written by Roxanne Joncas
I once cried because the bulk store was out of popcorn kernels for a month. I wanted popcorn but refused to buy it in a plastic bag because I had decided to live without waste. That was a low point and I never want to visit that dark pit again.
How does one get there? Let me tell you.
When you decide to reduce the waste you produce, you think it’ll be great. You feel inspired and full of energy. You eat less meat and buy your clothes second hand. You enthusiastically tell others what you’re up to and they praise you, saying things like, “Oh my, good for you, I could never do that.”
Then, you get to talking and reading more about what else you can improve. That’s when things start getting dark. Simple errands like buying sunscreen turn into navigating the aisles of endless plastic bottles and microplastic. You leave the store without sunscreen and get sunburned on the walk home because you decided that walking was better for the environment.
At home, you research “best sunscreen” and you find out the coral reefs are dying because of it.
You download an app to help you find good products, but soon enough, you realize there’s just too much bad stuff. You follow influencers that only buy products that are good for the planet. You’re relieved when you find cosmetics that are “good” but you have to rethink your budget to make room for them. You buy sunscreen and shampoo bars and a bamboo toothbrush. It’s hard work but it feels rewarding.
There’s an emergency news alert in your area, there was another oil spill. What’s next? The planet is on fire in the summer, the glaciers are melting, and the ocean is suffocating in plastic. You get a sense of dread deep in your bones. You stop reading the news and push the negative thoughts away.
Your family, friends and coworkers don’t understand. They ask you why the hell you even try. “One plastic bottle won’t make a difference anyway,” your boss says while drinking their sparkling water. When they’re done, they throw the plastic bottle in the trash; it makes you wince. You hang back in the kitchen and once they’re gone, you fish the bottle out of the trash and put it in the recycling bin. On the bike ride home, you apologize to the planet on behalf of all humans.
Christmas comes around. Your grandma buys you too many things you don’t need like non-vegan sweets wrapped in tons of plastic. They say they’re worried about you and your health. You cry in the bathroom. Congratulations. You’ve reached the level of guilt and anxiety.
The following summer, your family finally understood that veganism isn’t a death wish. You try to convince them to compost and to recycle but they refuse. It’s so frustrating! They resent you for making them aware that they “aren’t good people” and for challenging their core beliefs. They don’t want to hear it because they don’t want to feel guilty.
That’s when you realize that people are scared of admitting the way they’ve been living is damaging to the planet. They refuse to change because it’s hard. It requires effort and failures.
Years later, you protest with Greta, buy all your food without plastic, grow your own fruits and vegetables, own compost worms, live in a tiny home, bake your own bread and never fly anywhere. It’s everything you can, but it’s not enough. You feel hopeless and lonely. No one else cares enough or understands and it’s just getting worse.
You can’t talk to your friends about it anymore because it’s “becoming annoying” and they avoid you. So you create an Instagram account to tell strangers about your zero-waste journey and how they too can help save the planet. That makes you feel better for a while until you realize, it’s never going to be enough. You resent other people. “Why aren’t they doing anything?” or “Why aren’t they doing more?” That’s when the “sustainability shaming” comes in. You act superior for doing more than others. And the ones doing more than you make you feel bad, too. You’ve now joined the chain of shame and you’re full of remorse.
In the end, you’re exhausted and suffer from panic attacks. You see someone in the grocery store with six bags of plastic and you weep for the dolphins. Every outing is a nightmare and every decision takes forever. It feels impossible to make the absolute best choice for you and for the planet. That’s when you break down and cry because you can’t have popcorn on the worst day of your period.
You give up. If no one else cares, then neither do you. What’s the point? Let the planet shrivel up and let humanity die. It’s better if humans become extinct anyway. You’ve crossed over and have come full circle.
I’m here to say: don’t give up. Being sustainable often feels unsustainable. It’s hard and discouraging because when you choose to care about something, your brain will give it it’s all and with that comes every possible emotion. But caring drives change, even if you can’t see the immediate impact. You just need to remember that you can’t fix the planet—not alone. Doing your part is important, but if anxiety, exhaustion, and depression settle in, take a step back.
Being sustainably sustainable means doing your best, without destroying yourself. There’s a happy medium and only you know what yours is. Whatever you’re doing for the planet, you’re doing a great job and you’ve earned a hug from Earth.