As the environmental movement enters mainstream consciousness, there has been an influx of media helping people understand how they can eco-fit their lives. While certainly well-meaning, the problem with this messaging is that it too often focuses on what can be bought in pursuit of the lifestyle. Here we argue why this may not be the best approach, and give you tips what you can do instead.

Monitor your trash output.

If you’ve been poking around the internet for zero-waste tips, you’ve likely seen the success stories of people who’ve managed to fit their entire year’s worth of garbage into a glass jar smaller than your plastic shampoo bottle. And you’ve probably looked at that tiny, sustainably made, locally sourced jar with incredulity—but there is value in the exercise.

Non-biodegradable waste is so deeply embedded into the comings and goings of our daily life that it has become a kind of white noise. Monitor your garbage output and it forces you to tune back in to the shocking amount of waste we single-handedly produce in just a day. You may not get to one-jar levels right away, but you may think twice before reaching for that individually wrapped candy that you didn’t even really want.

It’s rarely about buying better, but about buying less.

Eco-friendly consumerism does not exist. They are two concepts diametrically opposed. Today we function within an economic model that conditions us to buy and dispose in rapid succession, to the detriment of our natural resources. So for some, the understandable reaction has been to buy “better”: to build a new wardrobe from organic clothes, to sport athletic wear made from recycled plastic, and to buy one metal straw for regular liquid and a second for liquid with pearls.

While this thinking is not wrong, neither is it complete. What we often forget is that it is equally if not more important to just purchase fewer things. Whatever impact you’ve made by buying better is cancelled whenever you buy in excess. Instead, think about what you can do without, mend the holes in your clothes, and, if you’re using a metal straw with a plastic cup, perhaps revisit your true intentions.

Embrace people’s confusion.

It shouldn’t require courage to ask for your takeout in a reusable container, but it does. You will be met with all manner of unfavorable responses, ranging from confusion (Why are you hassling yourself?), to embarrassment (But it’s really fine if you take a straw, we have many), to outright irritation (There’s nothing wrong with the way we do things). It may take practice, but embrace this opportunity to nudge what is still a niche cause into the mainstream consciousness. The principle is applicable to many scenarios, from encouraging friends to resist fast fashion sales to showing women that the menstrual cup is a friend. Explain but don’t lecture, and be firm but not self-righteous.

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