Friday, 23 January 2009

Zero Waste: On avoiding obsession

So it's the end of a long week of celebrations. I've just dropped little J off at his chess club and I've got a delicious hour to myself in the lounge of the stunning Angel Hotel, in Bury St Edmunds.

Peace at last eh... one whole hour to stop and pause in the perfect setting, sat next to the glowing embers of the open fire.

Just what I need after the mad rush of yesterday, an opportunity to quietly reflect on the developments of the last twelve months.

Like any other challenge, a zero waste lifestyle requires focus, careful attention and a particular drive to achieve your goal, bringing with it a gradual change of habits. It also demands research and a new learning curve as you explore alternative products that fit your personal needs and that are easy to process through your local recycling system. But above all else a zero waste journey needs commitment if you want to maintain your waste minimisation goals.

Then just like any other learning experience, you suddenly realise that after so much hard work focusing on this, that and t'other, your new lifestyle has become the norm, with new routines, rewarded with unpackaged goods and sustainable brands that suit your needs and your pocket.

It becomes automatic, just like breathing and remembering to clean your teeth.

Now that's a comfortable place to be.

But what about the other side...the other challenge to your zero waste experience?

If you're not careful it can gradually creep up on you and bite you on the bum when you least expect it.

You see, while you're busy changing your ways to reduce what you buy, reuse what you've got and recycle what you don't need, you gradually wake up to the fact that your passion and commitment is benefiting the environment. And every small action you take to save and preserve valuable resources is one small step closer to sustainability.

And that's the real killer isn't it?

Suddenly, you can be left with the burden of saving the planet single-handedly, just you and your bin. And what comes with your new sense of passion is the risk of guilt... the guilt that forgets what you have achieved and focuses on what you haven't.

And let's not forget the deep frustration over situations outside of your control...from the lack of recycling facilities on your doorstep to the unsustainable choices made by certain manufacturers and retailers. Before you know it, you're even following national politics and you may even find yourself glancing at bin bags as you walk along the street, asking don't they know and don't they care?

But beware, because you don't really want your beautiful rays of passion to get lost in the murky world of obsession. And there is a fine line.

Instead you need to keep it real.

You need to keep your passion alive.

And you need to keep perspective.

If things are out of your control, don't worry. If the kids won't co-operate, keep teaching. If there is a lack of facilities in your local area, seek the help of your local council. And if you're not satisfied with a manufacturer's packaging, contact them to find out their plans. Of course, if you're still not happy, vote with your feet and switch products or brands as appropriate.

But then again, you could sit back, relax and wait. There's nothing wrong with that.

You may feel responsible for your actions, but don't feel guilty if you can't resolve everything. After all Rome wasn't built in a day. Just be glad that you've done your best and feel reassured that there are others working with the same goals too. While councils keep focusing on improving targets, responsible manufacturers are continuing to work on their packaging. Changes may not happen as quickly as we would like, but they are happening. Indeed you can follow some of the big names that have officially signed up to WRAP's Courtauld Commitment by clicking here.

And yes I have had my own obsessive moments too, like the time I cried at the Recycling Centre when I saw perfectly reparable bike that had been left when it could have been "freecycled". Then there was the day I happily let a friend take her baby's dirty nappy home with her - at her own suggestion I should add, but still, I could have offered to put it in my bin.

But these days, I'm more cool about stuff. I acknowledge there is too much waste in the world but have trust that the more people who are inspired to reduce it, the more folk they can inspire and so on. And I don't mind if my own bin isn't entirely empty. I could make it slimmer than one small bag a month, but that would mean a lot more work, with time I don't always have. So I just do what I can do and one bag is good enough for me.

So if you start feeling guilty, refocus on what you can easily achieve and if it turns out to be impossible, then don't worry. You are only human after all. Just let the guilt go free and concentrate on enjoying your passion and trust that people will follow your footsteps.



Strawberry Jam Anne said...

You are quite right Mrs A. You cannot be responsible for others, can only suggest and lead by example. I can see how easily it could become an obsession. I find myself feeling guilty if I just "throw things out" and often retrieve items and re-cycle, or re-use. And it is becoming a way of life! A x

Anonymous said...

Really good post, Mrs A. We have to keep things in perspective and just do our bit. I totally get what you are saying though, I have this 'thing' when someone in the queue infront of me is given a bag for 1 item. Aaaaaaaargh. I just want to go righ tup to them and challenge them LOL!

Mrs G x

Anonymous said...

Hi Mrs A,

The whole idea of our Zero Waste trend is to push out and increase the range of items which are Zero Waste, and thus reduce waste.

Admittedly, it is a minority interest with most oblivious to the waste situation. We can at best set a meaningful example which others can follow without too much difficulty.

I enjoy the challenge and stay positive. Most are supportive and get my thanks everytime.

One thing recently gave me a start "Zero Waste with EfW". Zero Waste for Zero Warming makes more sense now.

Unknown said...

Great post and great blog. I'm looking forward to reading past posts...I often get caught up in the whole cycle - must reuse/freecycle/recycle. But as you've said it's VERY time consuming. Sometimes I have to just let go and not feel guilty over what I'm not doing. And feel proud of what I am doing to make a change however small it may be.

Layla said...

Yeah, I can totally relate... I can get obsessed (especially after reading an article or such) about not having single-handedly stopped the terrible non-recycling business (or bad 'recycling' practices) in Asia or Africa... or the incinerators, or the nuke plants..

And then I have to remind myself, I am not a 'Master of Universe' :) & just look at accomplishments so far & what all you lovely people are doing... & remember we're all doing already much more than the 'average' consumer.. and that we were 'average' too & if we could have our eyes open maybe the neighbours & others can do it too.. :)
'One step at a time...' :))

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Anne - ooh the guilt, it can get you every time can't it. So glad it's not just me. Isn't it great though when all your good work becomes second nature :-D x

LOL Mrs G...what aboutthe following approach "Excuse me, may I help you with your shopping" and pop it all into a free cotton bag labelled "MyZeroWaste" LOL

Hi John - it's interesting to see that our little minority interest is starting to roll out to more and more people across the country. And many manufacturers and retailers are doing their bit to support the waste industry. You're right about thanking those involved in making the effort. Wouldn't it be great if there was a way to thank the consumers who do their bit too.

Interesting point about Energy From Waste systems. I'm afraid I don't know much about then to comment. :-D

Hi Kiki - welcome to the blog and thank you for sparing the time to join in. It sounds like you're going great guns.

I think the best analogy for your good efforts is to think of us all as children...we often forget to praise kids for their good behaviour or when they are sitting quietly. It's only when they are disruptive do we have what is then a negative reaction. Likewise we forget about all the good things we ourselves do during the course of the day. Then when we make what we feel are "naughty" choices, we have a tendency to beat ourselves up over it.

It's the positive thoughts that must win over :-D

Hi Layla - That's so well said and a reminder how far so many folk have come. Thank you for that. That's brilliant :-D

Katy said...

Great post - we do need a little nudge like that now and again. I think it's also important for people to decide on their own priorities and then just trade off as best they can without trying to achieve perfection in every single way at once.

My food shopping this weekend took me back to the local shops (hurrah), but I found myself then trying to mentally juggle the various aspects of the things I was buying - packaging, origin, shop (independent or chain), quality, price.... argh! Definitely time for a deep breath :)

As it was, I decided I was willing to trade a little unwanted packaging (on cucumber and celery) for convenience and time (visiting fewer shops). I still came home with much less packaging than I would have from a supermarket.

Unknown said...

I don't have so much time to comment it but this post was fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I needed to hear someone saying these words! ;)
Danda xxx

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Katy - it's so true about the personal priorities. It's all about fitting and adapting and being happy with that :-D

Hi Danda - I'm glad you found it helpful. Sometimes it's easy for your mind to play Jekyll & Hyde over priorites. Keep doing your bit and your bit is indeed done :-D

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