(Disclaimer: We all have different experiences when it comes to living with non-zero wasters.)
About a year ago, I found the zero waste lifestyle and wanted to get rid of all of the plastic and trash in my life. The big problem was that I live with my parents who aren’t zero waste. When I first talking with them about the lifestyle, I hopped that they would be completely on-board. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. As a result, I began to argue with them about why they continued to use plastic water bottles, to go cups, paper napkins, cleaners full of chemicals, detergent, dryer sheets, and other wasteful things that I didn’t want in my living space anymore. These arguments made me annoyed, discouraged, and stressed out, because I felt like I couldn’t be zero waste as long as my family were continuing to produce a ton of trash. However, their trash isn’t my trash.
By preaching to my parents and getting into arguments, I was explaining to them that everything they do is wrong and I know how to fix it. Adults don’t tend to respond well to this type of explanations, since they believe they are suppose to teach you. As a result, these arguments just made it unpleasant to live with them and made me feel inferior. The Number 1 Most Important Thing to Remember is that Their Trash Isn’t Your Trash. As long as you are doing your part to reduce your waste, then you have to let go of some of the stuff that you can’t control. This will allow you to de-stress and not feel so anxious about living with non-zero wasters.
Support is the number one key factor when it comes to living with people. If you are living with people who don’t support who you are, then you can’t live with that person. It doesn’t matter how many conversations you have with that person, if they can’t be supportive then it’s not going to work. That goes for anything in life, not just the zero waste lifestyle.
Now, your probably wondering how can you tell if they are supportive? If they are constantly asking questions about the lifestyle, talking with you about the lifestyle, or even go right out and tell you that they support you in your decision to be zero waste, then they support you! This is integral to all conversations that you will have with them about the lifestyle.
Once you understand that they support you in your decision to be zero waste, try to do as much research as possible. Ask them to watch some documentaries with you, or send them a few articles that have really interested you. Just as long as you aren’t spamming them with zero waste, they will begin to become interested in the topic and your new lifestyle without feeling pressured to start the lifestyle.
When they start asking questions, try to answer it to the best of your ability. If you can’t, then look it up and you two can have a discussion about it! A family member of mine asked me what are the essential items for the zero waste lifestyle, I gave them a list of my top 10, but I also explained to them that the lifestyle can’t be done with just these products, it’s an ever evolving lifestyle that becomes a part of you. This way, you provided them with an answer to your questions, while also leading them with wanting to learn more.
I have also had my fair share of “odd questions” like, well if someone gifted you a new item, would that be able to except that item? Does that item follow your lifestyle? Try to approach this question in a respectful manner by explaining that a gift is a great thing, and that you would never disrespect the other person by not accepting the gift. I also think it’s important to explain that you try to give everyone a list of gifts that you would really enjoy. This allows them to feel comfortable in still being able to buy you something, and makes you feel better by not getting mad at them for asking an odd question.
Make Changes in Your Own Life!
Start making changes in your life that wont effect the people you live with. By thrifting, purchasing package free items, and making your own you are starting your transition without making them feel like you are forcing them to change their lifestyle. This will also lead to more discussions and conversations with whomever you live with. People are naturally interested in what others are doing, and when they start asking more questions about how they can start making changes in their life to be a little less wasteful. This is your sweet spot to start asking them how you can start making changes in the common spaces.
What Changes Are They Comfortable With?
Talk with your roomies, family, or partner about what changes they would be most comfortable with doing that would help you all reduce your waste. I have heard people say that they started with getting rid of napkins and paper towels, or simply using reusable bags and water bottles. Whatever works for you, is how you need to start. Don’t feel like you aren’t doing enough because they aren’t doing enough. Everyone has to go at their own pace.
My parents have composted for years, so I started with the composting situation; since my family can be lazy and throw the compost in the garbage. This was an amazing start and allowed me to feel like I was making a difference in my zero waste lifestyle. I also began adapting a more plant-based diet. This wasn’t out of the norm as I was a vegetarian for four years in college, and my family doesn’t eat a ton of meat or dairy. About a year later, my family will still use paper napkins and towels, they don’t bring their own utensils, to go containers, or coffee mugs to places; and I am okay with that because their trash isn’t my trash.
Difference Between Roomies, Partners, and Parents
(Disclaimer: I have lived with roommates in the past, but not during my zero waste journey. This portion will explore how I have dealt with living with my sister, who is a year younger, since I believe many of the same principles can apply to a roommate.)
For the first 5 months of my journey, I lived with just my parents. However, in May of 2017, my sister moved back home as well. This made it easier in some areas and more difficult in many ways. I believe that people who are around the same age as me are more understanding about the various changes within the zero waste guidelines then people who are a lot older than me.
Around the time that my sister moved back in I had also lost my job, so I wasn’t able to do the majority of the grocery shopping like I had done prior to her moving in. She also enjoys doing her own grocery shopping, As a result, there was a ton more packaged food products and other items coming into the house. Luckily, I was able to approach the situation without feeling as if I was preaching to them about my lifestyle. Instead, I focused on the fact that her garbage wasn’t mine. I also began to construct my grocery lists around what she was purchasing. This would allow me to feel better about using up what she already had, instead of it going to waste. This is one example on how you can help reduce their waste.
However, my sister also does a ton of online shopping, purchases clothes from fast fashion stores, and also buys a ton of body and face products. Yes, I can be there for her when she does ask me questions about the zero waste lifestyle, but I also can’t stop her from going shopping or doing something she enjoys. I also can’t make her feel bad about herself either. All of this would end up in the two of us having a big argument that wouldn’t go anywhere or make any sort of improvement. Instead, I go shopping with her when she asks, or I decide to do my own personal activity while she is shopping. We make it work by respecting and supporting each other’s lifestyles, instead of pushing our own point of views onto each other.
Roommates and Partners can definitely be different. Especially when roomies are friends, who aren’t completely on-board for being zero waste. At the end of the day, It’s all in the way that you approach the situations or topics, and how they seem to support you in your way of life. If they don’t support you, then this isn’t going to work; but if they do, then you will be able to make it work. You just have to start discussions and conversations, instead of arguing. Share information through a few articles and documentaries, instead of spamming their inboxes. Also, ask other zero wasters online or in person various questions that may help you get through a difficult situation that has arouse. This will make your life and others around you more stress free and enjoyable, especially when they decide to start making the transition themselves!
Focus on the Positives, Not the Negatives!
Whenever you do anything, don’t concentrate on why your family, roomies, or partner wont stop using paper towels or toxic cleaners, but focus on what they are doing to make their life a little less wasteful. This year, my parents not only followed me zero waste list, but also got me a really nice and comfortable sweater from Patagonia, a sustainable clothing brand that I continue to support. My sister bought me a nutcracker, since I collect them, and a few clothing items from Goodwill. This was an amazing win for them and me because I felt good that they took notice and made sure that they gave me presents that I would love.
At the end of the day, you are in control of how you speak with your fellow non-zero wasters about the lifestyle. By talking with them in a calm and more supportive matter, you are going to get someone who is supportive and wants to learn more about the lifestyle. If you speak to them in an aggressive and pushy manner, then you are going to get someone who is constantly pushing back against the lifestyle. This will allow you to feel as if you can make a difference within your own personal space and continue to want to become as zero waste as possible! Please comment below if you have any questions or comments about your own transition and living with non- zero wasters.
Articles and Other Bloggers:
Sustainability Vegan Video on Living With Non-Zero Wasters:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvtdMjpyd6Q&t=2s
Gittemary Johnson's Living with Non-Zero Waste Roommates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYe4cR-jZvs
Going Zero Waste article on Living with Non Zero Wasters: https://www.goingzerowaste.com/blog/zero-waste-and-roommates
Paris To Go article on Going Zero Waste When No One Else Wants To: http://www.paris-to-go.com/2016/04/zero-waste-life-with-non-zero-waste-family-members.html