Eco-anxiety and the World as a giant rubbish bin

My brain tells me, “the world is running out of space,” because when I think about (and I do it too often) the sheer volume of waste produced around the world daily, what I can’t understand is how every inch of the world isn’t already covered with rubbish. Of course, as a family, we contribute waste to landfill because #livingzerowaste is hard work and often, very unrealistic. But when my anxious brain starts to consider not only household waste, supermarket waste (#supermarketsdirtysecrets), waste from schools, shops, restaurants, leisure facilities, flights, public bins, fast fashion items that go out of season and can no longer sell, and multiply this for every country in the world, I honestly do sit and wonder where it all goes. Landfill, yes, but what does that look like? Where are they? How many of them are there? What impact does the breakdown, or not, of all that waste do to the Earth and its natural systems? What will happen if we do run out of space? And if instead the waste is burnt, surely that must mean the air is full of toxins and plastics? (It is).

I know that the Earth is big, really big in fact, and I know that even a population of 7 billion people takes up a fraction of the actual space the Earth offers. But when we, the human species, have been generating waste for centuries and that this waste is only increasing in volume due to our consumerist habits, reliance on convenience and disconnect from Mother Nature, in my head, it feels as if the world by this point in time should be overflowing with rubbish and waste. My body feels a sense of panic, a constriction, a fear that we are fast running out of room and that pretty soon, someone will ask if it’s OK to use my back garden as a landfill site because yes, in fact, it’s the last place left to fill. It sounds crazy, right? But this is the reality of my eco-anxiety and experiencing a hypersensitivity to seeing a single piece of litter on the footpath or an overflowing dustbin at the back of a shop even though, I myself throw things in the bin every day.

So how then to combat this feeling of suffocation? How can I feel confident that the Earth is not, in fact, one giant rubbish bin (my brain is already wanting to say, “but it IS a giant rubbish bin, isn’t it?) and that there is an abundance of space left, clean air to breathe and thriving habitats all around the world? How, in the wake of the Australian bush fire crisis can I be sure that the air outside my house is safe and that all that smoke hasn’t made it’s way to the UK?

Today, the antidote to these feelings was simply to go and spend time outside, to find a place where I could see the trees and hear the birds and where I could see, even to a small degree, the expanse of space that there really is. I could breathe a sigh of relief at feeling small, seeing green grass and only encountering the odd piece of litter. (Breathe, it’s OK). Another, and this is and will be an ongoing practice for me, is to try and turn my feelings of stress and anxiety into direct action and know that once again, the systems at play are far bigger than my individual contribution to this mess. Finally, I’m choosing to focus on finding good news stories and deepening my own mindfulness and meditation practices which today included spending time visualising large, expansive areas of nature that go on and on and on with not a single piece of rubbish to be seen. Do you feel better? I certainly do.


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