My Complicated Relationship With Trying Not to Kill the Planet

If you’ve taken a moment to look around lately, you may have noticed that the world is becoming a giant dumpster fire.

Socially, politically, economically, environmentally, we’re living in troubled times.

And I feel like I keep looking over my shoulder waiting for the four horsemen of the apocalypse to ride past me.

As I see it, we all have two options:

  1. Find the nearest corner, curl up in the fetal position, and wait for humanity to completely collapse.
  2. Try to do something about it.

Not to invalidate option 1, but I’d like to see myself as the kind of person who takes option 2, starting by improving the impact of my daily habits on the environment.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t improve something if you don’t take the time to critically evaluate what you’re doing right now.

So, let’s tear my habits apart and learn what kind of person I really am. We’ll start with the positives and end with the shady stuff.

Things I’m doing well

I Don’t Litter

During one of those ‘get to know me’ games in university, one of the interesting facts I shared about myself is that I have never littered. Not. Even. Once.

And amazingly, this was the fact of the day that rocked the most boats. People looked at me with awe…which was weird to me, because there’s nothing difficult about holding onto stuff until you get to a garbage bin. It’s one step above doing nothing.

Before I start sounding too preachy, I should note that I don’t think anyone is bad if they’ve littered. That’s roughly 99.999% of people.

What I’m trying to say is that if you decide to commit to never littering again for as long as you live, you could do it with almost no effort. All it really takes is giving a damn. And if you’re reading this article, you probably do give a damn.

But yeah, I’m also patting myself on the back a bit. Go me!

I Buy Second Hand

I’ve always had an affinity for old things. I think it started with the crawlspace at my grandparents’ house. It was like playing in a time capsule.

Most of the toys were from the 60s and 70s when my mum and her siblings were growing up, but if you dug through the boxes, you could find all kinds of treasures from different times and places. I loved it!

These days, about half of my possessions (including 90% of my wardrobe) are purchased from second hand shops, local garage sale sites, or given to me by family and friends who no longer need them.

Not only does this create an eclectic style I love and save me money, but there are two environmental benefits:

  1. Buying second hand reduces the demand for the creation of new products.
  2. Reusing or upcycling an object someone else is getting rid of saves that thing from rotting in a landfill.

I Cook at Home

Looking at the heading, you might be thinking: Jenn, you accidentally added a health tip or money saving tip in your environmental post!

And yes, eating the majority of your meals at home is good for your health and wallet, but it’s also good for the environment. There are no takeout containers; plastic wrapped, plastic utensils; straws; sauce packets; plastic carrying bags; napkins; etc.

Even if you go to a sit-down place with no crappy single-use items, firstly, ooooh look how fancy you are, second, there’s likely a lot of food waste that can be avoided by eating at home.

I’m not saying to never eat at a restaurant. Hell, I still eat out about once a week.

I’m just saying that eating at home has so many benefits that it would be crazy not to take advantage of them wherever possible.

I (Almost) Never Use Plastic Bottles

Most of the time, I can be found carrying a glass water bottle (with a squeeze of fresh lemon if anyone is interested).

But once or twice a year I get stuck somewhere without anything to drink and I have to give into big water. Curse you big water!

That’s about all the space this one needs.

I Try to Live With Less

This is a relatively new habit, and I wrote all about it in detail a few weeks ago here. But I’ll just let you read that post if you want to learn more about my attempts at minimalism. Let’s get to the bad stuff.

Things I Need to Change

I Don’t Compost

Here come the excuses, prepare eyeroll in 3, 2, 1.

Look, I live in an apartment. And yeah, a lot of people who live in apartments have found solutions. But those solutions tend to be really involved.

For instance, I know I could save compostable veggie scraps in the freezer and give them a second life as fresh vegetable stock for delicious soups.

Sounds like work.

I could also create a composting bin in out of a rubbermaid container and fill it with worms to create fresh, nutrient dense soil.

But where would I even keep that?

I could also save the scraps and try to find a communal compost site in my city.

But I don’t have a car, and the other people on the bus might not appreciate rotting food smell. It would also take so much time!  

So instead, I throw them in a plastic bag that will last thousands of years decomposing instead of allowing the nutrients to go back into the earth.

Ugh, this one’s brutal. I grew up composting.

I Rely on Paper Towels

I use a lot of reusable stuff: silicone baking sheets, wax food wrap, glass containers…but no matter how guilty I feel about it afterward, for quick spills, I almost always reach for paper towel.

It just so convenient!

Even worse? I have washable cleaning cloths that I use for my dishes, so it would be about as easy to just grab the one already in use instead.

But for some reason, the idea of having to rinse the cloth, put it back, and dry my hands just makes it that much more annoying and less likely to happen.

When I look into the garbage bin and see it filled with paper, it makes me feel sick. But it’s weirdly hard to break this habit.

I Use Toxic Cleaners

I don’t know what creeps me out more, the cancer causing compounds in the vast majority of cleaning products or the possible germ takeover if I switch to something more gentle.

I know that plenty of people live perfectly healthy lives using only vinegar, water, citrus, and a few essential oils to clean their entire homes.

And I thought I would make the switch when my last bottle of all-purpose cleaner was used up. Instead, I just bought another bottle of lung and ocean killing spray in a plastic bottle.

I don’t know why.

I think the marketing for cleaning products and the fear mongering around what can happen if you don’t use them has gotten into my brain.

Who knows, maybe I just sound like I need to take my tinfoil hat off, but this site really scares me.

I Use an Unholy Amount of Plastic

I’ll preface this with the fact that I carry reusable bags as often as I can. So, I’m about so-so there.


My toothbrush is plastic, my deodorant comes in plastic, some of my vegetables come in plastic, anything frozen in the grocery store comes in plastic, sauces mostly come in plastic…

I could go on for days.

Each week my recycling bin is filled with plastic. And I can pat myself on the back for recycling as much as I want, but the truth is that AT MOST, only about 9% of plastic will get recycled. It’s better not to rely on it for single use products at all.

I know that the best thing to do is to avoid it, but I still buy plastic wrapped products for simplicity’s sake.

I Don’t Research Brands Before I Buy

Sure, half of my stuff is purchased second hand, but the other half is still purchased new.

And like most people, when I see a good deal, I go for it. I don’t stop to think about the water supply that was poisoned, or the resources that were destroyed, or the people who were exposed to toxic chemicals.

I just buy it.  

This one hurts the most when I stop to think about it. People are living and working in an unsafe environment so I don’t have to spend too much on jeans. I am directly funding a system that destroys lives.

Companies can greenwash and talk about sustainability and social responsibility all they want, but if you see a $10 t-shirt, you save a few bucks and someone else pays with the quality of their life. End of story.

On that happy note, these are some of the things I want to improve in 2019 to make myself and the world around me a little better.

What do you hope to do better this year? Let me know in the comments.

See you next week, but until then, good luck choosing to make life a little better!

– Jenn

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