Breaking up with eco-perfectionism

Tea ball. Evil incarnate? Photo credit: Jlodder

For the first six months of this year, I skirmished daily with my tea ball. Actually, make that tea balls. I am outnumbered 2 to 1. One has a tiny metal latch that you need to thumb closed. The other is spring-operated and shuts with the predatory snap (if not the force) of a bear trap.

Convinced as I was that my daily tea bag habit was trashing the planet, I was resolved to give up tea bags altogether in favor of loose leaf tea. Every morning, I awoke determined to conquer these simple kitchen gadgets that would make me a better greenie.

Yeah. And pretty much every morning, the score card looked like this: Tea ball: 2; Jennifer: 0.

These things are evil.  So evil that I am tempted to start calling people I dislike ‘tea balls.’ They sneered at my attempts to close the latch in my pre-caffeinated total lack of motor control. They snapped shut on my fingers. They leaked out bits of tea (rooibos was the worst) so that every cup ended with a gritty mouthful of dead leaves. They were a pain to clean, so I left them in the sink. In the morning, I would blearily dump out a sodden ball of tea leaves, attempt a quick swipe with a sponge, and start the whole process over again.

In June, I signed up for a class that required me to be out of the house and awake enough to drive by 7:30am every day. About halfway through, I made some quick triage calculations and caved. I went for a box of 100 Irish breakfast tea bags for the following reasons: 1) I am exactly the kind of tea drinker who scoffs at boxes of 20 bags; 2) Irish breakfast has a lot of caffeine; and 3) the more bags in a box, the less likely they are to be individually packaged.

Now it’s October. I’m not sure where my tea balls have gone. I secretly hope the dishwasher has eaten them.

I’ve struggled for a long time with whether tiny personal actions matter. My response has usually been to say that they matter in a symbolic way, as daily, personal reminders to live consciously. What I never thought to ask myself is this: what is the trade off of agonizing over spinach bags, tea bags, plastic dental floss boxes, the occasional disposable paper coffee cup (used to hold tea, of course)?

I think there is a cost, actually. Speaking for myself, I’ve always had a finite amount of head space. (Go ahead, make a crack at my intelligence.) I am totally the Anti-Multi-Tasker. If I’m concentrating on my blog, I can’t work on my novel. If I’m fully engaged at work or school, I can’t really do justice to my blog. There’s just not enough time or space in my head to go full tilt at everything I’m interested in at the same time. And what I’ve come to realize is that fretting about the small stuff leaves me with less energy, time, and headspace to do things that might actually benefit this planet. Like plant trees, volunteer with my local native plant society, get involved with local conservation. For me, the fact that there’s always more to fix in my own life has been a sort of excuse not to get outside of it. And finally, there’s the danger of that ‘OK, I’ve done enough’ complacency when I have arranged my life to relatively green standards.

It’s true that there is plenty of room for improvement in my own life. I still have a car. I still haven’t made an attempt to vermicompost indoors. I still haven’t switched to cloth toilet paper. I still use tea bags. But…you know what? I’ve been a vegetarian for years. I’m not having kids. I travel maybe once a year. I don’t shop much. I live with another person and share resources. For a developed world citizen, I’m doing okay on most of the big impact lifestyle habits. Actually, I’m tired of futzing around with the little stuff that might reduce my negative impact ever so slightly, and am finally maybe-kind-of-ready to leave my armchair.

My growing issue with focusing on green living is that it tends to start and end with one’s own life, and the problems we’re dealing with are so much bigger than that. They require education, research, legislation, and communication.

I’m delighted to announce that I am finally getting close, after much haranguing with my condo association, to planting a new tree outside my window where the last one was removed. Planting a tree is a small first step away from the armchair. Getting myself fully scientifically literate is another. And after that? Who knows?

What’s your relationship with eco-perfectionism? Has it changed over the years?

69 responses to this post.

  1. The best time to plant a tree is 30 years ago; the second best is now. As for the trees used to make paper. I wrote about that here: But, if my article doesn’t convince that foregoing paper doesn’t “save” trees, the 16oz Teavana PerfecTea Tea Maker is a neat tea maker (warning it uses plastic).

    As for your question, “What’s your relationship with eco-perfectionism? Has it changed over the years?”, my view of “green living” has undergone a 180 degree turn since I read Matt Ridley’s 2010 book, The Rational Optimist.

    “In a nutshell,” Ridley says, “the most sustainable thing we can do, and the best for the planet, is to accelerate technological change and economic growth.”

    It will be technological change (accelerated by trade) that makes the world more habitable for all its species, and not a decision to spend less on luxuries. History bears this out:

    * Land was freed up from agricultural production not by eating less meat, but by using machines for farming (since machines don’t need pasture–livestock added a need for 30-50% more land to be in agricultural production).
    * It was the discovery of how to use coal, instead of wood, to power machines that saved forests, not from deciding to use less wood.
    * More land was freed up by making each acre more productive via synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, not by fasting once a week.
    * Whales were saved from extinction, not by lowering the amount of whale oil one bought, but by people buying the newer and more affordable kerosene (derived from coal) for lighting.
    * Even habitats can benefit from trade. According to Susan Hecht writing in the publication, Nature, El Salvador’s forests have increased, not shrunk, due to globalization, Salvadoreans working abroad send remittances to relatives so they no longer have to clear forests for subsistence farming.

    “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” will challenge all your assumptions.



    • Hi Norm,

      I’m not too worried about the impact of my 100% post consumer recycled toilet paper! (There was a time when I was a little annoyed at finding that it likely contains BPA, but I’m over it.) I haven’t read The Rational Optimist, but I am working my way through Stuart Brand’s Whole Earth Discipline. I have ideological reasons for disagreeing with his conclusions regarding population. As a misanthrope, I think there are simply too many humans and I don’t think there are enough facts in the world to convince me otherwise. 😉

      I appreciate your Salvadorean example, but I have to think that it is the exception rather than the rule for humanity’s use of natural resources. Everything’s a give and take — while there are certainly some situations in which responsible use is ultimately more beneficial than hands-off conservation, I want to evaluate things on a case by case basis.


      • “As a misanthrope, I think there are simply too many humans and I don’t think there are enough facts in the world to convince me otherwise.” Then consider this:

        “[B]izarrely, thanks to a worldwide phenomenon called the demographic transition, the richer and healthier and more urbanised we become now, the fewer babies we have. Population growth rates worldwide have been plummeting so fast that the rate at which the world is adding people—in actual numbers, not just percentages—has now been falling for 22 years. Even in Africa the birth rate
        is falling fast. The United Nations now estimates that world population will probably have ceased growing altogether when it hits around 9.3 billion some time after 2060.

        “This means that far from doubling as it did in the nineteenth century, or quadrupling as it did in the twentieth, the population of the world will have multiplied by less than 1½ times during this century. The falling land-intensity of life will then begin to have more and more impact. As the population growth rate slows, the footprint of humanity itself will start to shrink. By 2070, every reduction in land use per person will be a gain to the whole species.

        “In fact, it is happening now. The east coast of the United States was once intensively farmed. It now consists of islands of farming in a sea of forest….

        “The ecological footprint of humankind is too large. It is our duty to shrink it. But going back to organic farming, self-sufficiency, renewable energy or even hunter-gathering will only increase it at the expense of other species. By far the best way to cut the human footprint down to size in the 21st century is to use more technology to raise productivity, more fertiliser to raise yields, more natural gas—the least carbon-rich, least land-hungry and possibly most abundant of the
        fossil fuels—to amplify human work and more prosperity to lower birth rates.
        Then our great grandchildren can live lives of great wealth, health and wisdom while surrounded by vast wildernesses.

        “More cities and more tigers….”

        – Matt Ridley “How To Shrink the Human Footprint: And How Going Back to Nature Would Be a Disaster for Nature” (

        Ridley’s, How to Shrink the Human Footprint is short and well worth the read.


  2. Posted by smallftprints on 10/12/2012 at 10:11

    Perhaps it’s the evolution of being a “greenie”. When I began my journey, I took on all the small things because I felt so powerless with the big things and I needed to do something. I still feel that all the small contributions, added together, create a large impact … and I also believe they are the appropriate “first steps” in greening up our lives … but now I find that I want to move away from all the little things (because most of them are now a part of my life) and tackle bigger stuff. I want to be part of a much larger movement. You’re right … getting educated (beyond the simple green living ideas) is the next step.


    • Hi Smallftprints,

      I think you’re right — it’s a fairly logical jump from greening our own lives to wanting to have a positive impact rather than simply reducing our negative impacts. I agree that small steps within our own lives are a good, probably necessary, first step. However, I hate to see the whole green living coterie of bloggers get bogged down in this process. I feel like there’s a lot of bickering about who’s the ‘greenest consumer’ or who is more of a purist in this or that, and that — as much as my own stagnation — troubles me.


      • Posted by Bobbi on 07/26/2016 at 08:43

        I agree with Smallftprints, it really is up to all of us doing whatever we can. Even if it appears small to us, if we collectively do what we can it make a big difference.

        I do agree with you Jeniffer that someones we get bogged down with the method and forget why we a re doing we are.

        Thanks for the great post!


  3. Your thoughts really spoke to me…not only as a GINK (lol- I love it!), but as someone who feels a little shred of guilt every time I know there’s a “greener” way to do whatever I’m doing at the moment. You post let me off the hook a little 🙂


    • Hi Lilliworm!

      Guilty is as guilty does. 🙂 I actually find small amounts of guilt to be fairly good motivation, but that could just be me. Large amounts are incapacitating. I truly don’t think there’s much value in self-flagellating over small lapses in consciousness that ultimately don’t tip the scale in one direction or another. I also find that evaluating the ‘greenness’ of an action is so complex that it can easily eat up more brain space. (E.g. if I order plastic-free floss off the internet, does the impact of its transportation, packaging tape, and invoice outweigh the impact of buying regular floss at a store I was going to anyway?) I think getting the big stuff figured out is most important, and the rest is just icing.


  4. Ha! Oh I totally agree. We greenies are soooo fond of talking about “sustainability” but we tend to forget that the word must also apply to our ability to sustain our own lives without making ourselves crazy!

    The thing is, we live in an industrialized society – we just do. And trying to operate as if you were living on a 19th century farm when your realities are completely different just doesn’t make sense. And you can end up in a situation where your attempts to live your own life “flawlessly” (whatever that even means) consume every bit of energy that you have. And the real tragic part is that all of our personal “sacrifices” don’t really add up to a hill of beans when you look at the big picture.

    I saw a talk once (can’t remember the presenter’s name now) by a fellow who was talking about the futility of trying to increase sustainability in a world that is out of control in terms of population growth. It was a really sobering look at the situation. He basically showed that even herculean efforts to reduce our impact will be completely cancelled out by population growth faster than it’s possible to make the changes.

    It’s not like I’m gonna throw in the towel, go buy a Hummer and start buying individually wrapped ice cubes or something like that, but I certainly have tempered my efforts at green perfectionism. Basically, at this point I try to look for the “sweet spot” where the what’s good for the environment and what’s good for me meet. But in my heart of hearts I think this will all end up being a self-limiting problem anyhow.

    If it’s any consolation, I went out and bought a tea ball (a different kind that doesn’t have the clasp issue – looks like this one: But I’ve never even used it because I haven’t found any place in my daily travels that actually carries bulk tea! And what little bulk tea I have found cost about 10 times the pre-bagged stuff, and I just wasn’t willing to go there.


    • Hi Cat!

      I have that tea ball. It is evil. It leaks, it snaps shut on fingers, it never scoops the right amount. Dislike! If you have better luck with it, let me know.

      I think it’s good to approach this with a sense of realism and reserve effort for areas in which it really matters. I love your idea of having a ‘sweet spot.’ I think that will probably look a little different for all of us, but it’s a useful reminder that everything’s a compromise. I’m not as resigned to sending the planet to hell in a handbasket — I want to mess around with plants and help solve at least a few of the problems we’ll face in a changing climate. 🙂


  5. Perfection is the way to a sour life! If you have no children, you can be forgiven for a lot of things ungreen. If you don’t eat meat, you can let the dang water run while you’re brushing your teeth (it takes 2500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, right? That’s 2000-10,000 minutes of toothbrushing time, per pound!). And so on. So go ahead: ditch the evil tea balls.

    (I use a strainer that rests on the edges of the cup: I can’t make a half-cup, but I never do anyway. When I’m done I just clang it to make the wad of tea leaves fall out. With green tea, I dump the leaves on the bottom of the tea cup. Good for multiple cups; also good for chewing thoughtfully as I’m writing, or reading; easy to scoop out. When CelloDad gets his super-special Darjeeling, I’ll take it, tea bag and all. Got to live).

    Hey! I know: you could fill it with catnip….


    • Hey CelloMom,

      You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I am a perfectionist in other areas of my life. If I throw a pot with anything more than a +/- 3mm wobble, I cut it open and start over. I don’t think perfectionism is necessarily a bad thing, but it can interfere with bigger picture goals.

      I try not to use the lifestyle choices I’ve made for completely un-green reasons (I don’t eat animals because I like them more than I like meat; I don’t have kids because I don’t want them) as a get-out-of-jail card for the rest of my environmental impact, but I have to say: it helps with the guilt.

      This whole conversation makes me want some afternoon tea, perhaps a pot of Earl Grey with a splash of milk. 🙂


  6. Jennifer, I am with you on the small stuff. Being conscious is one thing, and immersion in the details can be initially satisfying, but growth requires leaving our comfort zones. Even larger acts in isolation do little to move the needle. It’s when we step outside and join our communities–plant that tree, start that community garden, green that schoolyard, insist on bike lanes, vote to invest in more efficient infrastructure–that we make measurable gains that give us both satisfaction and increased drive towards a better community ecology. Thank goodness for social media that has made it easier for us to share our gains and join the movement. Go get ’em, Girl!


    • Hi Becky,

      Beautifully said. I agree that social media can be awesome (although I know I waste too much time online that could be spent more productively) — I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be pursuing science if not for the many conversations I’ve had with scientists on Twitter.


  7. i think it was letting go of taking bubble baths. i do so much… and these baths help my stress level.

    i think the small stuff can be easy to change- so it’s easy to focus there… but really it’s the big stuff that has more impact.

    (btw, I also hate tea balls, and am in LOVE with my david’s tea mugs and handy dandy open tea cup strainer dealys. it’s more to do with how much better the tea tastes than the wastefulness though- cuz you’re right, tea bags aren’t worth the stress 🙂 )


    • Hi EcoYogini,

      I went to school in England for a year, and my building only had bath tubs (no showers). It felt very weird to me to be taking baths all the time, since California has been in some state of drought or near-drought my whole life, but it was incredibly soothing to slip into hot water and stay there for a while. My home here only has a shower, otherwise I’m sure I’d be tempted!

      Love the design of the tea mug (both the print and the form). I have a travel mug that is similar, with a set-in strainer that can be removed, but it doesn’t hold very much tea and the mesh still isn’t fine enough for some of my teas. I have so many tea accessories that I can’t justify getting another until I break some!


  8. I checked the price of loose tea and gave up on the idea of wanting a tea ball when I found how expensive they are. I know I am not perfect, and I too have given up on perfection, I just want to get better as I am ready. There are so many little changes I’ve made. Moving to a small studio apartment, buying used and consignment clothes and so on. I gave up my car this summer as well.

    While I know I’m never going to be perfect, I know I’ve made great strides and have to be happy with that. I know at least the decisions I make are better than what I used to make and at the same time I know I can’t offset the damage and waste from people who haven’t made similar changes, and I have to be okay with that.


    • Hi Lois,

      Loose tea is a funny thing — super expensive at Whole Foods, which may be the only place where people can easily find it, pretty darn cheap at the Asian market. I think Twinings also sells loose tea in tins, which I should maybe look into, because it works out to a lot less per cup of my favorite Lady Grey.

      Well done you for letting go of your car! I keep thinking about it, the timing is never right, the public transportation option is never there…and well, I still have my car.

      I agree that it IS totally frustrating to see the people around you behaving without consciousness or conservation in mind. I fish out recyclables out of the skip in my condo, and I see red whenever there are a whole lot of plastic water bottles, which there often are. I think I’ve made a little more peace with it by knowing that I am responsible for my impact, and anything I can fix outside that is icing on the cake.


      • We have two places where they sell loose tea, both are close to 20 miles from me, which seems crazy to me the way I drink tea. Luckily, my grandmother was the tea drinker and used the same bag all day so that’s how I learned to drink tea. Friends think it’s gross and a silly thing to do, but I can drink tea all day using one bag, saves money.

        I see red when I notice the recyclables which are in the garbage dumpster. The two are right next to each other, but they won’t take the time to put their things in the proper bin. My neighbor and I have been caught many times fishing things out with rakes and things to switch them to the proper bin. We get funny looks, but since everyone knows each other they just look at it as one of our quarks.

        Letting go of my car was hard only for one reason. I drive every other month the 200 mile round trip to visit my youngest son and his family. I checked out other ways of getting there, but nothing would work. So I gifted my oldest son and his wife with the car.

        My son is a corrections officer, he works third shift but gets mandated to work double shifts often, which then leaves his wife and children without transportation. Driving them to doctors appointments and the like was what I was using my car for other than those trips. So by giving them the car they have a back up, and I can borrow it to visit my youngest.

        By giving them the car it also helped their finances. We have horrible winters here so my son has a SUV for mornings when the roads aren’t plowed yet when he’s coming home from work. Now in the nice weather he drives the car. The SUV gets 20 miles per gallon, the car 30 at these prices that’s a lot of savings for them.


        • My mother does the same thing with her tea leaves. By the end of the tea, she’s basically drinking hot water, but doesn’t seem to mind! I take my tea (at least in the morning) the British way, dark and strong with the bitterness tamed by a splash of milk. I do try to reuse my tea bags twice before chucking them out.

          What a generous and kind-hearted present you made to your son.


          • Posted by livingsimplyfree on 10/13/2012 at 22:43

            Thank you, I enjoy helping my children out when I can, they know when I do bigger things for them it’s just a one time thing, the babysitting well that’s something I enjoy so I do it whenever they need me.

            As for the tea bags, I was taught to only use the bag till it colors the water and remove it so it can be used longer.

  9. Posted by Rosa on 10/12/2012 at 21:18

    I’m pretty lazy, so I’ve never been a perfectionist in any area of my life. But I think what I want is constant improvement more than anything else – in my knowledge, in my practices, and also in political engagement.

    I do think blogging in general, because it’s so personal, has a tendency to focus on these small things – there’s a special class of bloggers who are basically citizen journalists, but most of us are just writing about our own lives, whether we’re talking finances or green living or making art or home decorating. There’s also a narrative focus on change – doing what you already do isn’t going to feel like it’s worth writing about.

    Plus we tend to normalize our lives. I make about 3 phone calls a week on political causes. It doesn’t feel like activism to me, frankly – it’s the bare minimum of engagement with an activist group I don’t have the resources to do real work with, right now. But then I talk a friend into making just one short call, and it’s a big step for her and she feels like she really acted on her beliefs, because her normal is to just read and be aware and not do anything. So I wouldn’t blog about making a phone call – but she would. And that might give a reader the feeling that my friend is making a big deal about not doing very much, but it’s just a snapshot of one step on a long road. You know?


    • Hi Rosa,

      Good points, and you’re right that blogging by nature is probably skewed towards the little things. (Also, the people who are really busy doing stuff in the world probably don’t have time to blog!) Once we’ve made the big changes, we don’t tend to keep writing about them! I’m startled sometimes by how invisible change is. Even between one year and the next, I’ll change my habits quite a bit, but so slowly that it doesn’t feel like major change.

      However…I was in the bookstore last night, and I find that much of the ‘environmental’ section is focused on tiny, easy actions that we can do to be ‘green’. I actually saw a book called It’s Easy to Be Green and took immediate offense. 😉 I get the appeal of approaching people and starting with the easy stuff, but can we get off the lightbulb/ reusable bag kick already? I think educating on diet, transportation, consumer habits, and how to take your concern outside your own life are critical.

      I hate making phone calls to people I don’t know, so I salute you. Your example of your friend wasn’t what I had in mind when I wrote this post — it was more about a conversation I had with some ‘green’ women earlier in which they were worried about things like the toxicity of clay and synthetic vitamin C and non-toxic Groundhog Day decorations and other things firmly within the spheres of their own lives. I think picking up the phone and calling a politician is a great step away from that.


      • Posted by Rosa on 10/14/2012 at 19:03

        yeah, but that woman might be worrying about her groundhog day decorations because she already put up 55 pints of homegrown solar-roasted eggplant and is moving on to a new project, you know? And if people are interested in changing their diet, or their commute, or whatever, they’re not picking up a “how to green your life” book, right? They’re picking up a book about “how i gave up my car” or one of those less with more cookbooks or something.

        There’s just this big disconnect between “green” as a marketing category, including for books, and environmentalism as a movement or a focus – like, was McKibben in there with the Green Living books, or stuck over in a different corner under Environmental Science?

        Calling politicians and bank vice presidents is not feeling very useful right now, it’s just something i do because i can’t think what else to do. I’ve gotten the most response via whining on facebook, lately – turns out a friend has a friend on the committee that changes street signs, who knew? So it’s hard for me to judge the “is my makeup toxic” people too much – if any of us knew how to fix things, we’d have done it, so it’s hard for me to say what counts as “real” action.


        • I agree that it’s hard to decide what is meaningful action, but I have to think that it lies outside the scope of the kind of fretting that I see and participate in. I dislike activism because it so often seems underinformed, but I don’t think that should keep me from acting in other ways outside my own life. Since my interests are in ecology and botany, for me, those actions are likely to do with planting trees, educating about native plants, learning about my local ecosystem. I don’t expect everyone to share my interests, but I do think that everyone could find an area in which to be proactive.

          I’m a little soured by an experience I had earlier this year, in a ‘green’ group that was ALL about fretting about the toxicity of things very unlikely to harm us and useless green gadgets for their all too many children, and very little about conservation and biodiversity and the things I care about. I have never been so out of harmony with any group of people, and it makes me despair if this is the face of green!


          • Posted by Rosa on 10/15/2012 at 19:02

            you might just be too radical for your social group. There is a group of crunchy amateur botanists out there waiting for you to show up – maybe one of the groups that does species counts on a volunteer basis?

            It can be hard, because so much of this is lifestyle/identity based – conceptually I hang somewhere between the wildlife defenders and Earth First!, but my actual life is much more tame. So I look crazy and radical to the folks I actually spend time with (my mom can seriously not understand my aversion to flying and plastic wrap, she continues to believe it’s about money when it’s about carbon footprint and reusability) but tame and middle-class to the folks I do political work with.

          • Posted by Jennifer on 10/15/2012 at 19:51

            Hah — I’m too radical for the green blogging world? That could explain why I feel so drawn to science. I want to act, but I also want to have good information before I act, and science is usually where it can be found. I’m catching up on my science undergrad requirements to apply to botany and plant bio graduate programs right now.

            I dunno, I still think that a whole lot of what gets talked about in ‘green’ circles just distracts us from bigger picture problems and things we can actually do about them instead of pottering about bemoaning the one time we forgot our reusable bags. 🙂

          • Posted by Rosa on 10/15/2012 at 22:24

            well, it’s not terribly difficult to be too radical for the “buy green versions of products” set, at least.

            Even before you get to grad school there are more-sciency conservation groups active in your area, I’m sure – I’ve learned of great ones through friends who are master gardeners, bird watchers, parks enthusiasts (lots of amateurs out there eradicating invasive nonnative plants and stewarding urban trees), etc. They still have their share of crackpots, but it’s a whole different dynamic than the purity/child safety/green retailing groups. And then there are the biking, hiking, and camping people if you ever venture into that.

          • Posted by Jennifer on 10/16/2012 at 12:12

            Touche. Radical is a relative term. 🙂 I’m slightly involved with my local California native plant society chapter, and hoping to become more so in the spring, and I’ve also been told I should take up rock climbing if I want to study redwoods (which I do). Today’s bio lecture was about diatoms and kelp forests, and I just can’t get over how fascinating a planet we live on…and I guess that’s the core of why I care about it.

  10. One-cup teapot and tea strainer? No, I don’t, either. Teabags compost well and make good eye compresses, so that’s a bit of recycling, at least.
    If we all do something, anything, to reduce impact and lower consumption, that’s good. big things, little things, action or omission – whatever. The more we do, the better. If some people get their kicks from competing for the Green Queen award, fine. The thing to avoid is doing nothing, being utterly unaware or utterly cynical. Kindness, thoughtfulness and gratitude for what we already have will help us reduce impact and improve our contribution, whatever forms they take.


    • Hi Arabella,

      Hah! The Green Queen award is exactly what it feels like some green blogger groups are striving for. I couldn’t agree more with you when you say that “The thing to avoid is doing nothing, being utterly unaware or utterly cynical.” Thank you.


    • Posted by Rosa on 10/14/2012 at 19:07

      some brand of tea – and i can never remember which one, it’s one of the fair trade ones, we got a free sample box one time – comes in nonbiodegradeable bags. I am still finding their tiny plastic bag-skeletons in my garden and it’s been like 2 years.

      I think when companies change their packaging from compostable to not they should have to label it.


      • I don’t compost, since I have no outdoor space right now and am so not about to vermicompost indoors. But even if I did, I buy cheap tea with non-fabric tea bags. 🙂


  11. Posted by Andrea on 10/13/2012 at 07:34

    Every day is different… is that an answer? Some days I’m able to be mindful in a green way about everything I do, so I’m refusing, reducing, reusing, regifting, and recycling all sorts of things. Other days I’m tired, or scatterbrained, or focused on a much larger issue than my individual impact. Last night I watched a film at the Planet in Focus film festival (held every October here in Toronto, Canada) that followed photographer Edward Burtynsky to China where he took pictures of the growing industrial industry… it was called Manufactured Landscapes, because of course that’s exactly what he shot. Factories making the crap we buy, recycling yards where people pick through the crap we send back to them, the giant Three Gorges Dam, etc… These are huge problems that can’t be solved by making individual changes to our shopping habits – just because I don’t buy “stuff” doesn’t stop those factories from producing “stuff”. Of course, I’ll continue to consume as little as possible, and strive for perfection in that context, but I know doesn’t really affect the system. I honestly don’t know what an individual citizen can do about that.


    • Hi Andrea!

      It is totally an answer. After 8 hours of chemistry, I am all too ready to collapse on the couch with take out (that I didn’t bring a reusable container for) and vegetate without considering my carbon impact, water usage, or trash generation. But that’s not every day for me, so some days are distinctly better than others.

      I’ve seen Manufactured Landscapes (Kevin is a fan of Burtynsky’s photography), and it is sobering how large scale the problems are. Although consuming less is certainly a start, I think we also need scientists, educators, economists, legislators, and a whole mass of citizens to push for fundamental framework changes.


  12. I don’t disagree with your sentiment at all about not letting obsession for little things get in the way of actually making an impact. That’s exactly the conclusion I’ve come to. But! But! I have to recommend alternate tea making means! Not because tea bags are some horrible evil, but because there are so many interesting varieties of tea available as loose-leaf! We use a small enameled cast iron tea pot with a little mesh insert. The insert cleans pretty easy and provides about two mugs of tea — that way I can put the tea in a big travel mug. Tea balls however are the devil. I had one for a while and basically stopped drinking tea. A tea pot on the other hand is not only very easy to use (though not quite so easy as pre-made tea bags), it is very satisfying — proper and solid and all that. 🙂


    • Hi Rachael,

      I get my tea from the outlet grocery store most of the time, so that’s how I tend to satisfy my need for variety. One month it’s Stash something or the other, the next month something fair trade, the next month PG Tips…I would probably be more inclined to peruse the loose leaf varieties if it weren’t for that!

      I’m often on my way out when I make my morning tea, so I just stick the tea bag in my travel mug along with a little milk, pour in the hot water, and am out the door. ‘Boiling the milk’ keeps the tea from getting too bitter, and I got too lazy to bother with sugar a few years ago. 🙂 I do have a real tea pot with a mesh strainer. It gets pulled out a few times a year for leisurely afternoon tea. I could try pressing it into more regular service.


      • I might have a one up on you: most mornings my partner makes me tea (because he’s boiling water anyway for his french press of coffee). I talk about variety of tea but most of the time I’m just drinking Earl Grey (hot). 😉


  13. I love this post. It’s all too easy to get hung up on the little things and forget the bigger picture. OK, what most of us are actually able to do is ALL little things, but within that, we can still pick the bigger things to focus on.

    Thought you might like this:


    • Hi Rachel,

      LOL! I think I’ve seen something else with this guy before. Wasn’t there some video about, “If I didn’t have you, I’d have somebody else”?

      Also, I’ll have you know that the boiling the milk thing came from a fellow Brit. 🙂


      • Yes, that was him, and a lot of other great stuff, too 🙂

        I don’t care who told you about boiling the milk, it’s still wrong! (My next door neighbour does it too. I have to think twice about accepting a cuppa when she offers).


        • Posted by Jennifer on 10/14/2012 at 11:55

          I’m not British, so I refuse to take sides in this all-important national debate over the making of tea. But if I put the milk in first, I don’t have to worry about the tea steeping too much and getting bitter. If I’m at home, I tend to steep first and then add milk, but if I’m already late and need my to-go cup of tea stat, I’ll put the milk in first. In the second scenario, I’m not necessarily awake enough to notice a difference in taste. :-p


  14. I am a use my tea bag all day girl myself. And I must admit, reading this post, the thing that really stuck out to me most was cloth toiletpaper?! i didn’t know it was a thing, though i guess it makes sense. i immediately googled it. i’ll stick with my personal utensil set and such for now!


    • Hi Cameraphonevegan!

      Yeah…the cloth toilet paper. I think I came across that after switching to cloth pads, and then it was just a matter of the type of effluvia I was okay dealing with. But I wash on cold, and cold water doesn’t kill E. coli, and all in all, I’m just not interested in going that direction!


  15. […] world doesn’t need more consumption. It doesn’t need ‘eco-perfectionism.’ It doesn’t need you to buy a Prius. What it really needs from you is a true lifestyle […]


  16. […] Source: […]


  17. […] It’s Not Easy To Be Green […]


  18. […] Not Easy to be Green: Breaking up with eco-perfectionism – If you nearly cried because you forgot to bring your reusable mug to Dunkin’ yesterday, […]


  19. Posted by Kiva on 12/05/2012 at 03:14

    Hehe, your depiction of the tea ball battle gave me a good laugh. I too have fought a war against those despicable metal beasts, but I decided to switch to cloth tea bags and find they work really well.


  20. Hehe, your depiction of the tea ball battle gave me a good laugh. I too have fought a war against those despicable metal beasts, but I decided to switch to cloth tea bags and find they work really well.


  21. We all should do our share in taking care of our environment. We can start by going green. I found this fun social networking site,, that lets you share green acts with fellow environmental advocates.


  22. I loved this post because I totally get what you’re talking about. I often feel guilty about the things I do which are un-eco. At the moment it’s largely to do with throwing out wasted food – although I have written to my MP about a food waste collecting service… I think it is important to live green in every way you can, but I also think getting out there and making an impact ‘beyond your own life’ is even more important. Its obvious you’re very green in your lifestyle. I say ditch the tea balls and go on a caffeine-fueled activist mission!


  23. Posted by Bill on 04/11/2013 at 12:15

    I really loved this post. When first reading it, I thought, why don’t you just vermicompost the teabag? Then I got to your last paragraph. 🙂

    Actually, this post is a more eloquently written reason behind why I started my own blog on being green(ish). It’s nice to be green, but sometimes you have to settle for greenish in order to actually handle being green in areas that really matter. It’s at http://www.Greenish.Me – I just started it and am most of the way through a vermicomposting guide, as luck would have it, so maybe you’ll be up for the challenge soon?


  24. Posted by Jennifer on 04/27/2013 at 14:59

    Great post!!

    It’s all about taking things one step at a time. Trying to change too quickly is overwhelming. I don’t think I stress out about the little things too much but I’m constantly trying to improve my green-ie-ness. 🙂


  25. I’m a little late to the party on this one, but you might be interested in what Nikki Harre has to say on the issue.
    It’s hard not to feel guilty about these little things (and isn’t it easy to feel that arrogant counter – “but if all people were like me then the world would be fine…”) but if we all do our part (as you certainly are) then there is hope yet..


  26. Posted by John on 07/16/2013 at 15:53

    Starting your own garden and growing a variety of colorful, amazing vegetables and flowers is simply the best way to start enjoying your outdoor space. Very few people experience it and it’s time to change that. Here’s how we’re going to do it:


  27. great work on this blog.Thanks for sharing on consignment .


  28. I admire the valuable information you offer in your blog.Thanks for sharing


  29. Oh! I understand this conflict! I face it in so many small and a big ways in my life!

    On a tea brewing note, I hate tea balls! ugh! Such a mess! Portability is nice, but… I now use a tea designated french press. I brew a press full each morning (or more often) and drink a hot mug, then drink the rest chilled through the day.


  30. I must agree that the green benefits behind saving a few teabags seems to ebb away a little as you sit in front of the nightly news watching nuclear fallout from Japan. However, let me tell you why I am still an incurable advocate of the simplest thing! Having cooked at a college kitchen and watched when just one person leaves their glass for you to wash, versus one person washing their own and another’s – the end results of the day are remarkably different:) But it isn’t even that reason that I am so for the humble detail in our days. It is because it begins to change the state of our mind. It begins to shift our conscious awareness to the roots of the problem, how these giant imbalances began from such tiny seeds of imbalanced thought.. Not to mention that when you start to pay attention to these details, it shines that light out to others, drawing their awareness to their own actions. Gandhi is credited with the words ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ – I couldn’t agree more…


  31. Posted by Milan on 06/11/2014 at 07:39

    Hi, very interesting post!
    I’m trying to make my life, and with that of course house, greener and healthier. Just one step at a time but always steady. For example I just have solar panels installed, and I changed all my lighting to LED lights from And I am planning changing my heating to a greener version. Blogs like this keep me motivated!


  32. […] It’s Not Easy To Be Green […]


  33. Want to go green? Join the Eco Brush Club and start receiving your 100% biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes each month.


  34. Posted by Clara Kolterman on 06/26/2016 at 08:36

    A good alternative to tea bags is a straining tea pot. You put all your tea and water in a big mess then set it on top of your cup when its done straining. Voila! Tea!


  35. Posted by Victoria Onken on 01/20/2017 at 04:13

    hi, thank you so much for your article! I loved this line: “fretting about the small stuff leaves me with less energy, time, and headspace to do things that might actually benefit this planet. ” I feel the same…. furthemore, I feel like most people I talk to say that they associate ethical clothes (I’m a sustaibable fashion blogger ( with some sort of political aggression, the all-or-nothing attitude and that’s too much for them so they look away and ignore the issue of ethical clothes all together. This is not good at all so I think sometmes baby steps are better then all or nothing. I love you blog!


  36. Posted by arthurlander on 11/25/2017 at 11:16

    That’s true but renewable energy is a great way to make a big impact on the environment! Just make sure to protect your investment–contact for help today!


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