Self care is a big deal these days. You can’t go two pages through a magazine without seeing scads of products designed to sooth your tortured soul. But what about zero waste self care?
We’ll get to that. But first, what exactly is self care?
“Self care in essence is the mindful taking time to pay attention to you, not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that ensures that you are being cared for by you” (source).
It seems that self care – like most things – has been commodified by capitalism to the point of being essentially useless. Let’s talk about it and then ways that we can subvert the system.
What is self care under capitalism?
I’ve 100% referenced this amazing piece before. If you missed it, I’ll recap the highlights. You should really just read the whole article, but this part:
By finding the solution to young people’s mental ill-health (be it a diagnosed mental health problem or simply the day-to-day stresses of life) in do-it-yourself fixes, and putting the burden on the target audience to find a way to cope, the framework of self-care avoids having to think about issues on a societal level. In the world of self-care, mental health is not political, it’s individual. Self-care is mental health care for the neoliberal era.
This part struck me because we see this so much in environmentalism as well: if we can just convince individuals they’re the problem, they’ll never actually try to address the root issues.
Self-care in this context is about treating the symptoms, not the sickness itself. It’s like if you’d get a staph infection and put pain relieving cream on the rash, rather than take the necessary antibiotics. Treating symptoms ensures the problem continues.
Self-care may sometimes help people fight the sickness, but often it’s just surface-level. Particularly when we see the highly capitalist-driven consumption of most self-care:
Self-care slots in neatly with capitalism, treating mental ill-health as an individual problem divorced from material and political context, to be solved by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and maybe spending a little money on the way. We are invited to draw inwards, shut our curtains; pull ourselves into movies and food and warm water and blankets as a means of escaping our problems without solving them. We are encouraged to “reach out” to others, if we feel able to, but our relationships to others in the language of self-care appears to be as mutual conduits for pressure relief; “reaching out” always seems to mean drawing someone into the blanket with you rather than throwing the blanket off.
And doesn’t that just hit hard? All of our current systems require us to remain divested from our communities; that’s why zero waste has such an emphasis on community building. Creating new systems that pull us forward together, not down and isolated.
In a shit world we need self-care after a hard day of terrible news.
Zero waste self care for the reluctant revolutionary
As the zero waste activist I know you are, hear me clearly: I want you to take care of yourself in the immediate now. I also want you to dismantle the oppressive systems that will continue to make you feel like shit.
Take a bubble bath. AND ruminate on how best to destabilize the wealthy elite.
Stuff your face full of gelato. AND help finance a micro-loan that can change someone’s life.
You get the idea.
While you apply a face mask, also call your representative about declaring a climate emergency
- Melaku Aromatherapy African moringa and oats mask
- Beecher’s Botanicals charcoal face mask
- Bestowed Essentials vegan face mask
- Eco Hippy reusable face mask sheets if you’re into DIY
If you’re not US-based, you can search “face masks” on Etsy and sort by location to support a maker close to you!
The climate emergency
As you let your face mask of choice sooth your skin, sooth your righteous anger by letting your elected officials know what’s up. You can ask them something specific to your area or just ask them to recognize a climate emergency. If you’re going that route, you can use this template from #ClimateEmergency:
We are in a climate and ecological emergency. We urgently need a massive effort to reverse global warming and protect humanity and the natural world from collapse. It’s time for Congress to join over 740 local governments in 16 countries around the world in telling the truth about the climate. I urge you to sign on as a sponsor of the Climate Emergency Declaration.
Use this website to find your representative’s contact information (US only).
While you zone out to a guilty-pleasure podcast, also do a quick trash pick up in your neighborhood
Guilty-pleasure podcasts are so personal, but I can’t recommend The Dollop more. It’s not even a guilty pleasure, it’s just a hilarious look at strange stories from American history. Best of all, Dave and Gareth are sustainability advocates and now tie almost every episode back to our current climate crisis.
Laugh and bemoan our inevitable destruction. Win-win.
Trash pick up
While picking up trash isn’t going to solve the climate crisis (changing our consumption habits as a system is a great place to start), it is a tangible, feel-good way to do something kind for the planet. An article from the UN puts it well:
there can be no denying the fact that volunteer cleanups protect wildlife, create momentum, raise awareness and save threatened habitats. It is nonetheless critical to make sure one seeks a long-term cure even while dealing with the symptoms of this toxic pollution.
You can totally do it alone, it might also be a great time to feel supported by your community and host a group clean. If you need some guidance, here are some tips for hosting a trash pick up event.
While you splurge on an ethical chocolate bar, also buy a week of low-waste groceries for someone in need
The cocoa industry is a dirty one. Rampant child labor, exploitation of land, and other human and environmental atrocities means if you’re eating chocolate from a large company it’s almost certainly created by suffering.
A suit in early July 2019 affirmed that children “on cocoa plantations in Africa can sue U.S. chocolate makers for allegedly collaborating in slave labor” (source). These big companies talk good game, but remember no matter how many reusable packages they put their desserts in, they still use child labor.
The Food Empowerment Project has a great list of chocolates that they recommend (or don’t) that’ll be helpful the next time you want a treat. But you better hurry – the climate catastrophe means that the places which currently grow chocolate may soon become untenable due to excessive heat and drought.
Here are a few FEP approved chocolate brands:
- Ritual Chocolate
- Amano Artisan Chocolate
- Raaka Virgin Chocolate
- Belvie Chocolate
- JEM (chocolate hazelnut spread)
Share low-waste groceries
I do this every couple months and it’s a nice way to get zero waste supplies to people who might not otherwise be exposed to them! Here’s what I do:
- Set a budget. For me I can get a pretty solid amount of items for $20, so I usually allot $60 for three bags of food, more if other people have chipped in money.
- Go shopping. I go to a local bulk store and try to get as much of whatever staples are on sale as I can budget for (rice, beans, lentils, oats etc). Then I’ll go to the local Save-a-Lot (my savior while struggling with zero waste on a budget in Indy) to get as many fruits and veggies as I can. I usually try to spend around 60% produce, 40% bulk. I package it up in some reusable cloth bags with a little note about keeping them and reusing them!
- Give it away. I buy everything before I give it away just because I tried to be nice once and get what people wanted. Two ended up not even showing, so the customization aspect was kind of pointless. I just list exactly what’s in it on my local Facebook free page and the first three people get it.
While you color in an adult coloring book, also commit to volunteering for one hour at a local organization
People really love coloring books, and it’s no surprise why. Creating art – anecdotally and scientifically – has been shown to relax by reducing cortisol levels. They can also be beneficial if you have trouble with traditional meditation techniques since the repetitive action can help you fall into a more meditative state.
Here are a few resources for a relatively waste-free coloring session:
- You Can Save the Earth adult coloring book by Sean K. Smith
- Doodle Zoo Life by Tree Free Greetings
- Onyx and Green recycled newspaper colored pencils
As you doodle, think about how you can amplify your personal passion for sustainability into something bigger. A great way to do this is by linking up with a non-profit or other community organization.
To make the process a little less daunting, ask yourself a few questions before you make a decision:
- How much consistent time do I have to dedicate to volunteering? Like anything, consistency is valuable. Whether you’re making a monetary or time donation, it’s helpful to causes to know that they can rely on your support on a regular basis. The first time you go, you have no idea what you’re doing and require a lot of training and hand-holding. The more you go, the more you can be effective in whatever role you find.
- What useful skills do I have? A lot of times people feel like they can’t help because they don’t have experience in sustainability or social work or whatever the expertise of the organization is. In fact, that’s probably not that important. Instead, offer your skills and see how they slot into the organization. Great at talking on the phone? Experience writing press releases? Know how to file like a pro? All super useful skill!a (And if you’re really not sure, there are always a lot of work that doesn’t require a specific skill set, like stocking a pantry or having people sign in as they arrive!)
- Is this organization truly the right fit? Here’s the thing: we can say we’re committed to doing volunteer work, but unless you’re truly passionate about the organization, the people are cool, and you feel a connection to their values, it’s pretty easy to let volunteering slide to the wayside. Make sure you’ve found the perfect organization!
- How can you amplify your efforts? Here’s the thing: volunteering is great but you’re still just one person. Help the organization by spreading the word! Talk about your experiences, share on social media, invite friends to come with you instead of meeting for a coffee… Make it bigger!
Go forth, reluctant revolutionary! Take care of yourself but don’t forget to help topple the oppressive systems holding us down!