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4 everyday obstacles to sustainable living, and how to get over them

"We can't go over it. We can't go under it. We'll have to go though it."

How often that quote from Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury's childhood book We're Going on a Bear Hunt applies to life as grown up. Maybe it's because it's our time and, like all the generations who have come before us, we're reinventing a new way of living.



And that's what I find so exciting about sustainable living. Yes, a lot of the items we use to cut down on waste hark back to older times - handkerchiefs and face flannels have been around for a long, long time.


What is different now though, is as David Attenborough says:


"Never before have we had such awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that."

When we make changes now, it's not out of necessity or not having plastic as before. It's because we care about the world we live in and are doing something to protect it. And there are all sorts of new innovations from beeswax wraps to period underwear.


Honestly, who wouldn't want to be a part of this movement?


Earlier in the week I saw this illustration by Joanna Prints:



What I like so much about it is how 'I'm fine' usually is our response to the outside world, even when sometimes we can be feeling a bit wobbly. And everyone has moments like that - feelings of doubt when they come up against obstacles.


And if you're trying to be eco-friendly, the truth is you're inventing a new way of life.


So in the hope that this will help if you ever hit a dark spot in trying to live sustainably, here are four obstacles that every one of us will encounter a few times and my advice on getting through them:


1. Guilt


"I forgot my pack lunch," I read in an online post. "So I had to get this sushi box and packet of fruit and now I feel terrible about the plastic."


Really, it happens. With photographs of perfectly arranged zero-waste kits and glass jars of rubbish all over social media, sometimes you do start comparing and feeling that what you're doing isn't enough. I feel a twinge of guilt when I look at the plastic packaging I haven't managed to avoid in the bin. Some of the posts on Instagram look a bit like a modern-day confessional as people share how they slipped, but want the reassurance it's alright.


And it is alright. Guilt is an emotion that links into our sense of morality - doing what's right. It's probably a little part of why you want to protect the planet in the first place.


The problem is when guilt grounds you to a standstill or makes you question yourself as a person. A lovely piece of advice I had is this -


"Just make a decision. Then work out how to do it. Don't umm and ahh over it. That's how you get things done."

If you're at this point worrying about your plastic, you're way ahead of most of the population. So leave that guilt behind, even when you make a mistake, and keep making those positive changes you're making, for yourself and for the planet.


And to cheer yourself up, watch this classic example of 'greenwashing'. If there's no guilt there, really, why should we feel it?



2. Temptation


You just want it. You want that packet of mango slices - and it just happens to be wrapped in lots of plastic...


Maybe it's not so far off wanting some nice new shoes or ice cream.


If you want something that much and it'll really make you happier - just get it.


But perhaps every month do a review. What is your most wasteful behaviour?


Identify just the one and think, can you cut it out of your life for 30 days?


This is my magic technique. Stop a bad habit for a month and, at the month's end, you won't even want it. From buying sandwiches on the go to using takeaway coffee cups, there are a lot of wasteful habits I've cut out doing this.


3. It's so expensive!


Changing the way you live can definitely be expensive, especially if you start to stock up with all the ethical items you need at once.


There are cheap ways and expensive ways to be sustainable. And, if you suddenly feel like going on a splurge for plastic-free sponges and kitchen towels, see it like a temptation as before.


Part of living ethically is getting over the desire to buy lots just to feel good. Actually, you'll feel a whole lot better if you use up those plastic tupperwares till the lids get lost, if you work through all your leftover plastic sponges and shampoo in a plastic bottle. Then, when they're used up, you'll get all the delight of starting off with their eco-friendly alternatives.


(I bought some shampoo bars by Conchus which are now waiting in the cupboard - I'm very excited about it!)



And, if even that's too expensive. You can always make your own. An old piece of cloth can be turned into anything, from a lunch bag to a beeswax wrap or a reusable face wipe. Aoife from Zero Waste Cardiff had this great idea if you know how to crochet a circle, take some twine and create your next kitchen scrubber.



4. When you can't see the change you're making


As it's very unlikely you'll ever see first-hand a sea dragon holding a plastic cotton bud or get to save a sea turtle from being stuck in a plastic bag, sometimes you can feel detached from the outcome of what you're doing.


All I'd say is, look down. When you're walking along the pavement, can you see all those little flecs of plastic on the ground? That's what we've done to our own habitat. It's what we're doing to the sea and, on an even greater scale, to landfills where we pile up plastic till it decomposes and leaches toxic chemicals. Every piece of plastic you can save from single-use is a great thing you're doing for the world.


And look at your bin - that's one of our August resolutions. As the changes you make pile up, you'll see the amount you have to lug out every week get less... and less. It's a real testimony to all that hard work.


If you go back to that video earlier, it's you all those sea creatures will be cheering for!



So living sustainably, in a way that doesn't harm our planet, isn't easy. But then, if it was, everybody would be doing it. And we know that's not the case!


As with all new ventures and new ways of living, we're all out there finding our way through it. And it will catch on, because our generation is showing other people and especially children how to do it. We're working out how to live plastic-free, how to buy ethically and how to use less of the Earth's resources - creating a blueprint ready for loads more people to come and join us!


So if that thought doesn't cheer you up when you hit an obstacle, maybe it's time to go for an eco-friendly cocktail... Have a lovely weekend!