Let’s save the planet imperfectly together

I’ve been writing about a lot of sad topics recently, so I decided to start focusing more on light and feel-good stuff for a while. However, this week I read something that really resonated with me and I feel like it’s something that other people probably need to hear.

I was on social media and someone posted a photo with the words,  “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly; we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” This really struck a chord with me.

I feel like a failure when I end up with a styrofoam cup. When I forget my reusable straw or when I forget my reusable cup, I often feel defeated. This isn’t a good place to be and this is when eco burnout can occur. I often feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders and that the pollution issues are up to me to solve. This is obviously not true and I need to be able to take a breath and step back and cut myself some slack. If you are in this boat, you need to cut yourself some slack too.

Yes, styrofoam is terrible and yes, that plastic cup isn’t biodegradable. But it isn’t the end of the world. It often feels very unfair to me that I try to be so careful and conscious of my choices while others are using many non-reusable items every day and they don’t think twice about it.

In some ways I’m jealous of them, and I remember when I used to be them. Before I knew about how awful single-use plastics were and understood that styrofoam doesn’t decompose, I would use one-time-use plastics all the time and I wouldn’t think twice about it. I would use styrofoam containers and plastic cups and then throw them all away and not give a second thought about what happened to them — once they were out of sight, they were out of mind.

Living that way was not good for the planet and I know that now, but it was much easier. As with all new knowledge, there comes power and there comes responsibility. I used my fair share of plastic water bottles, and I recycled them because I grew up recycling. But reducing my consumption was never a thought. Now that I know what I know, it pains me to end up with a plastic water bottle. I carry my own and avoid them as much as possible. But I shouldn’t beat myself up when I end up with one.

Reading these words on a simple post on social media made me realize that I need to give myself a break. I do what I can and I can’t do it perfectly because people aren’t perfect. If I give myself a hard time for using a water bottle on occasion, or if someone gives me a straw before I can refuse, it’s not the end of the world.

The thing that I need to do is to educate more people about plastics and reusable items so we can all do this “reduce, reuse, recycle” thing together. Zero waste is very difficult and we’re not thinking rationally if we expect the whole world to embrace such a radical change overnight. We need to start with baby steps for reducing, reusing and recycling together. We need to take action in ways that allow as many people as possible to make better — but not perfect — choices.

The more people who know and understand, the better off we will be and the happier we will all be. We can do this eco-friendly thing imperfectly together.

About Amanda Wheeler

Amanda Wheeler is the children and teen services librarian at the Lincoln County Public Library. She has a master's in zoology education from the University of Miami and has taught as an educator at the Cincinnati Zoo.

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