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How to Talk to People About the Plastic Crisis

You might want to broach the topic of plastic waste at work, discuss synthetic clothing fibres with a friend or talk astroturf with a neighbour. Either way it can be hard to get the conversation rolling in the first place, never mind managing your emotions throughout and ending on a positive note.

But building up the courage to discuss environmental problems can have all sorts of positive outcomes. You can find common ground with people, exchange ideas and find support. You might raise awareness of various issues with people who don’t know as much. And finally you could change people’s minds. This last aim seems the most impossible but can be the most rewarding and the most effective in activating the change we need to see. So how should we talk to people about the plastics crisis? Let’s get into it.

  • Ask open questions

Instead of quizzing people on why they believe certain things, ask open questions like 'What do you think is important…?'. If you understand someone’s beliefs, fears and priorities, you will be better equipped to engage them in the conversation. Most people just want to feel heard so don’t interrupt them, hear them out. Once you have listened to them, they will be far more likely to listen to you.

  • Find common ground

If people feel judged or shamed they are more likely to get defensive and shut down the conversation. Every committed activist’s journey started at a different time. It’s better to join the cause late than never and there’s still so much to do. We need all the help we can get.

Try talking about your catalyst moment. What motivated you to act? At the end of the day we’re all just people managing friends, family, health, bills and fun! You probably have more in common than you think.

  • Reframe the Issue to What Motivates Them

Once you know what they personally care about, you can discuss how the plastic crisis will affect the issues close to their hearts.

Try these conversation starters to find out what motivates them.

  1. The Economy (Huge polluting disasters like heat waves and plastic spills come at a massive economic cost. Not to mention the investment opportunities in new tech and materials.)

  2. Protecting Nature (Plastic waste has a colossal effect on the natural environment and biodiversity, which in turn affects us of course. If they enjoy spending time in nature, then they care already!)

  3. Health (From microplastics found in our food to the chemicals that leach out into our drinking water, plastic pollution is everywhere.)

  4. Human Rights (Fossil fuel extraction and plastic waste disposal disproportionately affect the poorest communities. This just isn’t right.)

  • Share Your Knowledge

There is so much evidence to support the need to restrict plastic production. Facts can help but human stories really persuade people. Reading up on the problems and solutions will help you get your point across. You don’t have to be an expert on everything but a few key sources will help.

Visual references make a great starting point for discussions. So share photos, videos, articles, podcasts, or watch documentaries with the people you love. Gift them plastic free household items, take them to zero waste shops. Show them how satisfying cutting back can be.

  • Talk About the Wins

The plastic problem is overwhelming and can leave us feeling completely helpless. But every month there are small wins: campaigns that succeed, laws that are changed, plastics banned, species recovering from the brink of extinction. Talk about some of the great campaigns and solutions that we already have to help people feel motivated.

Point them in the direction of these great campaigns: Break Free From Plastic, Story of Stuff, Plastic Free, Greenpeace, Quit Sachets, Plastic Free July.

  • Keep Your Cool

It can be scary and frustrating having these conversations. Some people are in denial, some simply not interested. Others may agree with you about the problem but feel despondent and powerless. Try to speak calmly but enthusiastically. You might not change their mind today, but you could plant a seed that sparks results in the future.


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