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I’m an Imperfect Environmentalist—And I Think That’s Okay

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waseda chapter.

You care about the environment. You are concerned for the future of this planet, and you feel this agonizing sense of guilt when you read words like climate change and plastic pollution in the newspaper. But are you an environmental advocate? Do you practice zero waste lifestyle daily? Surely, you must be a vegetarian—or better yet, a vegan—since you care about animal rights so much, right? Well… If you answered “No” to all of the questions above, don’t worry. I’m with you.

I have always been afraid of speaking up for the environment. Whenever I scrolled through my Instagram feed, I would always come across these beautiful, informative posts on how sustainable lifestyle gurus successfully minimize their plastic waste, or how everything they eat in a day are completely plant-based. Invigorated by the teachings of these posts, books and videos on Youtube, I started challenging myself to be more mindful of my eating habits, waste production and carbon footprints—and even though I was nowhere near all those activists and influencers, that was okay. I felt morally validated and confident in my choice of actions that could help save the planet. But slowly, as time passed by, I found myself creating a wall between myself and the “perfect” vegans and zero waste practitioners inside my head. With their flawless smoothie bowls and morning yoga sessions, their status seemed to be too far beyond my reach. ‘You could never be like them. You’re happy that you didn’t ask for a plastic bag at the supermarket, but these people don’t produce any waste for a week,’ I thought to myself. While I was giving myself a pat on the back for going meat-free for a day, these people have been going meat, dairy and gluten free for years. There was a narrative in my head that constantly reminded me of how my actions were too trivial to make a difference for the entire planet.

But a couple of weeks ago, I came across a book which was written in defense of being an imperfect environmentalist, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that I inhaled the book on the spot. I came to realize that having an eco-conscious lifestyle doesn’t mean that we all have to commit to a 100% vegan, zero waste lifestyle. I learned that there are a lot of people who are going through the same issues as me— the secret struggles of feeling insecure and shameful of not being able to perfect their daily routines and habits to be more eco-friendly. But here’s the thing:

Caring about the environment doesn’t mean that we are obliged to become hardcore environmental advocates.

Rather, pursuing a sustainable lifestyle means embracing all the little efforts and changes that we make to help care for the planet. I know how easy it can be for us to think that one perfect, waste-free vegan can make all the difference in the world— but trust me, it can’t compare to hundreds of people who care for the environment in their own imperfect ways. If you want to participate in making a difference in the world for the better, here are five places where you can make small, but powerful steps to make your life more environmentally friendly.

  1. At Home
    As Bea Johnson, the author of Zero Waste Home noted, just remember the five R’s:
    Refuse what you do not need.
    Reduce what you do need; reconsider just how much stuff you actually need.
    Reuse by repurposing stuff, or by using reusable objects.
    Recycle what you cannot refuse, reduce or reuse.
    Rot (compost) the rest.
    Not sure how you can swap out some of your most-used products for reusable ones? We got you. For example, you can replace those single-use makeup wipes with reusable makeup remover pads, and your plastic toothbrush with a bamboo one. Instead of reaching for pads and tampons, try using menstrual cups that can be emptied, washed, and reused. It is also a great idea to invest in resource-saving items, like water-saving shower heads. You can also opt for public transport over driving your own car while commuting, and even try car-free living if you can.
  2. In the Kitchen
    There are so many ways where you can go Earth-friendly in the kitchen! For one, try composting— it is by far the fastest way to reduce what you send to landfill. You could also swap out single-use products for reusable ones here too: washable beeswax wraps, reusable cotton napkins, and reusable cotton sandwich baggies are just a few out of many available options out there. What’s more, making less orders on UberEats and eating in more often is a fantastic way to reduce waste as well! If you’re willing to make a few tweaks to your diet, try reducing your meat consumption— and don’t worry if you don’t feel like you can fully commit to a plant-based diet yet. You can always start small by participating in campaigns like Meatless Monday. Never rush yourself; it is important to take baby steps and make small progresses before being able to fully commit.
  3. In Your Neighbourhood
    Say hello to your local farmers market. So many fresh fruits and veggies are awaiting you— and the best part? They’re plastic free! It is so easy to go zero waste at farmers market, and not only are you reducing the use of disposable plastic packaging, you are also contributing to cutting almost all of the carbon emissions used to transport food. Plus, it’s a great way to stay on budget too! If you’re living in Tokyo, Aoyama Farmers Market is a gorgeous place to take a stroll at; it is always a joy to visit on a beautiful sunny Saturday, where you can interact with farmers and craftsmen on their beautiful, locally grown and homemade products.
  4. When Going Shopping
    Ditch the plastic bags and packaging! According to an article published by the Environmental Investigation Agency, “Japan produces 9.4 million tonnes of plastic waste per year, with the average Japanese person generating 37kg of single-use plastic waste in 2019 alone.” Bring your own bags and containers for groceries, and try to buy less items in plastic packages. Buying products in glass bottles is a great alternative too! Glass bottle return scheme is a remarkable way to properly manage waste, and once the bottle is returned, it can be used for up to ten years in Japan. If you’re out to shop for cute outfits, try buying second-hand clothes or supporting fashion brands that are ethical and environmentally conscious. You’ll feel pretty amazing for ditching fast fashion products.
  5. At a Restaurant or a Cafe
    Reusable coffee tumblers and easy-to-clean stainless steel straws are your best friend! It’s about time we wave goodbye to disposable, single-use paper cups, and luckily, a lot of big-name brands have been announcing their goals to be more Earth-friendly. If you’re a coffee lover and can’t go a day without a cup of coffee in the morning, try opting for eco-friendly options like organic, bird-friendly, rainforest alliance certified, and fair trade. Going green doesn’t mean compromising on flavor!
Audrey Har

Waseda '23

Hi there! I’m Audrey. Born in Seoul, (partially) raised in Vancouver and now living in Tokyo, I’m a photography enthusiast, cafe and restaurant hopper, and an avid baker. If you can’t catch me at school, you’ll probably find me spending an entire day in my room watching Netflix, or exploring Tokyo on a mission to find local hidden gem restaurants.