Now we’re coming to the end of a record-breaking heatwave, it feels like an appropriate time to admit that I haven’t been a good friend to the earth. I take advantage of it, get mad at its weather and I only know its birthday to within 20 million years. I recycle and remember to turn off the lights but I also use far too much single-use plastic and eat dairy like there’s no tomorrow (there soon may not be). I’ve been gradually trying to make amends with the earth but I pledge to do better. This is as much to improve my own sense of wellbeing as it is to protect the environment.
We all know we should be doing our best to limit our impact on the environment and yet most of us continue with our myriad of bad habits. That’s partly because we make loads of decisions every day which have environmental consequences and most of the time the environmentally-unfriendly option is by far the convenient thing to do. The times we decide not to walk the extra distance to the recycling bin, some uncomfortable cognitive dissonance bubbles up within us. We try to squash it back down with the thought that maybe our actions don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Once you’ve tried to convince yourself of this once, it probably makes it more likely you will make similar decisions in the future. I don’t know about you but I never entirely believe that my bad environmental habits don’t matter so I’ve made a few changes to prevent the cognitive dissonance happening quite so often.
Growing up, I would let recycling build up in my room – plastic packaging and old papers. I was putting off the guilt I knew I would feel when I actually threw the recycling away. Sounds ridiculous but it’s true. Of course the best thing you can do for the environment is to reduce the amount of material you use in the first place. I’ve recently switched from using shower gel and hand soap that come in plastic bottles/dispensers to bars of soap because it uses less packaging. I also tend to use solid shampoo bars for the same reason.
Ever since being initiated into the cleanse-tone-moisturise routine of socially-accepted womanhood I’ve felt bad about the two cotton pads I used every day as part of the ritual. It wasn’t until February this year that I googled the environmental impact of cotton pads which confirmed my fears. Luckily google was also able to offer me an environmentally-friendly alternative so now I use small, machine-washable muslin cloths instead. I kicked myself for not making the change sooner – it’s almost like ignoring problems isn’t the best way to deal with them. I hear some of you asking ‘but don’t you still need disposable cotton pads for nail varnish?’ – not anymore since I’ve given up nail varnish too. I gifted my collection to someone on ‘Life is Gift’ – a Facebook group in Cambridge kind of like Freecycle.
2017 is the year my wardrobe burst its seams full of seams. Fast-fashion isn’t good for the environment and having a wardrobe full of clothes you don’t like isn’t good for your self-esteem (or bank balance). I made a New Year’s resolution for 2018 to only buy clothes from second-hand shops. This has nicely curbed my wardrobe growth. I thought it would be a challenge to find something to wear for the wedding and two graduations I attended this summer but it ended up being a lot less hassle than if I had been able to go out and buy something new for each event. What I already had in my wardrobe was sufficient and it felt good to get more wear out of dresses I genuinely really like. I excluded sports clothes and shoes from my New Year’s resolution though, so my shoe rack and sportswear draw are needlessly bulging. Baby steps.
Ilse, you’re a saint I hear you all cry (you’re certainly being talkative today). Rest assured, I’m still more likely to walk into a tree than hug one. I’ve got a long way to go before I earn my environmentalism badge because I recently did one of the worst things for the environment by buying a car. For now I’m just enjoying daily life with fewer reasons to feel guilty and learning that looking after the environment can feel a lot like looking after yourself.