A GENERATION RACKED WITH GUILT: PLASTIC STRAWS, VEGANISM & FAST FASHION

A GENERATION RACKED WITH GUILT: PLASTIC STRAWS, VEGANISM & FAST FASHION

“Oh no straw for me thank you, I’m really passionate about not murdering turtles”.

I turn back to my friend, smug, having just done my bit in saving the world and continue my story…

“So anyway, I was in an absolute state on Saturday afternoon, my stomach was in awful cramps and I needed a hot water bottle… where does one buy a hot water bottle?! Least of all when they can hardly even stand up…? I know! Total nightmare. I was in a state until, I realised, Amazon NOW! Anything you want can be with you in under two hours.  I KNOW. Amazing. A brand new hot water bottle, covered in paws, yes, adorable, was with me by six!”

I leant back in my chair, smugger still. Not only had I saved a baby turtle tonight, but I’d opened my friend’s eyes to a whole new world of possibilities: you’re welcome.

My face fell, and smug sense of satisfaction evaporated as he turned on me…

“I’m sorry, but you can say no to as many plastic straws as you want, but anyone that gives a shit about the environment knows full well that you shouldn’t use services like Amazon Now.”

But…” I stammered “why??? The packaging… it was made out of paper!! I recycled it!!” (my pitch becoming a little bit desperate now).

He rolled his eyes.

Really Em?? You really think a company that can have something to you in under two hours is anything other than a disaster for the environment???”

I leant back in my chair again, this time defeated.

My hot water bottle no longer resembled something adorable and comforting, rather, an example of global warming in action, another way in which I had failed at my attempts to do the right thing. It might as well be a dead fucking polar bear tangled up somewhere in my unmade sheets (don’t even start, I’m feeling guilty enough about that already).

So Amazon NOW, another thing I’ve got to tick off my list.

Ah, my list. Let me talk to you through the list.

The list is something that I started compiling, mentally, about eighteen months ago. I found out, via Twitter, a hotbed of information that will inevitably leave you racked with guilt, by the way, that Nars (the creators of most of my favourite makeup) were about to start stocking in China. This meant that, in order to comply with Chinese laws, they would be required to test their products on animals.

I ended up writing a post about this called Your Morals VS Your Makeup and it explored my own sense of guilt where consumerism was concerned and whether, ultimately, I cared enough about a group of animals I had never seen before and couldn’t be sure weren’t absolutely fine and enjoying a life if good lipstick, to stop shopping at my favourite brands.

Mac, I realised, stocked in China.

Ultimately, I decided, I did care enough. I haven’t bought another Mac product since then and, aside from one small hiccough this summer, I’ve said goodbye to my Nars obsession too.

Makeup was first on the list, and it’s grown a lot since then so that it now looks something like this.

  • Beauty products that aren’t cruelty free.
  • Face wipes. As it turns out, these are a DISASTER for the environment. Since I discovered this, I have used a cleanser with cotton pads to remove my makeup. Even when I’m really drunk, I don’t budge on this one.
  • Plastic straws. (I watched a video of a turtle with one stuck in it’s nostril).
  • Plastic bags (I watched a video of a dead whale being cut open and it was full of plastic bags).
  • Fast food chains (even though my food allergies prohibit most of it, I won’t go near them – I watched a video of baby chicks being squished into a food grinder).
  • Littering – this one goes so far that I will actually pick up other people’s litter if I’m out and about. I will never litter.

These things, I feel strongly about. I do my best to absolutely avoid them at all costs. I found a tin of tuna in my pocket yesterday afternoon because I’d forgotten my bag for life ~again~ and refused a plastic bag ~again~ when I went to the supermarket and had a bit of a task on my hands trying to carry my groceries home.

I will not use a plastic straw. I will not litter. I recycle everything I possibly can.

But I have another list too, and this one is far more complex.

This is a list of things that I feel incredibly guilty about but that I don’t know where to start with. That I can’t commit to. That, if I’m honest… I don’t want to commit to.

This is the stuff that I know is bad for the environment but that I can’t quite bring myself to acknowledge.

The list that now has Amazon Now on it.

Sure petrol isn’t great, but I hardly ever drive and my Ford Fiesta is nothing next to a Boeing 747. No, I don’t need this bath and it is probably a waste of water but this tendonitis in my hip really is real and I need to soothe it. And I know I’m not being an entirely good person by ordering the dog food on the internet, especially when buying it from the local pet shop would massively help the economy, but how am I meant to lug 10kg of kibble back to the house on my own?

This is the list with meat on it, and eggs and honey.

Not being a vegan is arguably one of the things that I feel the most guilt about.

This is perhaps because of the sheer volume at which vegans push their agenda down our throats, but in truth I think a big part of it for me is that I very much feel like I should be doing more, eating better, and if not living as a vegan, than a vegetarian at least. I have seen a lot of compelling evidence to suggest that the meat industry is a disaster.

I also think cows are adorable and have to do a lot, psychologically, to disassociate them from the big juicy fillet I’ve just dropped £20 on when out for dinner.

I have my excuses: I suffer with an autoimmune condition that massively affects my diet; I cannot eat gluten and dairy, nor can I digest nuts and seeds and most other sources of protein, other than meat and fish, cause me considerable stomach pain. With no gluten, life as a vegan is difficult.

It’s not impossible, but given my stomach condition, I would really, really struggle to maintain a healthy diet. It would be flat out impossible for me to live a life even slightly resembling ‘normal’.

So I have my excuse, I’m armed with it should I come under-fire from a vegan (this does happen), but that doesn’t mean I have escaped my conscience. I have not escaped the guilt.

That’s the thing about this list. This second list. It’s compiled of things that I know are bad but that I can’t, or won’t, give up. But just because they are still in my life, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel terrible about them. And that’s what’s really starting to get to me: the constant guilt is really starting to get to me.

The final straw (paper, of course) came for me last week after I watched Stacey Dooley’s latest documentary all about fast fashion and how it is utterly destroying the planet.

Before I even watched it, I knew a fair amount about this particular disaster. Back in March I wrote a blog post about the importance of up-cycling and I have tried, since then, to be a bit more conscientious, but the show itself did a lot to remind me of and reinforce to me the extent of the damage.

And it touched a nerve with a lot of people.

My social media channels over the last few weeks have been a steady stream of people theatrically jumping on this bandwagon, carelessly and probably accidentally throwing bloggers/influencers/fashion people under the bus as they denounce a life of affiliate links and promise to start re-wearing outfits and to stop making their followers feel as if they need to buy new things all the time.

It’s great. The fashion industry is nothing without its customers and here they are, some of the most influential of them, declaring that we must do better. That it is our responsibility to do better. That we must club together to save the world.

And we must.

But it’s hard.

Fashion, in particular, is a really hard one for most of us to part with.

I’m normally quick to recommend items of clothing to people on Instagram. Not particularly because I want to make my millions in affiliate partnerships (although a tenner every now and then is much appreciated) but because I like clothes and I like clothes that make me like clothes and I really like it when people like my clothes enough that they want to buy my clothes.

For the last week I have not shared a single piece of information about my fashion choices, for fear that someone might be encouraged to buy something I have recommended and thus drain the sea of water and murder all the fish and probably end the world.

So what do I do? Do I wait for the fashion-fearing-fad to be over and quietly start slipping back into Topshop in a couple of weeks, or do I accept that in order to make this a world safe for our children, I have a responsibility to do better?

Not just with fashion, but with meat and with Amazon?

Is it enough to say no to a plastic straw and yes to a hot water bottle arriving on your doorstep two hours after ordering?

Is it enough to buy steak from the co-op but say no to a plastic bag to take it home in?

I don’t know.

I am studiously recycling everything I possibly can and then we hear the rumours that really nothing collected in London gets recycled, it’s all just taken to a rubbish tip and burnt or put in the sea or whatever.

The magnitude of the problem is beyond comprehension really and I do want to cry when I think about it. What we are doing to the world is all sorts of distressing. And it’s hurtful and stressful and frustrating because try as we might, most of us spend our lives feeling that what we do doesn’t make a difference anyway.

A cloud of ‘what’s the point??’ sits above so many of us as we sit on beds made up exclusively of guilt that what we are doing isn’t enough anyway.

It’s wholly depressing and you are about to discover that you are getting to the end of another piece of writing from someone who has no answers and cannot tell you what to do to make it all better.

Beyond the imperative and frustratingly predictable: just keep doing what you can. 

It’s not fair that we are a generation shrouded in guilt as we scramble to deal with the problems that those that came before us created but when has anything ever been fair eh?!

We aren’t going to get it right all the time and we shouldn’t be expected to. But to simply put our head in the sand is no longer an option. Not least of all because we must leave the sand free for all of the baby turtles that I have saved by constantly saying no to plastic straws.

We can only do our best, and rather than feel bad for all the areas in which we are failing, let’s celebrate the areas in which we are quite literally saving the world.

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17 Comments

  1. Nicci
    October 24, 2018 / 12:57 pm

    Hi Emily! I have to say I really admire the small acts you are taking to make changes. If enough people make small changes there will be a landslide. I have looked at sustainability and social – ecological perspectives for the last five years or so and I see the feelings of sadness, guilt and despair amongst (particularly young) people all of the time. I think in the past people used to see the world as so disconnected, and now, as we make wider connections and see the impacts of old belief systems, it can be so difficult to make sense out of what is happening.

    I had a time of crisis my way of living in the world just began to feel so wrong and I didn’t know any direction to take. I had questions, and sometimes even the questions felt wrong. I had no answers at all. I had a community of people who felt as I did but sometimes that could be hard too, because just when you think you are making a difference….oops…one of the children on my sustainability project got very upset because we were speaking about life, but using books as journals and what about the trees!!

    I love how you write about the doubts, the awakenings, the uncertainties and the lack of answers. I don’t have any either. I see more connections than I used to, and I know the crisis that people go through is a part of transformation. Shelley Sacks says that our own deep feelings open up our ability to respond, and remove the blanket numbness which enables the messes and the destructions.

    What always comes across for me though is your level of care. For women, for people scared to try new things, for yourself, for people wiht IBS (I have IBS and anxiety). The empathy you have really shines out and it makes me think. I know you wrote a post about wanting to go back to who you were, and that’s great too – writing your perspectives without comparing yourself seems great. But I like you, what you write, and how you make me think. I appreciate that a lot.

    • K406
      October 24, 2018 / 4:06 pm

      Totally agree that its all about doing your best, hiwever you choose to make a difference.

      I think it a shame that you decided to make a negative, prejudiced comment about vegans in your blog which I otherwise enjoyed. I quite commonly hear people complain that vegans shove their agenda down people’s throats yet people fail to stop and think about the animal consuming society that is constantly shoving their agenda down vegans’ throats: every shop they walk in; all the tv ads and posters outside fast food chains; all the farms they have to walk or drive by; the trucks full of animals they have to pass on the motorway; the comments and thrown at them by colleagues and family. It is the society that has become accustomed to eating animals and their secretions that shoves things in the faces of those who think differently. You don’t often hear people complain about brexiteers shoving their agenda down people’s throats or feminists shoving their agenda down people throats, it’s always targeted at veganism (which is a lifestyle only striving for good so it’s a shame it gets so much negativity) becsuse it’s a lifestyle that does confront people with their own morals.

      Looking forward to the next blog but I do hope that since you think that it is about doing your best, you will uplift all those who are making changes to save animals and the planet etc (inc vegans) and avoid the unnecessary jibes.

      • Anna myrha
        October 25, 2018 / 8:09 am

        Thank you! I absolutely agree after reading this article, it is a heartfelt beautiful message to the world but the comment about vegans was totally out of place. Vegans are only doing goodnint he world, saving thousands of animals every day and yet there’s so much aggression against them. Since I went vegan, I have been attacked, criticized and yelled at, without even saying anything, just because I order differently when we go out, I am considered a ‘a snob’ repeatedly. Well, why about everyone else eating meat and dairy, don’t they shove their opinions down our throats? By contributing to ruining the environment, and being the cause of the death and suffering of thousands of animals every day?
        Anyway, other than that thank you for this article and for spreading awareness. Just one through, I don’t think it is necessary to do anything out of guilt, we should be doing things that make us feel good, always. Doesn’t it feel so good to be saving turtles, and the ocean, to know that you saved an animal by not having meat every day, to know that when you are putting your make up on, bunnies we’re not tortured? Why do it out of guilt, do it because it makes you feel good! I know it makes me feel soooo good when I make these choices!

  2. October 24, 2018 / 3:00 pm

    I loved this post so much! I just posted a very similar opinion piece this morning; it’s so bloody hard wanting to join in with all the planet-saving but having to make real choices about what we can and really cannot bear to part with. Except you’ve put it so much better (and hilariously) than me x

  3. October 24, 2018 / 3:30 pm

    This is such a well-written post which had me just yelling YES!! I’m probably at least a decade older than you and also feel all the guilt. I am vegan for food (because I love animals) but also have leather handbags. In the eyes of some, this makes me a hypocrite. In the others of others, hopefully, it makes me someone who is trying to take a step that I think on my own personal terms is achievable to maintain. I could never judge or criticise another person for their choices and would rather champion someone taking small steps than lambast someone for not being good enough. I’ve just started thinking about my own skincare and products at home for how I can do better. Is it going to get me selling my London house and car for a shepherds hut in the Orkneys with no running water? Nope. But I’ll try little things here and there in the same way you have. Bravo X

  4. Emily
    October 24, 2018 / 3:33 pm

    Totally feel the same as this – thanks Hannah Gale for sharing your post so I could find it!

    I think internal guilt is very difficult to tackle around this issue because it comes from external sources such as the media, our peers, and activists who rightly feel we need to make a difference, but wrongly think that shaming people is the best way to bring about change.

    Ultimately, something like 70% of carbon emissions are caused by the 100 biggest companies and the changes we make as individuals will do very little on their own.

    However, as demand for eco-friendly, cruelty-free, recycled, recyclable, vegan etc products increases, big companies including supermarkets and brands will be forced to come into line with these trends in order to stay relevant. This in turn can hopefully bring about the legal changes required to make a real difference (such as the bag charge which has resulted in an 85% reduction in single use bags).

    Try not to feel guilty, and instead we can encourage our favourite brands and companies to change their policies, each time we make the more eco choice.

    There have already been huge changes and brands like Dove jumping on the cruelty free wagon are a good development, as previously it was generally only high-end, expensive brands that could afford to do so.

  5. martynstanley
    October 24, 2018 / 4:15 pm

    Emily, you don’t need to feel guilty and you certainly don’t need to justify yourself. You aren’t the one who filled the ocean with plastic! We’re living through a difficult period in history. We, in the the west are starting to understand the devastating impact humanity is having on the environment. Elsewhere in the world developing nations are finally getting their economies going, but only by building horribly polluting industry. Sadly the root cause of most of these problems is human overpopulation. We’ve become efficient at generating energy and growing food because we’ve had to. If you look at the countries with the best quality of life, they are invariably those with the less dense population. It’s not going to make anyone popular for calling this out – but as a species we should be trying to slow population growth while terraforming and eventually colonizing Mars. Currently our entire species is huddled together on one tiny planet. If a large gamma ray burster hit the Earth tomorrow. It could wipe out the entire human race and we wouldn’t even see it coming. So, yes avoid plastic straws – but don’t forget to live. You aren’t going to save the planet on your own and a steak here or a hot bath there really don’t rank that highly on the scale of ‘evil deeds’ unfortunately we live in a world where it’s possible to make people feel guilty about more or less any aspect of modern life – if you spin it the right way.

  6. Jill
    October 24, 2018 / 4:25 pm

    While your article resonates with me quite a bit, you’re still patting yourself on the back for making small changes while excusing your other harmful behaviours which are likely more detrimental to the environment. So yeah good for you for recognizing you can only do so much, but the reality is, eliminating plastic straws/bags and feeling guilty about the rest is not all that needs to be done. Don’t make excuses for people to stop there!!! I know this is not the kind of feedback you were hoping for with this article so I apologize for being a harsh realist!

  7. October 24, 2018 / 5:42 pm

    Loved reading this and it’s something we can all relate to. There is no such thing as the perfect consumer, all we can do is try our best and remind ourselves that even the smallest of our actions can help save the environment.

    Summer, http://www.thetwinswardrobe.com

  8. October 24, 2018 / 8:07 pm

    Wow! I mean wow.

    Such a hot topic at the moment descussed so well. I totally feel that guilt now more than ever before. I have a 7 month old son and feeling like I ought to be doing more to save his future. If I really think about what this world could be if we don’t do enough, it brings me to tears.

    But… fact of the matter is. ITS BLOODY EXPENSIVE to go vegan/plastic free and right now I want to live life with my son not having to scrape the bank account because I’ve decided to go vegan and plastic free and only shop in health food stores.

    The pressure should really be on companies and brands to change packaging.

    And of course us too.. to change our lifestyle in a little way.

    Much love
    Holly
    Xxx

  9. Louise
    October 25, 2018 / 8:17 am

    My god I love this post. You’ve put into words what I feel and think about all the freaking time! Thank you!

  10. October 25, 2018 / 10:22 am

    Absolutely loved this post and it’s really made me think myself. I’m very much of a similar mind to you. I do all those things, no straws, my own coffee cup, say no to plastic bags and for the most part I eat vegan too as my bf is vegan but then when I think about areas like fast fashion and the fact so much of my food is in plastic (sometimes unavoidably so like frozen peas etc) I feel as if I’m actually doing very little to help sort things out. The fact is I can’t afford expensive clothes and often go to Primark or online to get items that ship super fast and it’s not ideal. I think ultimately as long as we all become more conscious of these things that’s the best we can do. Always try and improve on each area and that can only be a good thing right? Plus these little things do add up! I’ve switched to reusable sanitary pads and they’re fantastic nevermind how many disposable ones are now not going to be shoved in the bin. I calculated I’ve probably used over 1500 already and I’m only 29! So it really shows, one less straw, one less plastic bag, they all add up and it does help. X

  11. Dontstoprecycling
    October 25, 2018 / 6:26 pm

    Hey, interesting subject! You mentioned waste, and that it is uncertain what happens with the waste Londoners recycle.

    It is ALWAYS better to recycle, to sort the waste; plastics with plastics and paper with paper. Regardless if the waste gets recycled, burned (the heat you get as a result of burning could be used for warming up houses during the winter) or thrown on a pile somewhere far away, the people workning with waste management can reduce pollution simply by knowing what the waste thay are burning contains, or what kind of pollutions a wastedeposit most likely will emanate. With that knowledge it is easier to cope and prevent the pollution from spreading.

    Regarding not being a vegan/vegetarian, I have another recommendation! Make sure never to throw away any food. The food waste of today might even be as bad as our overconsumtion of meat of today. Also, what you do throw away (peels of a banana, eggshells an such), make sure you compost it. Food waste that end up with regular waste on dumpsters turns into methan gas, which is really bad for the environment.

    And to make you feel less bad: I absolutely believe that meateating is (apart from food waste) the most unefficient way of eating, especially since the planet´s population is as massive as it is today. It probably was not made for these many people. But humans are still /meat/eaters, and have been for quite some time. Therefor I think meat should be considered food, and that you don´t have to give up on it completely. Although, try to reduce your meat intake, and when you du eat meat; eat chicken or pork, since those animals don´t create as much carbon emission as say cows or cheap. (Or require as much land use!)

    Have a nice weekend (and hopefully my English is understandable!)

    FYI, i am studying environmental engineering, and kind of want to work with waste management in the future!)

  12. October 26, 2018 / 10:04 am

    You seem very defensive about veganism to the point of attacking vegans at various points in your post. Perhaps because you know it’s the most compassionate choice and you feel guilt over not being able to go vegan due to health reasons. That’s OK; your health must always come first.

    There’s lots of things for all of us to feel uncomfortable about, vegan or otherwise. So long as we’re trying our best to make the most compassionate decisions we can, nobody can ask any more of us.

  13. October 26, 2018 / 2:02 pm

    I believe (though can’t for the life of me remember where I read it) that vegetarianism actually has a lower carbon footprint than veganism. I understand that there are plenty of other reasons for wanting to go vegan, of course, but it’s something worth bearing in mind that might help assuage some of your guilt. We can only do what we can, and if your health conditions prevent you from easily accessing a vegan diet, there are definitely positive steps to be made between that and full carnivore!

    As for the fast fashion side of things, I really appreciate that more and more influencers seem to be hopping off that bandwagon and moving towards promoting sustainability. I recently signed up to a service called Thrift+, to help clear out my wardrobe and get stuff I don’t wear out to new owners, with profits going to charity. You could also talk to vintage or second-hand places and see if they’d consider introducing affiliate schemes: places like Asos Marketplace or Beyond Retro surely have the means!

    Finally I want to add that, like another commenter, swapping to reusable sanitary products has been a great step for me. I swear by my Mooncup, and have been looking at a site called Honour Your Flow for other reasable products. They also do washable cotton makeup wipes which, like you, I love.

  14. October 28, 2018 / 1:52 pm

    This post is just… everything I’ve been thinking about lately. I too feel like I’m not doing enough. The other day I had to order new study books for university and I have no other option than to order them online. As soon as I’d hit that button I was crippled with guilt over all the extra packaging material and the CO2 emission from the bus that brings me my packages. I want to do better, but in a lot of cases I just don’t know how. I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in this. At least we are trying to make a difference, which is more than a lot of people are doing.

    X Envy

  15. November 2, 2018 / 8:53 am

    Thank you for this post, it articulates a lot of how I feel about the world.

    I try to live sustainably but some days I just feel a bit lost and powerless. I think it’s partly being in the awkward position of knowing that overpopulation goes hand in hand with overconsumption and yet wanting to make the world a better place for my two children (see? I’ve added two to the population count.

    I already recycle and compost everything I can, walk everywhere I can and reuse as much as possible. So my positive changes at the moment are focused on getting my family to eat less meat, making our home more energy efficient, avoiding fast fashion with hand me downs and good quality second hand clothes and planting a wildlife garden. It might not make a dramatic change but if we all try…. At least we’re doing what we can.

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