It’s only in my adult life that I’ve come to really accept and embrace my introverted tendencies. I’m not socially inept, by any means, but a lot of the time, my natural state is to be withdrawn. I have a certain inertia when it comes to striking up conversations with strangers or putting myself in unfamiliar situations. I work hard at stretching myself out of my comfort zone, and feel a great sense of satisfaction when I do, but it takes concerted effort for me.
Going Zero Waste Requires A Lot of Conversations
It’s ironic, therefore, that I chose to align myself with a movement that challenges the status quo and requires a certain number of uncomfortable conversations with strangers, often in new places. My deeply held belief in the importance of the zero waste movement motivates me to have those conversations, but when I’m confronted with opposition, it can set me back significantly.
Sometimes Those Conversations Don't Go Well
For example, recently, on a visit to my hometown, I went to Whole Foods on a grocery run. I walked up to the fishmonger’s counter and asked for a piece of fish, and asked whether the fishmonger would be able to put it in the container that I brought for that purpose. He told me that due to health regulations, he was unable to accommodate me.
I was surprised that a place like Whole Foods, whose entire brand is built around earth-friendliness, refused to assist me in reducing waste by putting a piece of fish in the clean container that I brought, rather than in a single-use plastic bag, wrapped in waxed paper.
After failing to see the logic behind this rule, and trying to reason with the man, he flatly told me that he was unwilling to risk his job in order to accommodate me, and that the conversation was over. I was flabbergasted. Whole Foods is a place where you’d expect salespeople to understand the concept of trying to reduce waste, and I left the store utterly deflated.
Fear of Confrontation Can Be Paralysing
I have to admit, this one defeat put me off having similar conversations, and I found myself walking the path of least resistance in other retailers in order to avoid what felt to me, an introvert, like a confrontation - something I like to avoid at all costs.
But then I remembered the number of times when I’ve asked for salespeople to accommodate my requests, and was met with acceptance, and sometimes even praise for my efforts to cut back on waste.
How To Overcome Introversion for the Sake of the Planet
Try to Focus on Your Successes
My local fishmonger in Marple is more than happy to put fish in my containers when I bring them in. The lovely folks at Unicorn Grocery in Chorlton (featured in our Zero Waste Guide to Manchester!) applauded me for bringing my own containers to their prepared food counter.
Sure, there are some people and businesses who don’t understand why I’d want to use my own container, why I don’t want a straw in my drink, or why pouring coffee into a disposable cup to “measure it” before putting it in my reusable cup defeats the whole purpose.
Support Those Who Support You
But more times than I’ve been denied or disappointed in my efforts, I’ve been accepted and cheered on. So I choose to patronize those businesses who are willing to help me in my cause, and I avoid the ones that aren’t. (I now know that trying to get a cup of tea in my reusable cup on a Virgin train is only going to end in frustration, so I come prepared with my own.)
And I try to remember, when explaining to someone new why I’d rather just put the loaf of bread in my own bag, thank you, that the worst that can happen is that someone will say no, and at best I’ll be helping spread the word about how easy it is to reduce everyday disposable waste, and maybe making someone think differently about the things we habitually throw away.
The Discomfort is Worth It
The plain truth is, if you’re an introvert, you’re going to have to push yourself to get people on board with what you're doing. But I believe that, though it’s more challenging for us to start those conversations than it is for some other people, the reward is greater for introverts, because we’ve put ourselves at greater risk by going beyond our comfort zones.
When I do have successful interactions with people about reducing waste, it gives me a sense of downright euphoria that’s hard to beat. And though I often feel like the hippy-dippy weirdo in the room, I rest easy in the knowledge that I’m contributing to something good.