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I Feel ‘Oh So’ Eco-Guilty? You Are Not Alone

May 24, 2021

Priscilla: I must have walked around my local supermarket like ten times. I stood in front of the fridge section & sighed. ‘Welcome to the plastic city’, I muttered under my breath. Tote in hand, intentions in place, store full of plastic — what now?

I walked out & then I walked back in. I swear I held my breath as I picked up two ready meals, marched to the self-checkout, paid & left. I stood outside & there it was. The lump in my throat. I felt awful.

Since working with YAYZY & learning more & more every day, I have realised this is a journey that takes one step at a time. The guilt can be so overwhelming, especially around the small ‘big’ things…

‘Single-use plastic bottles, forgetting your reusable shopping bag, eating meat, not being able to recycle properly. These are all reasons why so many people are feeling the weight of guilt. The carbon footprint of one plastic PET or polyethene bag is about 33 grams CO2. To help put it into perspective, the carbon dioxide released into the air will stay there for a very long time, between 300–1000 years, to be precise.

According to BRITA, 57% of Brits feel a sense of guilt when it comes to their carbon footprint & acknowledge that they could do more. Guess what? I couldn’t agree more.

Anna: I dread the moments you get to the coffee shop, ask for your latte, pay and realise you’re going to have to use a disposable cup are the times. Not only is there an increased likelihood that my top will have to go in the wash that evening, but instant guilt floods me.

Britain uses 2.5 billion paper coffee cups a year. A typical cup requires 0.58 litres of water to produce and a carbon footprint of up to 60.9 grammes of carbon dioxide. If I forget my reusable cup once a week on average, then that’s 3166.8 grammes of CO2 a year due to forgetting to bring a glass cup with me!

Recycling reduces my impact, but only one in 400 cups in the UK is recycled. Whilst finding a recycling bin is becoming more accessible, it’s sometimes difficult to find one and popping it in your bag for later can invite a million questions from people you’re with. It can also serve to make them feel guilty and put their own cup with coffee juice into their bag.

What exactly is eco-guilt?

It is the feeling that you could make a better choice about something that affects the environment, but at the moment,t you choose not to. (Please note, anyone can be affected by this.) You could be active in your quest to reduce your impact, a plant-based, recycling, sustainable fashion supporting human being, and still get that lump in your throat when you make one or two bad choices.

Guilt can cause people to react differently, from feeling sensitive about the subject, feeling overwhelmed to full-blown avoidance of the issue.

Where did this idea of eco-guilt come from?

Priscilla: We are becoming more enlightened! I, for one, feel like I have been to university all over again. The information that is available out there is incredible. The statistics. The podcasts. The books. We are surrounded by it. We are all at a time where we are starting to realise we must do something. It is inevitable that when you break down information to people about the planet, what is happening to it & ways in which we can prevent further damage, many of them will want to make a change.

Anna: Exactly, and the thing is, sometimes we have no other option than to do something that might be bad for the planet. For example, travelling home to see family or friends can be an important trip to undertake. Greta Thunberg has shown that it’s possible to get across the world by sea if you have the time to do so. In lives filled with work, hobbies, active social lives, and perhaps even children, taking a plane can often the best, or only, realistic choice.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the aviation industry contributes around 2% of the world’s global carbon emissions, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). With electric planes a way off from being viable, particularly for long flights, it can seem inevitable to increase your carbon footprint when travelling abroad. An economy-class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger (International Civil Aviation Organization).

Suddenly forgetting to bring a cup to a coffee shop feels small in comparison, but both incite my eco-guilt in full force.

What can we do?

Priscilla: The first step to real change is admitting that there is a problem & then acknowledging your responsibility. I have met so many great people who are doing the work, and they are taking action to lower their carbon footprint. I think it has to become a part of your day to day consideration. It can be hard to balance the guilt & the action, but I think it is a case of being your own best friend & reminding yourself that every single thing you do matters. You matter & so does your impact.

We had an open conversation about eco-guilt recently & it was fascinating to find out what people felt about the topic. Every single person understood what I meant when I spoke about the lump in the throat; we all nodded and smiled because we get it. This was a space with active vegans in it, recyclers, people who make natural products. We had all been there; we could all relate. The conversation really helped too. We shared tips & tricks of what we could do to be better, from meal prepping to thrifting to offsetting with YAYZY *wink wink* We can start by challenging our behaviours, especially through the small things we have control over. It could be an excellent opportunity to buy a reusable drink bottle & place it by the entrance before getting ready to go out. It could be you switching your energy provider and getting a smart meter so that you’re more mindful of energy consumption within your home. It could also be you drying your clothes outside, on your balcony, instead of using the tumble dryer or your heater.

Anna: Tackling climate change can mean standing up to big business or asking why the office prints off so many documents. Try inviting conversations about our environmental impact as organisations, groups or society can be thought-provoking and create long-lasting changes that have a ripple effect. Having those difficult conversations can be mentally and emotionally taxing, and it isn’t always feasible to have them. Furthermore, they don’t take away that moment your heart sinks when you do something that damages Mother Nature.

When you know you could have done better for the environment, the moments can be few and far between, but each one feels as gutting as the last. Guilt can be an awful emotion. Taking steps to try to avoid eco-guilt is something that I do on a day-to-day basis. Finding alternatives to beauty products that produce less waste, buying sustainable clothes, or learning how to fix things when they break are all things that I try to do to reduce my impact on the planet.

Priscilla: YAYZY wants to embark on the journey with people. It really doesn’t matter what stage you are at — this isn’t a competition. We want humans that want to make a change. We want people to join us in having these crucial conversations. Your story could give someone the push they need to take a small step. You could even connect with someone at one of our events; perhaps they are also into hiking or cycling & could build a bond from that.

This is why what we do is based around community. We all experience the guilt, so we all carry the weight together & as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Don’t let guilt eat you up. This is a journey. One positive step can make all the impact in the world!


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