Let’s face it—sustainability doesn’t come easily to everyone. It can be a generational thing. We learn from our elders, and it’s been a long time since our society was avidly into recycling. It could also be a financial concern because eco-friendly options can sometimes cost more than their conventional alternatives.
Whatever their reasons, not all of our friends and family are going to be interested in prioritizing an eco-friendly lifestyle. That’s okay. Everyone is doing the best they can, so don’t be too hard on your friends who don’t compost or your Grandma who still doesn’t recycle.
Instead, consider how you might be able to help them live more sustainably. It feels great to help others learn how they can do simple things to reduce their environmental impact, and you’ll get to spend time doing something you care about with the people that you love.
1. Give a Green Gift
The easiest way to help someone be more eco-friendly is to give green. This can be anything from a fancy chocolate bar in biodegradable packaging to a donation made in someone’s name to a charitable environmental organization.
You could order a monthly subscription for laundry detergent sheets for your son who just moved into his first apartment, or buy beeswax food wrap for your Secret Santa recipient at work.
2. Show Them How
Maybe Grandma doesn’t recycle because she’s not sure what is recyclable and what’s not. Make her an easy-to-read list of recyclable materials, specific to her municipality or waste management company policies. Perhaps your friend doesn’t know what all is safe for the compost pile, or what kind of container is best to use to keep fruit flies out. Tell her the benefits of the container you use for compost at home and advise her about how to keep fruit flies out of the compost bin.
3. Encourage Them to Try Before They Buy
Let them try out your stuff. Sometimes, people have doubts about trying new products if there is no guarantee that they will like what they purchased.
Give your sister a few of your laundry soap sheets so that she can see for herself how convenient and effective they are. When your niece is helping you clean up after dinner, show her how easy beeswax wrap is to use for food storage, or hand her a reusable silicone resealable bag to put away the remains of the cheese plate.
4. Share the Benefits Beyond Sustainability
Eco-friendly products have benefits beyond their environmentally sustainable qualities. Beeswax wrap is easier to use than plastic wrap because it doesn’t naturally want to cling to itself and everything in its vicinity. Reusable paper towels are far more durable than disposable paper towels and they are much more absorbent as well. Reusable food storage is less expensive in the long run than disposable options like sandwich bags and plastic wrap.
If friends and family ask about the sustainable products you use, stress their other benefits, too. Living more sustainable is as practical as it is ethical.
5. Make It Fun With a Craft Day
Offer to host a craft day for your family to come over and make their own upcycled craft. A repurposing party can bring everyone together to create pen holders or planters from repurposed soup cans. Have Mom and Grandma over to see how many different things you can make using your collection of discarded corks.
6. Offer to Help With Recycling Efforts
Some municipalities have much better recycling regulations and offerings than others. If your city doesn’t accept curbside glass recycling, offer to pick up Grandma’s glass jars and bottles once a week and take them to the recycling center nearest you.
If Grandma has a difficult time reading the numbers on the bottom of her recyclable items, stop by to help her sort it out.
7. Offer to Compost Their Food Scraps
Your Mom has expressed interest in composting, but she just doesn’t have the time or space to create a compost pile on her property. Offer to come over once a week and take her compost with you when you leave. You’ll have an excuse to see Mom, and you’ll be helping her along the eco-living journey.
8. Make It More Affordable
Let family and friends know when you see a sale on reusable food storage containers at the home goods store. If you buy eco-friendly items like LED light bulbs in bulk, ask your family if they would like to share a case.
Encourage clothing swaps and sharing household items that don’t get regular use (like specialized tools or kitchen appliances). Reducing consumption is a win-win for our budgets and our environment.
9. Be the Eco-Life of the Party!
When Uncle Joe asks you to bring the paper plates, casually bring compostable paper plates. If it’s your job to help clean up after Christmas dinner, take it upon yourself to sort the waste into recycling, compost and trash—and dispose of it properly for a low-waste or zero-waste event.
There are many ways to help your friends and family learn about sustainability. You can give sustainably, or you can share your eco bounty at the next holiday gathering. If a family member is the type to resist eco-friendly culture in general, it’s easy to substitute sustainable items for other reasons, such as higher quality or better function.
On the other hand, if they aren’t choosing a sustainable option because it’s too expensive or inconvenient for their lifestyle, see if there’s anything you can do to help make it a more realistic option for them. Remember: you’ll go farther if you try to meet people where they are on their eco-living journey and offer a hand to help them along the way.