Asking For Change

May 12, 2020

Asking For Change

When it comes to reducing waste, it’s all very well changing our personal habits but the responsibility of single-use items and disposable plastic should fall into the laps of the places that continue to use them and make it difficult for us to avoid them. I’m talking about online shops delivering orders in swathes of plastic, coffee shops serving drinks in disposable cups and not allowing customers to bring reusables, and supermarkets continuing to provide plastic bags.

Asking for change is something that seems overwhelmingly huge but is actually pretty simple and, better yet, quick to do. Just don’t expect to see results straight away. I remember when I first went vegan over 15 years ago, nowhere served plant-based milk. Every time I ordered coffee I’d ask, “do you have soy milk?” and every time they’d tell me no. I kept asking, in person and via email, if they would consider providing their customers with an alternative to dairy milk and eventually they did!

We can start the conversation about sustainability with businesses. Putting pressure on them to make changes is as easy as making a simple request to be served in your own reusables, asking shops to switch plastic cups for (at the very least) a compostable alternative (that will actually be composted), or writing to companies requesting they consider more eco-friendly packaging.

Asking for change requires being bold and having the confidence to speak up. That’s not always easy. It can be uncomfortable, especially in an unfamiliar place, to make a request when you’re unsure of what the reaction will be. But I promise you, the worst thing that can happen is they say no and that really isn’t all that bad. Most places, particularly the small independent shops and bars, are very receptive to feedback and suggestions.

When it comes to face to face interactions, I’ve found a friendly tone and a smile goes a long way. On grabbing a coffee: “Hi! I’ve got my own cup, can I get a coffee to go?” On ordering street food: “Hello, I brought my own container; can I order the…?” On buying produce at the market: “Don't worry about the bag, I brought my own." I ask these things regularly with great success.

If you want your local cafe to stop serving coffee in disposable cups, a bar to offer eco-friendly straws, or an online shop to ditch the plastic packaging, a phone call, written letter, or email can all be effective if you keep your words brief and to the point. You could even use social media, the public attention might be in your favour.

I regularly take my own bag and container to my local bakery to pick up a fresh loaf and baked treats, and the staff there are more than happy to accomodate. Same goes with every coffee shop I’ve ever been in, and even cafes and restaurants when I want to take away my food to go. I’ve written to online shops to ask them to switch out their plastic packaging for an eco-friendly alternative, and requested brands consider less wasteful packaging of their products via social media.

These requests we make might not change much as a single individual (especially not overnight) but as a collective we can show a demand for more Earth-friendly practices. Businesses will keep doing what they’ve always done if we don’t share with them our distaste for their poor practices and wasteful habits, and suggest what we’d like to see instead. Just like with the soy milk I kept asking for all those years ago, if we keep asking for change, eventually we’ll see it happen.




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