Updated: Jul 21, 2020
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a bit of (or a lot of) an Eco Warrior. I use the term 'Eco Warrior' pretty freely. I think Eco Warriors come in all sorts of forms; from the ceramic keep cup devotee to the op shop queen, from the sourdough starter experimenter to the vegan yogi. From a child who joins the school Kaitiaki Team and uses their reusable straw, to a grandmother who teachers her grandchildren how to mend.
There are those who shout their plastic-free exploits from the roof tops (raising my hand for that one ️) and those who quietly read labels to check for palm oil.
But no matter how loosely I use the term ‘Eco Warrior’, there are many who are just... well... not. And I know first hand that muscle clenching, teeth grinding feeling of pulling the apple core or disposable cup out of the recycling bin for what feels like the 2020th time. Yup, living with someone who didn’t get the recycling memo, or is adverse to turning out lights when they leave a room, can be enough to give even the most zen of Eco-warrior’s a plastic-filled nightmare.
So how can we encourage our friends and family to join us on our eco-journey without just being plain annoying? I've talked to lots of Eco Warriors, and lots of family and friends of Eco Warriors, and here's what I've learnt:
The thing that came up over and over again, is how important it is not to be pushy, judgey or naggy. If you do, your a dead-cert to put them off any kind of eco forever, and possibly put them off you too! No one likes to be bossed around, or made to feel stupid or bad. Our home is somewhere we should be able to relax and feel like we are not being judged and monitored. Oh, and that includes no passive-aggressive sighs or tuts as you turn out a left-on light (I've been guilty of that before!) So, first thing first, take a step back, take a deep breath, and be kind.
Rather than trying to turn your own, and others' lives upside down overnight, try encouraging one baby step at a time. This will mean that you have to temporarily turn a blind eye to the disposable takeaway containers while you encourage a reusable coffee cup, or bite your tongue about the excessively long showers while you introduce them to solid shampoo and conditioner bars. It's about progress, not perfection. And remember that you too probably once had long showers, or were oblivious to disposable takeaway containers. I saw a great idea from Kate Hall (aka Ethically Kate), she has a folder of photos in her phone of her pre-eco existence, like a pic of her sipping through not one but TWO plastic straws, and another with a disposable coffee cup in hand. It's a great reminder that we are human, all still learning, all ignorant in some ways.
EASY AND ACCESSIBLE
For a lot of people, living sustainably seems like a lot of hard work. You are after all, taking away disposable items, which were all created for convenience in the first place. That's why you have to make it as easy as possible for people. That may mean that you have to do the hard work for them, until they realise all the benefits themselves. If you want everyone in your household to reduce food waste, you could take responsibility for the compost / wormfarm / bokashi. Make a clearly labelled container for food scraps, and let them know that all they need to do is put it in there, you'll look after the rest.
Perhaps you could help get them started with a homemade or bought gift. I make beeswax wraps for my mum and sister because I know it saves them the hassle / cost of making or buying their own, and I made my husband 3 funky jar/rubberband reusable coffee cups because that way he can have one at home, one in his car, and one at work (and because if I bought him a fancy one he'd probably just lose it!)
Oh Natural have an awesome Waste-free Starter Kit which would make an amazing gift. It includes solid shampoo and conditioner samples, reusable straw and produce bags, dish cloth and dish brush and cleaning soap and more.
Here are a few more gift ideas. These are products that I personally use and love, and have helped me with my own eco-journey:
The Eco Brush and travel case, as well as Eco Floss. All plastic free and the travel case is so handy.
Caliwoods 'to-go' stainless steel straw and cleaner sets - so great to have in your handbag to avoid those nasty plastic straws.
Frankie Apothecary natural sunscreen. I wear this under my makeup.
Ethique Flash laundry bar and stain remover - I find this especially handy when travelling
Or, if they're tech-savvy, why not introduce them to one or more of the awesome apps that have been created to help people live more sustainably, here are a few to check out:
-Good on You : This app brings together everything you need to know about ethical and sustainable fashion, including fashion brand ratings, with expert analysis to give each brand an easy-to-understand score.
-Sharewaste : ShareWaste connects people to recycle their organic waste, make more soil and grow produce. Whether you have kitchen scraps but nowhere to compost them, or whether you have excess capacity in your compost, wormfarm or chickens, Sharewaste brings together hosts (who receive organic waste) with donors (who donate their organic waste) to process kitchen scraps into new soil.
-Oroeco: Automatically track your climate impacts with the carbon footprint calculator. See how every part of your life connects to global warming, from driving and flying to your eating, shopping, and home energy efficiency choices.
UNDERSTANDING THE WHY
Ultimately, to be an Eco Warrior, you need to understand the point behind it all. Now I'm not saying it is your job to be a one-on-one teacher/lecturer (please don't!), but there are some easy, gentle ways of helping your loved ones to understand the why. Watch a film with them: you could delve into the perils of the fast fashion industry with 'The True Cost', be awestruck by the magnificence of our planet with David Attenborough's 'Planet Earth' or get your head around the meat and dairy debate with 'Cowspiracy' (all available on Netflix). Films and documentaries are also a nice way to show that you are not the only one campaigning for the planet. Or you could lend them a book (ok, they might not read it, but... they might). Even just sharing a small piece of information that you've learned, and letting them mull it over in their own time. Today I told my husband that I was shocked to learn that chewing gum had plastic in it. He might not give up chewing gum today, but he definitely took note.
TAKE A LEAF OUT OF ELSA'S BOOK
If you sense that your attempts aren't being received well, or are risking your relationships with people you care about, maybe it's time to 'let it go'. I'm not saying to completely give up, because you will still be doing the most powerful thing of all...
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
While sometimes it may feel like your efforts have fallen on completely deaf ears, they truly haven't. That information is in there, somewhere, and perhaps, one day, it will surface into action. In the meantime, every single time you pick up a piece of rubbish, use your reusable produce bags or pack your waste-free lunch, people notice, and I'm not just talking about people in your household. Whatever type of Eco Warrior you may be, whatever your shade of green, sometimes it is the silent actions that have the most impact (and are the least annoying!).