frustrations & setbacks
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
This post is a bit different than most. Lately I’ve been frustrated and a bit demotivated with my sustainability journey. Don’t get me wrong- living a more sustainable lifestyle is amazing. Except when it’s not. As I’ve dug deeper into sustainability, looking at the various choices available and researching solutions, I’ve begun to notice the pain points and frustrations I have with many aspects of moving to this lifestyle.
This post is a list of six of my common frustrations, which I am sharing so that anyone else who is going through a similar journey can know they are NOT alone in feeling frustrated at times. I have figured out how to manage some of these pain points, but several others continue to vex me.
1. Starting a sustainable journey is overwhelming
When I started to think about living a more sustainable life, I was extremely excited. For about five whole minutes. I then realized I had no idea where to start or even what living a sustainable lifestyle means. My solution to this initial problem was deciding to start at what I saw as the beginning- defining what sustainability meant to me and setting a few goals, so that I could break the problem into discrete steps and so that I could measure my progress.
The journey has continued to be overwhelming at times, so I frequently have to come back to that initial list to remind myself why I started this journey and what my goals are. Building a sustainable lifestyle may not always be easy, but reminding myself of the reason I started the journey always helps motivate me to continue.
Sustainable options aren’t alway cheap, and some require a larger upfront investment. Sometimes the best option is not to buy at all, such as for new and unneeded clothes, or to buy secondhand, but for many products this just isn’t an option. More brands are coming around to mass market sustainable products, but still have a long way to go to being an available and affordable option for everyone. I am fortunate in that I can afford to buy the better products or spend more money upfront, but this is a real issue that needs to be addressed by brands.
3. Confusing Information, (Un)ease of Choice, and Availability
Figuring out what is the most sustainable option can be a challenge. Which product is actually better: do I choose the plastic bulk container in the store I’m standing in or do I order a glass bottle online that must be shipped to me? It’s sometimes impossible to know at the exact moment you have to make the decision without having done the research in advance.
Further, the definition of sustainability includes everything from ethical treatment of workers to environmental considerations, so it can be a challenge to both weigh these considerations and figure out how to compare them. To say it is a challenge to find a metric that quantifies, equates, and weighs the ethical treatment of workers, a sustainable supply chain, plastic waste, and carbon emissions is an understatement. Fortunately many groups are working on this exact problem, but as a consumer, it takes education and awareness of what is most important to you.
Just as sustainable products can be expensive, they can also be hard to find. Retailers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart can just simply be easier, especially for busy people. It can be hard to search out that site with all the best sustainable options (at least I haven’t found it yet), and I have tended to go to individual retailer’s online stores after doing an hour of research on the best products (or by hearing about them from other sustainable friends). There are many bulk product stores in LA (fortunately for me), but this isn’t the case for everyone, everywhere.
4. SO. MUCH. PLASTIC
Every time I open the fridge, I see all of the plastic containers we have purchased, from the milk I put in my coffee to our salad dressings. Everytime I look at my shower products or makeup, I see the plastic containers of the products I need to finish off. Every time I buy something in plastic, I feel a little pang. In many ways, this can feel like an impossible challenge for consumers as, in many instances, we feel as if we have no other choices (and sometimes the alternatives are not great).
I remind myself that I have made several positive choices that have reduced my plastic use and that feeling hopeless is not productive, but this is a challenge that will not easily be solved. Plastic education and awareness is a start, as is supporting alternative products and lobbying for policy solutions.
5. What do I recycle?? How do I get rid of old, unwanted items?
Recycling is convoluted. I see so many articles about recycling, from the US’s lack of capability to how little is actually recycled. Plus, recycling rules are different in every city or county, making it complex if you are new in a town or are traveling. Recycling numbers are confusing. Plus, items need to be clean and free of food before being recycled.
How am I dealing with this? Well, I’ve been trying to be better about looking things up (maybe I even need to create a little recycling card to carry with me). Another, more simple solution: buy more glass or aluminum, as these can be infinitely recycled.
Recycling odd things like makeup tubes and small containers is a serious challenge as well. I have found sites that allow you to send in small makeup containers (for a fee) as they are unusually complicated to recycle, though I have not yet personally done this.
Getting rid of old items is also complicated (like, for instance, an old coffee table or a suitcase, as we recently had to dispose of). Donations to places like Goodwill or Salvation Army are options, but donations that aren’t likely to sell take up the time and resources of donation locations. Giving an item away for free on sites like Facebook Marketplace is also an option, as it takes no one else’s time and can connect you directly with a consumer.
6. Anxiety, Skepticism, and Gatekeeping
The excess plastic, the lack of product availability, the cost, and the recycling challenges have all separately increased my anxiety when making simple sustainability and purchasing decisions. Prior to starting this journey, I never spent any time thinking about what salad dressing to buy. Now, I spend more time than necessary agonizing over whether to buy a cheaper salad dressing or a pricy one (using glass packaging). In each such instance, eventually I realize that this is not a good use of time and I move on. However, awareness of serious ramifications can paralyze making even simple choices. To combat this, I find it helps to make a set of personal guidelines for decision making. For example, I decided this week I will stop using plastic produce bags. This helps reduce anxiety, streamline decisions, and still make progress.
I also have faced skepticism from friends and family regarding some sustainable choices. I feel strongly about these subjects, so it can be frustrating to have others question what you feel are well reasoned decisions. To help reduce this anxiety, I find it helps to have a few well reasoned sentences about why this choice is better, as gut feelings don’t help convince others.
Finally, when starting this journey, I had ideas of what I thought it meant to be sustainable, such as becoming vegan, eschewing all consumerism, and using only organic products, along with other stereotypes. Many in the sustainability social media space do conform to these stereotypes, which is great for them. However, I have seen derision of those who don’t conform from a small minority. I strongly feel that sustainability is for everyone- you don’t have to be a vegan or drive a Prius (though EV technology is becoming far more prevalent). Gatekeeping in these spaces is elitist and unproductive. Showing you are further along in your journey to put others down is ridiculous. Let's share knowledge, lift others up, and work together to leave the world a better place than we found it.
To sum it up…
There are many challenges and setbacks when starting a sustainability journey. Despite this, it is STILL worth it. I frequently remind myself that this journey is just that: a journey. No one is perfect when they first start a project, especially one that involves every aspect of your personal and professional life, such as sustainability. I constantly remind myself that every positive change I make is a change for the better. Even if I make mistakes, the mistakes are growth and learning opportunities.
Thanks for reading,
Katie @ Sustainably Yours, LA