“Hey kids! Guess what? I’m never buying ice cream or chocolate bars or cookies or chips or cereal again! And look at these nifty stainless steel containers for your school lunches of homemade sourdough bread and hummus with carrot sticks. Your friends will think you’re SO COOL! By the way, I need your old t-shirts to make “the family cloth”* for the toilet. What do you say? Aren’t you EXCITED?!”
In 2011, my daughter MK, fed up with both my rants about plastic pollution and my paralysis to do little beyond banning plastic water bottles and plastic wrap from our home, found Beth Terry’s blog. It was just what we needed to get us onto the plastic-free path. My younger daughter feels less enthusiastic about this lifestyle. In fact, just now I asked her to choose the worst aspect of plastic-free living. “Everything,” she said. (She just turned 14 and has asked I do not use her name.)
So what do you do when your loved ones don’t support your new desire for positive change, or—even worse—sabotage your efforts? I have some ideas.
1. Don’t explain, do.
Rather than talk about changes, make them and let those actions speak for themselves. At least some of your positive changes will rub off on others, even perhaps your family members that sneak in and hide under the sink store-bought dish soap during Plastic-Free July of all times because they claim your homemade version doesn’t work even though it works perfectly well, they’re just up in arms over the lack of suds compared to the commercial stuff.
When I give my friends a taste of homemade aioli or a slice of freshly baked sourdough bread still warm from the oven, that pretty much hooks them. They start to ask questions and several have made changes to reduce their waste. I could talk and talk about plastic waste, food waste and so on, while bombarding them with terrifying statistics, but the proof is in the (formerly stale bread) pudding.
2. Or, do explain.
Surprise, surprise! Your surly teenager scoffs at your zero-waste and plastic-free efforts, despite the obvious benefits: elimination of their garbage-and-recycling-to-the-curb chores, better diet and improved health, even weight loss. Try explaining why you want to make these lifestyle changes in terms they can relate to.
If you have a lefty-subversive type of teen, point to insatiable corporate greed and lack of accountability. Big Soda not only poisons us with its sugary drinks, but poisons the environment with its single-use plastic for which it has zero legal responsibility to clean up (moral responsibility, it does have).
If you have more of a young Republican type, go with the libertarian angle. By increasing their self-sufficiency, they will no longer need to rely on others (i.e., corporations) to take care of their every need. Or something like that. You’ll make it work. Tell them Reagan drank kombucha.
When dealing with the most common species of teenager, genus apatheticus, develop an iPhone app that grants Instagram screen time every time they refuse single-use plastic or finish their lunch at school. I will invest in your start-up.
3. When explaining, don’t proselytize.
In your office kitchen, if the act of reaching for a donut while simultaneously adding sugar to your coffee triggers a coworker’s 15-minute diatribe about your brazen pancreatic assault, the risks of metabolic disease and the symptoms of type II diabetes, what do you do? You eat two donuts. Don’t preach.
4. Look for positive reinforcements.
Tune out the naysayers surrounding you and stick with your lifestyle changes. You will find this easier if you seek out support. Visit Twitter and Facebook and search for hashtags such as #zerowaste, #plasticfree and #foodwaste. You’ll find plenty of like-minded people. On Twitter, I’m finally normal (not that I have ever striven for this distinction).
5. Become a nun/monk/hermit.
Abandon your family, remain single or live alone if you want to avoid compromises as you reduce your footprint to virtually zero. Even if you do join the Poor Claires or Franciscans, where you will reduce your footprint, you’ll still deal with people. A hermit is your best bet on this front.
6. Figure out how to deal with gifts.
This is a big one! You can control both what you give others and what you bring into your home, but how do you accept gifts? Ideally you will diplomatically discuss this before holidays and birthdays. Request gifts of services, charitable donations, something homemade or nothing at all—without sounding demanding or self-righteous. Unintentional, well-meaning sabotage may still creep in. Don’t allow set-backs to undermine your efforts. And please share your gift-giving and -receiving ideas (or any other thoughts) in the comments below.
7. Accept that you cannot control the behavior of others.
Even with my kids (mostly) on board with the (nearly) zero-waste routine, they may never reach my level of OCD. Ultimately, I can control only so much. If you have figured out how to make a spouse or partner behave exactly as you wish, please clue me in. I will invest in your book/speaking tour/publishing empire. All I can come up with is a zero-waste version of Lysistrata and that probably won’t work.
Many of these tactics can be deployed for other lifestyle changes for which your family does not share your enthusiasm, from weight-loss, to a new exercise regimen to personal and spiritual growth.
* Bathroom tissue replacement which my kids won’t go for. That’s okay. I do my best and keep at it.