The Washington Post

When telling people to stop using plastic, find audiences that can effect change


Dear Miss

Manners: Living in a city that generates massive quantities of plastic waste on a daily basis, I can’t pass an overflowin­g garbage can or notice litter blowing down the street without thinking about where it will end up.

If I had my way, single-use plastic would be strictly limited to essential functions, such as in medical equipment or gloves to handle hazardous material. While plastic bag bans and paper straws are great steps forward, many businesses still seem to use way more plastic than is necessary.

I wish more businesses encouraged their staff to ask customers before adding, say, plastic utensils to a food order or a plastic sleeve over dry-cleaned items. While I would like to feel more comfortabl­e asking business owners to consider making these changes, I’m not sure how to do it in a way that is polite and kind. I don’t mean to cause offense, and the last thing I would want to do is annoy staff who are just doing as they’re instructed.

When I have made requests to people in my own life to be mindful of their plastic consumptio­n, they have responded defensivel­y, leaving me feeling even more cautious about approachin­g strangers. As the ocean fills rapidly with our plastic waste, do you have any suggestion­s for ways to handle these conversati­ons respectful­ly?

We live in a very imperfect world. Fortunatel­y, many people feel compelled to right wrongs — just not always the same ones.

But we can all agree that our cause is too important to give way to others’ — or to normal rules of decorum, like not haranguing strangers in the street. Miss Manners would have thought it was self-evident that doing so is counterpro­ductive.

Make your case to people who are able to effect change — at times when they are listening, and using language that will convince, not alienate, them. Such an approach will not improve things as quickly as you want, but it will do so more quickly than arguing over whose injustice is the worst.

Dear Miss Manners: I found out through social media that my exfather-in-law passed. My exmother-in-law posted a photo from a celebratio­n of life that had been held for him. My exhusband’s new wife forbade him from having any contact with me, but I am still friends with his mother online (although I am careful not to like or comment on her posts).

Would it be all right if I were to send her a condolence card, or should I just ignore it? There was no post made when he passed, just the one mentioning the celebratio­n of life. Is it too late?

The opinions of current spouses regarding with whom you should, or should not, associate should be heard, if not necessaril­y always followed. Those of former spouses have no such standing.

Miss Manners does not mean to encourage you to do something merely to annoy. But sending a condolence note is a kindness to your former motherin-law, not an intentiona­l affront to your ex-spouse or his new wife. Explaining any passage of time is as easy as noting that you only recently became aware of her loss.

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on washington­ You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, missmanner­ You can also follow her

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