Being eco-friendly doesn’t mean being an eco-bully

Being eco-friendly doesn’t mean being an eco-bully

Hannah Sung

Hannah Sung
Photo by Gabriel Steele

We have an enemy in the house: plastic bags. I try not to bring them home, but they sneak in anyhow. I have reused the same ratty, flimsy plastic bag for weeks, sometimes carrying my lunch in it, sometimes wrapping it on my bike seat when grey skies threaten rain. I don’t have a lot of patience for disposable coffee cups or plastic water bottles, either. And, truth be told, I could seriously head-butt the person who thinks I want to buy free-range eggs encased in non-recyclable clear plastic.

What I don’t want to become, however, is that person who counts how many plastic bags the next person is stuffing at the grocery checkout: “That lady is double-bagging!” Nobody wants to hear the greener-than-thou rants of an eco-bully. Even if it’s well-intentioned, it’s smug. And being smug is unbecoming—like a bad outfit. You may as well pat your face with dirt and top your outfit with garlic earrings before heading out to a party. It’s people-repellent.

Ask my friend Cate* about eco-bullies and she’ll talk about a friendship that imploded under the heavy weight of such judgment. She had a high school friend who became more and more militant about environmentalism and they began to drift. Years went by. Cate invited her over. The conversation quickly turned to the topic of environmentalism. Not that anyone asked, but her friend declared, “I’m really not that hard core. If I was hard core about it, I wouldn’t set foot in this house.” Ouch. What is Miss Manners to do in that situation? Sweet Cate, who loves to compost and cycle to work, thought, “What a bitch.” And they never spoke again.

Point is, eco-bullies, including the tiny one in me, have got to go. And in their place? Eco-charmers. Anyone who has ever tried to coax a baby or boyfriend knows that bullying doesn’t get you anywhere. But charm will.

*Name has been changed.


Eco-charmers don’t bulldoze conversations. Instead, they lead by example. Just like my raised-on-the-West-Coast-by-hippies partner, Isaac. I am highly suggestible, which made converting me almost too easy, but the macho guys at drop-in basketball were a different story. Every week, Isaac played ball in a high school gym and the organizer of this drop-in would bring a flat of bottled water. The guys would guzzle and toss all night, creating a mini plastic landfill. Isaac spotted a recycling bin down the hall and dragged it into the gym every week, wordlessly placing it next to the garbage. The result wasn’t life-changing—the bottles went into the recycling instead of the garbage (a concept even children grasp these days)—but it was something. Somehow, Isaac did what he could without inadvertently alienating his plastic-loving friends in the process.

There’s really no way to say “Don’t do that!” nicely. It seems the best way to go about it is to have a list of dos rather than don’ts. And being positive about eco-friendly changes is to love your own green lifestyle, not see it through the lens of sacrifice. Guaranteed, others will want to join the garden party.

I know I’m the last person to judge others because I have flown around the world (and knowing how much air travel contributes to climate change is a real bummer for me).

Unless one lives completely off-grid (hello, Darryl Hannah) and saves the bathwater for the garden, and even then, especially then, it doesn’t help this cause—the cause of our times—to judge others. Out loud, anyway. So I will continue to practise self-restraint when witnessing people double-bagging. Maybe they’ll return the favour and bring a cloth tote next time.



Filed under:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

FLARE - Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to FLARE Need to Know for smart, sassy, no-filter takes on everything you're interested in—including style, culture & current events, plus special offers—sent straight to your inbox each day. Sign up here.