The Rubbish Guilt-Trip: Two No-Waste Nomads Get Blunt with People
The Rubbish Guilt-Trip is a category on our website specifically for posts on thornier, possibly controversial, issues, and how they relate to zero waste. Many of these topics are ones that, up till now, we’ve steered clear of for fear of touching nerves. They focus more on individual behaviour and practices, as opposed to government and business decisions. Expect frank thoughts on issues as wide-ranging as addiction to consumerism, privilege, climate denial, dietary choices, transportation, reproducing, inter-generational warfare, and more!
We’re all for the compassionate, positive, softly-softly approach to environmental behaviour change. We’ve seen the research that shows that people tend to shut off and do nothing when presented with too much depressing information about how we’re all doomed ecologically, or solutions that suggest the only way to divert disaster is through drastic change. Putting people off through negativity or overwhelm is the opposite of what we want because to achieve social and ecological transformation, we need everyone on board.
Being negative also makes no sense when there’s much to be positive about! Our positivity about zero waste is genuine. We really believe that it’s not too late to turn things around and that everything needed to do this has already been invented. We know from our personal experience that the zero waste lifestyle makes us far happier and fulfilled than we ever have been. So, we firmly believe that the alternative, less wasteful society we envision and promote is not only possible, but better than what we have now on almost every measure.
Nevertheless, being endlessly compassionate, gentle and upbeat in the face of a rapidly accelerating environmental disaster does take a toll on us mentally. We often feel like great big sponges that soak up all the eco anxiety, terror and paralysis of our audiences and followers, and then ooze out eco-positivity, joy and sunshine. Sometimes we feel like frauds – like this approach doesn’t do justice to the urgency and severity of the crises we face.
Being positive can mean not talking about common, deeply embedded societal practices that are incompatible with zero waste, in case revealing this truth might overwhelm people. Or filtering out messages about the endless corporations and businesses that do not and will not change (or who choose to greenwash like there’s no tomorrow). Sometimes, we feel obliged to sugarcoat information about how supposed ‘solutions’ to our waste crisis are not the answer—like compostable packaging, hair-brained plastic recycling schemes, or some business’ latest greenwashed product—lest we hurt someone who’d shared these ideas thinking, for a second, that they’d found the answer.
Put a foot wrong and the person you’re talking to gets defensive, or the internet is on you like a tonne of bricks for being extreme, shaming people, not celebrating the small wins, for being an idiot (or worse, an expert), and for failing to recognise that ‘not everyone is perfect like you’. There is one important exception, and that’s politicians—they seem to be fair game. Nobody seems to jump to politicians’ defence or feel bad when Government inaction is highlighted. Come to think of it, people are also OK with Councils being criticised. But we digress…
Sometimes our fear of triggering defensiveness and then effectively ‘losing people’ causes us to treat entire topics as “no-go” zones. The problem with this is that while we’re tip-toeing around, there are plenty others out there (some with vested interests) spreading misinformation that our silence leaves unchecked.
The zero waste movement has grown exponentially in the last two years. As has scrutiny on our waste and recycling systems, efforts to implement policies and schemes to change things, and business innovations to reduce waste. In the midst of this, we’ve begun to feel not only a cathartic need, but also an ethical requirement, to bring up some of the ‘hard conversations’ surrounding both waste and necessary solutions.
We would like to do this in a space where we can be honest and which doesn’t eat up hours of our time agonising over whether we’ve said something that might inadvertently deflate or overwhelm someone or lead to some corporation gaslighting us or calling us up and yelling at us (yes, these things happen).
SO, we’re launching a little series on our website called “The Rubbish Guilt-Trip” where we’ll have some of these hard conversations on waste, for people who feel OK about opening up Pandora’s box or jumping down the rabbit hole with us. We’re going to put all these posts into one discreet, cordoned-off category. So, if you feel you’re in a phase of your life or your zero waste journey where information like this would not be constructive, or might make you upset, deflated or overwhelmed, DON’T READ THESE POSTS! You’ll still be able to peruse all the other areas of our website without having our evil alter-egos invade your space. Think of this particular post as an elaborate eco trigger warning!
For those of you who are ready and keen though, we’re looking forward to sharing some of these posts with you and nutting out some of these tougher issues.
 Niki Harré (2011) Psychology for a Better World: Strategies to Inspire Sustainability (Auckland: University of Auckland). Or check this video to see Niki Harré summarising why positivity works best. See also: Catherine Leining (2015) “Not a Problem, Someone Else’s Problem, My Problem or Our Opportunity? Shifting Attitudes and Behaviour on Mitigating Climate Change” Motu Economic and Public Policy Research; Alana Cornforth (2009) “Behaviour Change: Insights for Environmental Policy Making from Social Psychology and Behavioural Economics” Policy Quarterly 5(4).