do need something I like to support sustainable and social brands that sell good quality products. But, to be completely honest with you, I’ve still made a few unsustainable purchases in the past few years and immediately that feeling of guilt was real. How can I do that when I know better?
How do you get rid of your eco-guilt?
Evidently, eco-guilt can drive you crazy, mainly because there’s so much to consider when it comes to sustainability. The feeling that you’re never doing enough is annoying and passing on things you love can be stressful. Trying to do the right thing can make your head spin but don't let it demotivate you! Living an eco-friendly lifestyle is actually fun, a whole new world will open up for you.
Thanks to my search for sustainability, I buy good-quality products, I use care products that are better for my health and my house looks tidy. All benefits that make me super happy! When I am suffering from eco-anxiety I think about all the things I already do.
"The key to success" is to not be too hard on yourself. When I first stopped eating meat I had a lot of cravings for certain favourite dishes that I really wanted to eat. After a while it became too difficult, so I gave up and started eating meat again. I didn't feel good about this change, so soon after I decided to eat vegetarian again, but this time I approached it differently. If I craved a meat dish, I would allow myself to eat it. The longer I ate virtually no meat, the less I began to like it. Now I have no cravings at all!
I’m allowed to eat potato chips!
We aren’t going to save the world by obsessing over every little decision we make, that only distracts us from the bigger problem. It causes us to freeze and not want to do anything at all. In the end, guilt causes more harm than good.
Am I perfect? Certainly not! Does that make me a bad person? I sure hope not! I don’t feel guilty anymore about enjoying a bag of chips now and again. I’m already trying my best to do the right thing for people, animals and the climate in many different ways. Just because you don’t do everything right, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything at all.
Don't let eco-guilt demotivate you! Try to enjoy the adventure of making your life more sustainable. It has been an incredible journey for me so far and I’m curious what else will come my way. I discovered delicious recipes, met inspiring people, started living a healthier and more minimalist life and even started my own company! I’ve learnt a lot along the way and will continue to develop myself further because I want to do my part.