[AD – This post is sponsored by BetterYou*. Links marked with * are affiliate links; scroll to the bottom of this post for my code for 15% off! All opinions are my own. Always consult a medical professional before making changes to your medication or condition management, gang.]
Like many people of our generation, I know that looking after our planet is of utmost importance. Although we’re yet to see many large businesses and those in positions of power take social responsibility for fighting climate change the way they should, I also know that we as individuals can still play a role in encouraging more sustainable living.
The Internet is full of well-intentioned suggestions and advice on eco-friendly living. However, as with many things in this day and age, it’s clear that this advice is tailored primarily for non-disabled people. It’s rare that chronic illness in particular becomes part of this narrative, and rarer still that the advice on offer takes into account the unique challenges our community can face.
The simple fact of the matter is that even with all the good intentions in the world, there are dozens of barriers that can make living more sustainably particularly challenging for chronically ill people. Because of this, I think it’s incredibly important for non-disabled people to be an ally: open to learning about these obstacles and acknowledging that the ‘solution’ to these, if one exists, will look different for every individual.
A well-known quote that’s really stuck with me in recent times comes from Anne-Marie Bonneau:
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
With that quote in mind, today I wanted to share three examples of where the ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect’ life hack for sustainability might not feel achievable with a chronic illness, but where there might be a concessionary solution instead.
Of course, I will heavily disclaim here that everybody’s circumstances are different: just because one chronically ill person can do one thing, it doesn’t follow that every chronically ill person can necessarily do the same. My take-home point is that it’s all about finding what works for you and taking pride in every little change you make, and I hope these examples go some way in helping you to think creatively about potential actions of your own.
Swap To Sustainable Packaging
If you take any kind of medication or supplements, you’ll likely be familiar with what I like to call the blister packs of doom. Not only can they be a burden on sore and tired hands, the plastic packaging is often only used once before ending up in the oceans or in landfill.
By no means is this a cue to valiantly abandon your prescribed medications caught up in the spirit of an eco-warrior, but instead to reflect on any potential workarounds. Some of my chronically ill friends have managed to request their medications in bottles or tubes which can be less taxing on sore hands and the planet, and I’ve also heard rumblings about campaigns for packaging options like these to be refillable so they can be reused: something that if proven safe and effective, I would wholeheartedly support.
In the meantime, I’m throwing my support behind healthcare businesses who are mindful and proactive in their own environmental responsibility. BetterYou* are committed to ensuring their own packaging is as sustainable as possible, and their planet-friendly solutions detailed on this page* for their products make for genuinely fascinating reading. There are bottles made from recycled ocean and household waste, sprays made from a carbon-negative (yes, carbon-negative!) plant-based derivative, cartons made of material from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests and other controlled sources… the list goes on. And they’re based locally in Yorkshire, which automatically makes them God-tier levels of good in my eyes.
For me, the ultimate ‘YASSSS’ moment came when I spotted this Instagram post, with the brand offering a scheme whereby anybody struggling to recycle used packaging in their area could request a freepost envelope to return them, so the team could recycle this themselves. It’s little conveniences like this which can be a gamechanger for chronically ill people, particularly those with energy-limiting conditions who might not be able to access local recycling centres.
BetterYou’s Better Planet project is committed to reducing their organisation’s environmental impact and becoming carbon neutral by 2022. As well as offering their more sustainable packaging, they’re certified palm oil and cruelty free, British-made by living wage employers, backed by peer-reviewed and scientific research with leading universities, and they’re on a mission to improve lives with their award-winning supplements*.
Above all else, I’m just happy to support a business being so proactive in operating ethically and sustainably. You can browse their product range here: I was already taking Vitamin D*, Vitamin B12*, and Turmeric* supplements in tablet form (the chronic illness life, hey?), and I feel really optimistic about making the switch to BetterYou’s sprays and seeing how it goes. I’m also really keen to try their magnesium range, in my ongoing quest to achieve actual restorative sleep like a functional human being. I can dream. Actually, I can’t. That’s kind of the issue.
If, like me, you find the world of skincare and beauty blogging somewhat overwhelming, let me summarise the most important point from the last year or so: make-up wipes are terrible for the planet. Wipes are made up of non-recyclable plastic fibres that often don’t break down, meaning they end up littering the oceans. And given that their usage is reportedly increasing by around 15% each year, this is no minor issue.
Of course, the obvious human response to this issue would be to simply stop using make-up wipes altogether. However, things might not be quite this simple if you live with chronic fatigue or mobility issues. When you’re completely wiped out after even a short trip out of the house, the last thing you may feel capable of is embarking on an elaborate skincare routine, layering products onto your face as your legs wobble and your vision blurs with the exertion of even just standing at the sink. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Whilst there’s no real quick fix for this one, there are two suggestions I can offer. The first, if you do need to rely on make-up wipes due to your condition, is to swap to biodegradable solutions. Whilst they’re not perfect, ranges like these consist of products made of more eco-friendly ingredients, which do biodegrade in a way that traditional wipes do not… whilst, importantly, still being affordable.
Secondly is a product I’ve personally begun using for make-up removal recently, known as the Face Halo. And it’s every bit as magical as it sounds. Made up of fibre strands thinner than human hair, the small disk-shaped cloth removes make-up from your pores with only hot or cold water. Although I personally still choose to cleanse afterwards, the Face Halo essentially clears your skin with no additional need to scrub your face or faff around with loads of topical products. They’re easy to clean and reusable (I’m still on my first one) and similarly to BetterYou, the Face Halo brand also offer a return and recycle scheme as part of their commitment to operating sustainably. Low-maintenance skincare with an environmental-conscience? I’m absolutely here for it.
Adapting Your Diet
Deep breath everyone, she’s going there. As a final point, I couldn’t not talk about something I’ve grappled with for a long time… making dietary changes. And before we go any further, let me make this clear: there are dozens of valid reasons why a disabled or chronically ill person may not be able to go vegan. If you’re a non-disabled person, it’s not your place to commentate on this fact. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Whilst eating a more plant-based diet isn’t accessible for everybody, there’s no skirting around the fact that animal agriculture is one of the biggest causes of deforestation and emitters of greenhouse gases, and that adopting a vegan diet is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth.
At the time of writing this, I know that I can’t go fully vegan, and I’ve learned that I don’t need to justify that to anybody. My own reasons include being allergic to many of the staple elements of the diet and ingredients in food substitutes (including peanuts, nuts and a number of raw fruit and veg that seems to be increasing by the year; such fun!), and difficulties with getting out and about to shop for safe and affordable food. Many others experience barriers including requiring specialist diets, interactions with medications, and relying on carers or family members to prepare their meals.
That said, something I’m really proud of is that over the last few years I’ve managed to safely and sustainably reduce my consumption of animal products: I’d say around 60% of my diet is currently vegan, and it’s definitely becoming easier as time passes. Both supermarkets and restaurants are realising the value in catering more fully for vegan diets, including for those with allergies, like me, and I sincerely hope that things will continue to improve.
There was a significant period of time where I felt guilty for not living the fully sustainable and waste-free lifestyle I wanted to. Knowing what we know about the impact of climate change, it can be easy to feel as though we’re personally not doing enough. But to finish this post, let me circle back to Anne-Marie Bonneau’s quote that resonated so much: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
If you’re a chronically ill person who’s feeling disheartened or worried that what you’re doing isn’t enough, I’m here to tell you that your desire to support the cause and do what you can is worthier than you might think. Even if your condition places barriers on your ability to fully embrace the zero-waste lifestyle, every little change counts for something. If you’re doing what you can within your means, your contribution is more than valid, and I have the utmost respect for you.
Here’s to being perfectly imperfect together, hey?
If you have any of your own accessible tips for more sustainable living, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. And if you’re interested in this topic, I’d also highly recommend:
- The Reluctant Spoonie’s Sustainable Living posts
- Spoonie Survival Kits Sustainable Self-Care Kit
- This round-up of sustainable product swaps from Chronic Illness Bloggers
- Fran’s ‘bitesize sustainability’ Instagram account, @envirobite
- Jessica Kellgren-Fozard’s videos tackling the infamous plastic straw ban that caused World War Three on Twitter…
Thanks again to BetterYou* for sponsoring this post and for generally being such a lovely brand! Head to their website to find out more about their sustainability efforts* and shop their products*, and use code LIFEOFPIPPA for 15% off!