Updated: Dec 7, 2020
Have you started becoming more eco-friendly and zero waste but your friends and family don’t get it? Are they a bit judgy about your new lifestyle? Perhaps not overly supportive? Maybe they tease you about it? Perhaps they're actually quite supportive and jumped on board too. Whether or not your friends and family are supportive of your new motivation to make the world a better place, you’re going to have to talk about it.
Here are 5 ways to inspire your friends and loved ones while going zero waste!
1. Share your motivation
Your journey started somewhere. Was it a documentary you watched (like A Plastic Ocean or Planet Earth)? A vivid photo you saw, or an inspirational book that you read? Did the news that there could be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean by 2050 kick start your path to become eco-friendly?
Whatever YOUR story is, share it! Tell your friends and family WHY you want to make positive lifestyle changes for the environment. Paint them the picture that’s in your head (they can’t read your mind!) so they can hopefully understand where you’re coming from. While you can’t force them to ‘get it,’ you can at least tell them about your point of view.
2. Learn more together
Learning about sustainable living isn’t about watching one documentary. It’s not about reading one book or seeing one heart-breaking photo. It’s an ongoing process of learning more, and we can never learn enough. Keep learning! It’ll help you stay excited to continue your journey to reducing your footprint on this planet. You may find some topics interest you more than others, so explore those.
As you’re taking in more information, invite friends and family to learn with you. If you’re headed to watch the latest environmental documentary or visit an art installation on plastic pollution, invite them to participate. It doesn’t mean they have to commit to living your lifestyle, but it may inspire their own journey. Learning together can be fun, and you’ll seem less preachy because it’s more collaborative and organic.
3. Lead by example
No one likes to be told what to do. If you’re overhauling your lifestyle to live with less waste and to become more sustainable, that’s great! It’s just not your job to make sure others hop on that train. Remember that, because no one is going to like it if you’re suddenly on this environmental pedestal telling everyone else what to do. It’s not cool.
What’s the alternative? Live your lifestyle as you see fit, and let others see it for themselves. Even if it doesn’t happen right away, friends and family may become inclined to make small changes as they witness your passion and drive for sustainability. If you’ve followed steps 1 and 2 above, that will help your case too!
4. Share the personal benefits of the lifestyle
Quite often, people associate eco-friendly lifestyles with more work and less convenience, and assume that a zero waste lifestyle is more expensive. Quash those myths with your own experiences, demonstrating firsthand that those preconceived notions aren’t true. Certainly, people can make a sustainable lifestyle more work, less convenient and more expensive, but that’s a personal choice. If people follow the principles of zero waste living, they’ll be likely to find that the benefits outweigh any work (like habit changes) that go into the lifestyle.
Once you’ve been living low waste for some time, you’ll have experienced some personal benefits of the lifestyle. It could be that you have more money in your bank account from spending less; maybe you’re eating better because you’re not consuming as much processed and packaged foods; or perhaps your mood is boosted because you’re living lighter with a decluttered home and mind. Whatever the advantages are that you’re experiencing, be sure to share them casually in conversation with friends and family. Your personal changes may be enticing for others to jump on board, whether it’s now or down the road.
You may also be interested in: How to Declutter Responsibly with a Zero Waste Mindset
5. Ask the question: “What makes you uncomfortable about _______?”
If you’re not getting through with the above steps, then it might be worth asking straight out what they’re uncomfortable with in the first place regarding the lifestyle (this step has been inspired by a conversation with the Green Mum).
Here are some sample questions:
What makes you uncomfortable about recycling? Or composting?
What makes you uncomfortable about bringing your own coffee cup? Or water bottle? Or a reusable bag?
What makes you uncomfortable about shopping with your own containers and bags?
What makes you uncomfortable about zero waste living?
They may or may not share their concerns about it. You should also be prepared for the possibility that they just don’t care. We’re all human and people are different, with different views, opinions and lifestyle interests. While it’s easy to think that we should all care about sustainability because we share this planet, and we all have to eat and have shelter etc., it just holds true that not everyone is going to see it that way.
Should your family and friends answer this question, then have an open dialogue about it. Don’t be judgmental about their perspective as they are probably waiting for your negative comments. Take an understanding point of view and listen, and it could offer you insights into what they may be perceiving as barriers (if so, go back to Step 4). Don’t push the conversation, either. Let it happen naturally, and if they don’t want to talk about it, then leave it be. There’s only so much you can do to try and change someone else’s mindset; ultimately, it’s up to them to do that.
If you do everything outlined above and your friends and/or family still don’t get it, that’s okay too. You're not likely going to convince everyone of your convictions (maybe your parents just can’t get over their preference to use disposable water bottles, like, ever). If you manage to convert people to more sustainable ways, that’s amazing. Regardless, just do your thing. Don’t let it drag you down if your loved ones don’t join in. Stay true to yourself, and do what you need to live more sustainably because every effort matters. You do you.
There is a great and supportive community of people who are keen on sustainable living. You can find like-minded individuals in your own community by attending events, joining clubs or volunteering for organizations that support sustainable living in one form or another. Perhaps that might look like tree planting, or joining the sustainability club at college, or promoting the zero waste lifestyle at various events in town. Finding like-minded folks isn’t that hard once you start to look, and will help you on your journey. You can even find them online!
Whatever you do, don’t forget why you got into this lifestyle in the first place! Reducing your waste and living more sustainably are admirable activities, and so important for creating societal change. Maybe you’ll inspire your friends and family to join you, or perhaps not. The steps outlined above will likely help out your cause and could very well win over the people who are important to you! Whether or not that happens, keep calm and go zero (or low) waste.