Zero Waste and Sustainable Perfectionism is bad for Mental Health. Here's Why...

Wellness Sep 11, 2019
  • Is environmental perfectionism realistic?
  • Is this perfectionist mindset detrimental to our mental health, self-esteem, and self-worth?
  • Is it the individual's fault if they aren't perfectly sustainable?

You're not alone if these questions run through your mind as you try to navigate the world of low waste environmentalism… So let's try to answer them.

Tasty Food is Bad for the Environment

Roasted Cauliflower is delicious. Stick it in a pita wrap with avocado and chickpeas and you've got yourself a quick and easy plant-based meal. Win for the planet, right? Almost. Have you ever tried to find pita bread and/or cauliflower without plastic packaging? It's damn near impossible, and therein lies the answer to the first question. Environmental perfectionism (at this point in time) is not a realistic goal for an individual to set.


Environmentalism is complex. Although products can be great in one aspect, more often than not, they fall short in another. The perfect product rarely exists. Sticking with the cauli-pita example, if every grocery store stocked plastic-free cauliflower or pitas, those products would likely go bad before they could be sold, leading to increased food waste.

Convenience is a Predator You Will Fall Prey to

Our end goal should be to achieve a 100% sustainable and environmentally-friendly lifestyle. But, we also have to recognize that in our society, where convenience is king, it's hard. We won't be perfect every single day and we will fall prey to convenience now and again. It's a scale, and our place on it constantly changes depending on what is happening in our lives.

Eco-Anxiety is Real

Despite perfectionism being unrealistic, we still give ourselves a hard time. Why? Perhaps it's because we know the state the planet is in and how limited our time is at curtailing the damage. Every time we buy that cauli-pita wrap, or just about every other product that has some sort of negative effect on the planet, we can feel a tiny bit closer to a planet we've helped destroy. That's scary, and we feel guilty. That guilt is shouting at us, telling us the planet should come before convenience. EVERY 👏 SINGLE 👏 TIME 👏. We feel like we aren't doing enough, like we're bad environmentalists, and then… we feel anxiety. Here's the thing… Society still relies heavily on convenience and few individuals can escape from it.

Convenience is Lazy and Selfish

It's not just us our perfectionism that makes us feel shitty. Our peers have a massive influence on us. Some eco-activists and low-wasters claim that convenience is lazy and selfish. That society can't be blamed for our actions. They have a point. Somewhat.

We DO need to be a different sort of consumer. We DO need to go the extra step and be inconvenienced to affect change. We DO need to take responsibility for our actions. We also need to give ourselves a break. Although it's easier said than done, we need to learn to be kind to ourselves, and place more weight on the successes, rather than the failures.

Photo by Hutomo Abrianto on Unsplash

It's Not Your Fault

The mindset that places pressure on us to be perfectly eco-friendly all of the time, and then blames us when we're not, is not only unrealistic, but it's outright damaging to our mental health. From a societal perspective, environmentalists and low-wasters are the non-conforming rebels. By consuming differently we ARE making a difference, no matter how often that may be. The REAL wrong-doer is capitalism.

Capitalism: an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.

Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash

Capitalism causes competition. Competition drives down production costs and can increase environmental damage. Capitalism has developed so that we work longer, for less money, with less job security. Capitalism means we pay more for accommodation, food, and products. Capitalism means that a lot of people rely on things being cheap and convenient to survive. The construct of society is the issue. NOT YOU.

Again, You Don't Need to be Perfect

All or nothing mindsets don't account for privilege or lack of. Privilege can come in time, money, accessibility, etc. People missing one or more of those things have additional barriers to their sustainability efforts. Think of single-parents, or any parent, trying to hold down a job and look after their kid/s. Is it realistic to expect them to find time or money to go the extra mile for eco-friendly products, all of the time? How about people with a disability, who may have limited accessibility and who rely on disability income. Is it realistic to expect them to use their energy and money to always be eco-friendly?

THE ANSWER IS NO. And, it's not realistic for you to be perfect either. What is deemed as convenience is different for everyone. Everyone relies on it in different ways, at different times, and in different places. It's not your fault that the things that are convenient for you aren't always eco-friendly. Rather than demonizing convenience and people who rely on it, we should push for convenience to be eco-friendly.

What About Voting With Your Money?

Obviously, don't stop buying eco-friendly products if and when you can. Don't stop going to the package-free store if you do have the time to go. Don't stop buying naked produce or products that do good, if you have the money to pay for them. Putting your money into supporting products that are better for the environment enables those companies to carry on and expand… Making them potentially more accessible to other people.

All You Have To Do Is Ask

You can push for change just by asking. For instance, email brands to ask if they would consider looking into eco-friendly packaging options. Email stores to ask if they would consider stocking more eco-friendly products, and if you know of brands that are, tell them. Letting businesses know what you want and why it's important to you, is a call for change. We ARE changing our buying habits and so changing our own definition of convenience, but we also need to push for systemic change by asking for businesses and governments to change with us and for us.

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

Conclusion: Perfectionism is Toxic

It can be hard to step away from a perfectionist mindset. We need to be kinder to ourselves and each other. We're ALL on a journey. Some people are beginners, some are more advanced. Our place on that journey can change every single day! The important thing is that we ARE trying.


Activist and organizer with Greenpeace Vancouver. Writes about climate and social justice, feminism, greenwashing, and fossil fuel fuckery.

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