Lately I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about values. I’m convinced that the key to living life successfully–well, one of the keys–is to be clear about your values, beliefs, and morals, and then follow through.
When we think of being true to your values, we think of it in grand decisions: the soldier in wartime refusing to follow through on an order, or a police officer refusing to be a part of a corrupt sting.
Or with food. If you’re a vegan, you just refuse to eat anything with meat, dairy, eggs, or any other animal products. If you’re a vegetarian, you don’t eat meat. You don’t compromise for a cupcake, or ice cream, the way Grimes did.
But when you’re trying to be “eco-friendly,” it’s much more complicated and subtle. Every single action you take has ramifications for the environment: what you eat, how you dispose of your waste, what transportation you use, what you buy and where you buy it from. Being environmentally friendly can be an all-consuming task, especially when weighed against other factors, like your budget, where you live and work, and who your friends are.
Still, I’ve been feeling a little hypocritical lately. Sure, my brand of sustainability is inclusive and welcoming. I don’t nag my friends or be rude to people in the name of the planet. I try to live by example and when the opportunity arises, nudge the people around me in the right direction. Maybe I’ll choose a farm-to-table restaurant for dinner, or take my boyfriend on a zero-waste grocery shopping trip.
That, however, means compromise. People are always accidentally roping me into being unsustainable. It’s the straws and plastic cups at the bar, the gifts from conventional brands, the friend asking me to just stop in Madewell for a bit to look around. I compromise more often than not, shrugging and taking the plastic cup and throwing it in the trashcan provided, cooing over the conventional clothing, and finding myself buying a pair of Madewell boots, saying to myself, “They are so cute and exactly what I’ve been looking for–I’ll wear them constantly.”
I always feel like a bit of a failure because of these compromises. I feel like when people are out with me, they must think, “… I thought she had a sustainable blog? So why is she running around with a cocktail with a plastic straw? In Madewell boots!”
Maybe they aren’t judging me, but I’m judging myself.
So I decided to run an experiment for the New Year. My New Year’s resolution will be for one month not to compromise on my values. At all. I will do whatever it takes to live my life 100% environmentally friendly.
I’m aware that No Impact Man has done this before–and in NYC–but I’m not interested in being a radical, in turning off my electricity and refusing to take take the subway because it runs on electricity. I just want to see what happens when I say, “No thank you, that isn’t in line with my values.” I want to see how my life changes when I work harder and do more, or give up things I thought were necessary or normal. I want to see if people get offended, like I fear they will. I want to see if it actually does take up a lot more of my time, or money. I want to see if I learn some things about myself and about eco-friendly living once I force myself to think deeper about what I’m doing every day, and maybe form some new habits.
The Rules of the Game
Here are my values:
- Waste: Do not bring into my home or send out of it disposable waste that will end up in the landfill. Always find the proper receptacle for waste, even when I’m out and about and don’t have easy access to recycling, etc.
- Food: Always eat organic and/or local.
- Consumption: Do not buy anything unnecessary. Only buy items that are made sustainably and to last, from companies I respect.
- Resources: Limit my use of resources like water and electricity.
- Chemicals: Only use non-toxic products.
- Plastic: Avoid plastic wherever possible.
Where I am
Just to understand where I am, during the last two days of the year, I wrote down every way in which I compromised:
- I put some stray hairs in my bathroom trash can.
- I get a tea bag out of a Teapigs box, which has a plastic bag liner.
- I pour myself some cereal out of a box with a plastic bag liner.
- I receive a package sent in a plastic padded envelope and throw the envelope away.
- I use and throwaway a paper towel.
- I throw away a used, disposable duster attachment.
- I buy conventional produce (with little stickers on them) from the nearest grocery store to my apartment.
- I have tea with a business contact at a conventional coffee shop. When I leave, I put my cup in the bus bin–I have no idea if they’re going to compost it or just throw it away. My guess is the latter.
- I buy a gift for my Aunt–some earrings by a local designer–and I accept the tiny, glossy shopping bag the associate offers me. Even though I’ve never found a way to reuse those shopping bags.
- I stop to buy some organic pasta and soup. I realize that I have forgotten my reusable bag, so I let the clerk put it all in a plastic bag.
- My boyfriend pulls some ground hamburger out of a plastic ziploc bag, then asks me what to do with the plastic bag. I tell him to toss it.
- I blow my nose and throw the tissue away.
- I eat some Reese’s peanut butter cups I got for Christmas. (I. Love. Reese’s.)
- I use a lint roller with the throwaway sticky sheet.
- I scoop my cat’s poop into a plastic bag and throw it away.
- I use RGB nail polish remover pads, which come in little packets that aren’t recyclable in NYC.
- I have a bunch of friends over to pregame before the New Year’s celebrations. We order conventional pizza for everyone. I drink the champagne I am given and ask no questions.
- I head out to a party near my apartment, where I drink three bottles of water over the course of the night.
None of these things are egregious exactly, but they all in little ways, are against my values. Can I do better? Of course I can!
It’s New Year’s day. I wake up at 2:30 pm after a long night out and survey the damage to my apartment from our pregame party the night before.
My first task is to clean. I am reminded of an old Betty Boop cartoon, House Cleaning Blues, as I wander about dazed, picking up empty champagne bottles. All the alcohol that came in the apartment was in glass bottles, so I recycle those. But I have to pick through the trash to take out all the compostable and recyclable things people put in there: plastic bags, pizza crusts, dirty napkins, corks, etc. Corks go into a mason jar to be taken to Whole Foods. Fabric pieces are in another mason jar to be taken to textile recycling at the Union Square farmers market. Dirty napkins, lime wedges and pizza crusts are in the compost.
When I try to put the plastic bags in our plastic bag holder, they just won’t fit. It is full, and I am not proud of this. I empty the holder completely and add the new ones to a pile to be taken to Whole Foods. I want to see how long before I start filling it back up again.
By the time I’m done, a full trash can has been reduced down to a dirty tissue, some nail polish remover packets, and some stray plastic packaging off of liquor bottles. I put the full liquor bottles away. They’re not organic, so I guess I’ll be drinking them much later. There’s one piece of pizza left, so I heat it up and eat it down to the crust, since you can’t compost cheese.
We sweep up, and put all the detritus in the trash. (You can compost vacuum cleaner dust, but our sweep up includes some non-organic trash. Maybe I should have picked it out. Oy. Compromise.) We mop up using a Zabada mop, which doesn’t need any cleaner, just water.
The litter box needs cleaning. “Hey, honey, maybe we should stop scooping the poop and putting it in plastic bags and flush it instead,” I tell my boyfriend. “The litter is flushable.”
“Oh yeah, I used to do that before we moved,” he says thoughtfully. Problem solved.
For breakfast/lunch, I make a healthy smoothie. For our dinner, I start making some fancy autumn avocado toast, but I accidentally knock a plate to the floor, ruining half of it. “Can we order in? I’m really hungry,” my boyfriend says. “NO. I’LL MAKE YOU SOME FOOD. WE ARE NOT ORDERING IN,” I snap at him. He backs down. I make us some organic pasta. He cleans up and tells me he loves me.
I still can’t find our can opener after a couple months of rattling through drawers. I get online and find an eco-friendly can opener from what looks like a good company, and throw in some veggie bags as well–we’re running low. I also order some non-toxic nail polish remover in a glass bottle from Abe’s Market, an online store I trust. Fingers crossed they send everything in sustainable packaging! Hmm, perhaps I should have called or emailed to check …
Finally, one of our slimline hangers broke. I put it on my to-do list to call the company tomorrow and ask if I can recycle them.
Today’s Main Takeaways
I’ve already had a win, by forcing myself to think a little harder about the litter box situation. By doing some research, have increased my knowledge of what to compost. I’m learning already! However, I haven’t left the apartment yet. The real challenges are coming …
Questions for you:
What are your values?
Do you feel like you compromise on them?