For those of us who carefully consider how our actions affect the planet, it can be hard to talk with people who don’t share our concerns. That frustration is magnified when the people in question are friends and family! 

It’s admirable to be committed to reducing, reusing, and recycling. And it’s a great idea to encourage your friends and family to start taking even small actions to minimize their footprint. But we all know that doing so, even with the best of intentions, can cause conflict.

Through our own trial and error, we’ve come up with some tips for inspiring your family members to follow the three R’s—without adding to the stress of the holiday season.

Lead with compassion

It’s hard to watch loved ones skip the recycling bin, buy fast fashion, or throw out lots of food. This seeming lack of regard for the earth can be really frustrating.

But each and every one of us is on a different journey. We all have different backgrounds and experiences that affect our worldview. Someone may not have considered that, say, glittery wrapping paper can’t be recycled (except in a Wrapping Paper and Gift Waste – Zero Waste Box™!), but that doesn’t mean now is the right time to bring this up. 

Giving the guilt trip will only make a person less likely to listen to what you’re saying, so assume that your loved one has good intentions. Instead of “Why are we having holiday dinner on disposable plates? That’s so wasteful!”, opt for: “I’d be happy to do all of the dishes if we used reusable plates and cutlery.”

Keep it casual

No one likes to be told what to do. We like to discover things for ourselves! In addition, we don’t necessarily change our minds based on facts. Research shows that the information deficit model of communication (in which people change their minds and behaviors once given the facts) doesn’t hold up. Behavior change is more about our values and circumstances and the social norms in our circle.

By working the 3 R’s into your conversations naturally and modeling change, instead of forcing these conversations, you can encourage your loved ones to do their own discovery. Mention how you’re really excited by the community response to your TerraCycle drop-off point, or that you’ve opted to give experiences as gifts this year instead of things. 

Recognize barriers 

While many aspects of reducing, reusing, and recycling are accessible, the simple fact is that it can take time, money, or other resources to live more sustainably. For instance, opting for a new holiday outfit made of natural materials over a fast-fashion garment could be an expensive investment. Using public transportation to arrive to the party instead of driving would depend on having a bus stop or train station nearby. 

If you do bring up specific ways your loved ones could consider being more sustainable, be ready to listen. Maybe they’ll even be open to your help with creative problem-solving. (Don’t forget to mention that TerraCycle has many free recycling programs for hard-to-recycle items!)

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

As you head into holiday get-togethers, don’t set goals for how many times you can bring up the 3 R’s, or for how many loved ones commit to making eco-friendly changes. Focus on what you can control: yourself. If conversations start to get tense, leave them for another time. Use phrases like, “Thanks for being willing to discuss this. I can see where you’re coming from. Let’s bring it up another time.”

Celebrate the small wins

Recognize that big changes are hard to make and habits are hard to break. The good news? Living more sustainably is not all or nothing. Don’t doubt that any small changes your loved ones make will add up to impact. And once they feel empowered by the choices they’ve made to help the planet, they’ll be likely to stick with it and make even bigger changes.

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