When you choose to start reducing the waste in your life, it tends to make you hyper aware of every bit of trash around you. Or at least that was what happened to me. Suddenly I was noticing trash thrown out at my house, at work, on the street, and by friends and family. It was a really difficult time to manage my desire to educate people on waste and also recognize that not everyone was invested like I was.
In order to avoid causing harm to the important relationships in your life, I’ve created a guide to living zero waste with someone who isn’t. I lived with a roommate for a year who was not interested in making changes to her lifestyle at all. I also currently live with my boyfriend who is very supportive but not ready to jump in to the level I am at. Both of these experiences have taught me a lot about what works, and what doesn’t, when living with different lifestyles.
So if you find yourself ready to start going zero waste but live with a partner/roommate who’s not totally on board, hopefully the following tips will help you navigate that relationship. If you have a partner who’s gung-ho like you, you’re already one step ahead of the game!
Communicate with them.
I found that the most important thing was to communicate with my partner or roommate about the changes I was making and why. By walking them through my thought process, it gave them a chance to see the trash through my eyes and at least hear why I was so passionate about it. Trying to instigate changes to your communal lifestyle without explaining why to your partner can trigger defensiveness about not being included in the decision making process. This is especially important when you are just beginning your zero waste journey and are already in a relationship. My boyfriend and I were together before I was ever interested in waste reduction and it took some explaining for him to understand the drastic shift in my behavior.
Communication is also super important if you are moving in with a roommate and have already started your zero waste life. If at all possible, you want to pick a roommate who is aware of your composting bins, recycling process, and focus on reusables in the house. Some may find it off-putting and turn down the apartment; but then again, they are better off not being your roommate at that point. Be sure to be upfront when moving in with someone so you are both on the same page.
Just like I had to be patient with all the mistakes I made originally, it was super important that I was patient with those I lived with. I found that I would take my own frustration out on my roommate and became really passive aggressive about the lack of change happening. It is important to realize that even if they are excited to make changes, it may not be as fast as you want. Give them time to try out your new products and routines and figure out how they feel about it. And don’t assume that changes in the house will always lead to changes in their outside lives quickly. It will be a lot harder for them to remember to avoid waste when they don’t have you reminding them! Just take a breath…and give it time before you throw them out with the trash (bad pun, I know!).
Encourage changes they are excited about!
If there is something your partner or roommate is passionate about, see if that can relate to trash reduction. Maybe they are a penny pincher and you can highlight the changes that save money in the long run. If they’re animal lovers, you can discuss meatless Mondays and a move towards less animal products. Sometimes they may be excited about only making changes in a certain area – like the kitchen or makeup or shower routines. That’s okay! Encourage the things they are inspired about! The last thing you want to do it start berating them about everything that they give it all up. Every step is a step in the right direction, no matter how small.
Acknowledge that you cannot force them into your lifestyle.
At some point you may just need to take a step back and realize that you cannot force change on someone who doesn’t want it. My old roommate refused to even learn how to properly recycle and wouldn’t touch my compost bucket at all. Eventually it became clear that the frustration and energy I was putting into making her change was futile. She wasn’t changing and it was harming our living environment. I instead focused on myself again and planned on finding a new roommate who would be more compatible when move out day came.
The same goes for a more long-time partner. I’m not saying to live in misery everyday with someone who won’t participate in your lifestyle. But I’m also not saying that someone refusing to jump on board is a signal for a separation. As I talked about above, communication, patience, and honesty is key when cultivating a new lifestyle with someone so important to you.
Are you living with someone who isn’t practicing a zero waste lifestyle? What advice do you have for others struggling in the same situation?