Going Zero Waste (When No One In Your Life Wants To)



I might take the path of least resistance more than some zero wasters (for the sake of simplicity, as with all posts, I am generalizing here). I try to avoid conflict and focus on building and establishing relationships to lessen environmental impact. This approach successfully turned my household into a plastic free zone, and the people in my life constantly surprise me with unsolicited zero waste switches. Here’s what worked for me when living with those who don’t share my lifestyle.



Living with Non Zero Wasters

  • Lead by example. For the most part, I try to mind my own business and not talk to my husband about zero waste, because he responds better to actions than words. He prefers my spaghetti sauce to store-bought, and colorful zero waste meals to processed takeout. When your partner / roommates taste homemade pickles or hummus for the first time, they’ll never go back. Try throwing a zero waste party to get them acclimated (for zero waste wedding tips, click here). Live your life a certain way, and it sets off a chain reaction- see Cheryl Mendelson’s application of the broken windows theory to housework.
  • Be tolerant. If my husband asks me to pick up his favorite brand of deodorant or something, I do it (the only things I buy for him now are deodorant and toothpaste packaged in aluminum- they both go to recycling). If a particular product makes him happy and comfortable, he deserves it! Be reasonable and non-judgmental. Haranguing loved ones into zero waste will not produce long-lasting results; it may even promote resentment. But if he asks me for, say, a tuna salad sandwich, that’s something I can make zero waste with the same end result. Getting someone's preferred brand in bulk is an inoffensive way to introduce zero waste to their existing lifestyle- like getting my husband's favorite beer in growlers (though now he’s brewing his own, which is even better). 
  • Introduce appealing alternatives. Making small, inoffensive changes, like sticking an unpackaged bar of soap in the shower or switching plastic toothbrushes to bamboo, are often effective and met with no resistance. My husband loved the creaminess of savon d’alep so much, in fact, he started using it instead of shampoo and body wash, leaving me with two less packaged favorites to purchase :) When I refilled his favorite Aesop mouthwash with my own homemade concoction, he actually preferred it, and started asking me to make it all the time!
  • Save receipts. The cost benefits of zero waste stagger even reticent roommates. The difference is particularly obvious with cleaning and beauty products, especially in Paris. While I’m away, my husband cleans regularly using expensive conventional products. He notices the apartment is dirtier with the industrial stuff- which doesn't cut through hard water buildup- and the laundry suffers from starchiness, dye loss, or dye transfer. According to him, there's a huge difference when I get back and clean, quite economically, with simple vinegar and soap. Beyond finances, when your family sees how much time you save cleaning your uncluttered private space, using common household products instead of shopping, or dressing with a minimal wardrobe instead of caring for a ton of clothes, they might be impressed into simplicity themselves.
  • Emphasize aesthetics. My husband is a man of taste. He appreciates good design and beauty, so the loveliness of glass and linens (as opposed to crumply paper towels and ugly plastic) are, to him, the biggest favorable arguments for zero waste. Some people think the pursuit of beauty isn’t a valid reason to switch to a zero waste lifestyle. I say, whatever works, as long as you’re not throwing out old, perfectly useful stuff to buy new stainless steel and glass replacements.


If you're a minor living with parents, you might not have much control over grocery shopping or even the personal products you use. Try bringing household cutlery and a cloth when eating out with family, instead of using disposables. Pack your own lunch in reusables, upcycle household items, or clean up with soap and vinegar. If there's an upcoming gift-giving occasion, you could ask for an experience gift, zero waste alternatives, or a trip to a bulk or resale store :) On a college campus? Do what you can. Start cleaning with natural products, try a zero waste beauty routine, walk instead of driving your car, and drink out of a glass jar, which me and a few classmates did for years- it isn't as weird as it sounds. Bring reusables to the cafeteria, start a composting program with like-minded students, or take your own shopping bags to the store. Don't stress if you can't live completely zero waste! Make it work for your circumstances.

Just relax and don’t try to change everyone in your life. People respond better, I think, to a compassionate and understanding approach than a rigid, Spartan one. Focus on your own lifestyle, and others will follow- maybe not entirely, but they are sure to make changes that lead to positive environmental effects, however small.

Paris to Go

27 comments:

  1. You mention your husband liking your homemade spaghetti sauce over the store bought kind. I am assuming this is an analogy and you are not the only one making everything for your family. But in my house hold, its a problem. My folk see it as time taken away from their life in DIY-ing items that would be convenient to purchase and if i want to keep at it, i will have to make it all by myself. That is my time and its valuable too. They will help out of guilt or if i ask for it. But they see it as time lost in their lives re-inventing the wheel.

    Thoughts ?

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    1. Hi Archana! I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but I usually cook dinner (my husband does his own lunch and isn't into breakfast) because I'm the only one that can guarantee it will be gluten-free. I'm told by couples married much longer than us that when you're celiac and you marry a non-celiac, they apparently don't get the hang of it for years to come. Ours is a situation that doesn't apply universally, but in Paris it takes forever to buy things at the store. Or wait for the delivery. So to buy a good spaghetti sauce means walking down seven flights of stairs, walking ten minutes to the grocery store, waiting in line twenty minutes, and then heading home. Or I could pick up tomatoes, garlic, and onions at the market in five minutes on the way home, chop them in two minutes, stick them in the pot with olive oil, and walk away until it's ready. I think a lot of people grossly overestimate the time it takes to make things at home, but it's a personal decision how they spend their time, and for some people it's not worth it- that's ok. Depending on location, there are lots of bulk options (in my small suburb of Cleveland, there were little Mediterranean shops where we could buy hummus, soup, and tomato sauce in our own containers) or things you can buy in consigned jars.

      I myself don't DIY a lot. I buy makeup, the baking soda I use as deodorant, the soap and olive oil I use as lotion. But for food items it's easier to make things than go to the abominable Carrefour nearby.

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    2. Let me clarify.

      When I mention the possibility of making more at home as opposed to buying at store, the effort/time investment is expected from me because I am the one making these choices. That has been my biggest problem with suggesting zero waste to my friends and family. And as the gatherings grow large, I just cant keep up. While I am not trying to convert them, I break my own resolve.

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    3. Yes, the idea is to own our choices and coexist with theirs. For big groups, like corporate or university events, the way to get them on board was the cost savings, but it sounds like that isn't a motivator for your family. With my sister's wedding (over 300 people) she had a zero waste resolve that drove the events but there were still things out of our control- some people didn't get what she was trying to do, and decided to do their own thing instead. So there was a little waste that way.

      For my own parties, I am a one cook in the kitchen type of person (aka I have to be in control!) so I'm not much help I'm afraid :(

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    4. Nope, the margin of cost savings is not a motivator for my family/friends. And I am the one reading blogs and NatGeo. I have skeptics who believe in climate change but don't think 'extreme measures' are the answer.

      Lets see. I am new to this. If I keep at it, hopefully I will find the support.

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  2. Ha! I just picked up Home Comforts from the library a few days ago. Small world.

    A side note for your other readers in the Brooklyn area: it looks like we’re going to get our first zero waste grocery store! The Fillery just completed their Kickstarter campaign and should be opening somewhere in Prospect Heights.

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    1. That is awesome! I saw the Kickstarter and the Gothamist article and was hoping they'd reach their goal (did you read the NYTimes article about precycling where at the end they were like, hopefully Brooklyn is next?) but hadn't checked up on it. Thanks for sharing! I love that Home Comforts book. Such a great resource. I could read it over and over again, I'm weird haha

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    2. I'm so glad to hear there will be a zero-waste grocery in Brooklyn! I recently moved out to Long Island, and am struggling to find all the resources I need or groceries that will permit me to bring in my own containers. I've started to look closer to the city and am happy to see there may be a new grocery for me :)

      On a side note- Ariana, thank you for making this blog! It is really enriching for both me to see your perspective and approach on everything from zero-waste to travel. Please continue what you're doing!

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    3. Julie, your comment made my day! What a nice thing to say, and thank you so much :) Glad you will be having such a great shop nearby.

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  3. I take it easy. For me, I make clear choices, and if my friends or colleague ask me about them, I happily explain. So, today, at work, it seems I have inspired my collegue, and our waste is going down each week. It is sort of a challenge we pose on ourselves and it is great to see how it actually works.

    At home, my man likes his paper towels, and his perfume and hair stuff. But he knows what I am about, and is allways very proud of himself when we shop for food zero waste, and is the first to brag to friends :-) . So small steps make for happy people in my home. I love him for trying and not thinking I am a complete nutcase :-)

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    1. That is perfect Emma! How cute that he brags to his friends :) He should be proud! What a beautiful way to express how you feel, I agree, I love my husband no matter what and I'm grateful for any small changes he makes.

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  4. My boyfriend was very supportive when I decided to go plastic free over the course of this year (although he clings desperately onto his plastic toothbrush, to my exasperation!). I made the mistake of rushing into it at first - which frustrated both of us.
    Since calming down, I've found that we've complimented each other well. While he didn't care much about plastic, he hates wasting food. He tends to handle the kitchen AND garden, while I slowly make my way through every other aspect of the house/my life. And he loves the milk we now get delivered to our house, in reusable glass bottles. Hey, teamwork.

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    1. PS. I'm sorry, I don't know why my previous attempt to comment spammed your page in such a manner! BAD comment box!

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    2. That keeps happening, that is my bad because I don't know how to fix it! Maybe I should switch comment systems. Anyway that is funny about the toothbrush! I thought nobody would care about those things but I was wrong! Interesting that the wasting food part is what got him. Everybody's motivator is different.

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  5. Such a useful article. I admit I have been guilty of haranguing and nagging my husband to cut down on waste and it definitely backfired ! (A lovely seaside walk that turned into an argument when he bought a plastic bottle of water comes to mind!) I have now realised compassion and patience is the way forward and works much better for everyone.

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    1. Aw, I've been there! Your heart was in the right place :) I agree, patience is a great thing to have as you try to explain to your family members that no, you do not need a straw for your drink or plastic wrap for your food. But we love them anyway!

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  6. Hi Ariana,

    your approach shows great emotional intelligence! I've certainly been guilty of being too enthusiastic with my kids - they hear it as 'lecturing' - ouch!

    Another approach that may work with some households is to suggest some changes as a fun challenge for a particular amount of time. For example, in 2007 we bought nothing (other than food, medicine, and shoes for the kids) for 12 months. Although my teenagers wouldn't embrace this now, some partners may enjoy the challenge and the huge financial savings most households will make if they stop shopping. Another option could be a hundred mile diet challenge. Even trying a challenge for a month is a great start, and some of the changes may actually stick.

    Madeleine.x

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    1. Hi Madeleine, thank you so much! But you are their mom, you're allowed to be enthusiastic with them! I think it's different when you're the parent, you don't have to tiptoe around them as much as with your peers or spouse :) What an awesome challenge! My husband loves "social experiments" and framing it that way would be an awesome way to get someone involved.

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  7. This issue has been on my mind for the past couple years - I love your approach.
    Can I ask you whether, when you buy wasteful items for your husband, you ask him to take down the trash it produces? Was thinking of separating things in my house as in: "you produce the waste, you take care of it"... but haven't implemented yet.

    Another thing I think works super well: buy groceries BEFORE they do!! it does put more of the burden of shopping on you, but is an efficient way of going zero-waste without any argument :)

    ++

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    1. That is a great idea that never even occurred to me! Sometimes I ask him to take out the trash but if he delays, I'll take it down myself because I can't stand it. I feel like trash smells and can't even bear to look at it in the apartment anymore! I think he knows it too because when I came back from the US the apartment was full of trash and I just took it down without saying anything. If I could just restrain myself that would be an awesome motivator.

      And certainly the buying groceries is, to me, one of the best ways to keep trash out of the house. I enjoy shopping zero waste and I feel like it's faster if I do it myself (I'm sounding sexist and like a control freak probably, but it's true)

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  8. My BF has ridiculed a lot of my zero waste habits when we moved in together. Initially, I took my own containers for meat - the issue was with the staff in the mass grocer. I missed the local butcher of where I lived alone. I used to buy items in bulk, but the pantry moths, and the bespoke GF flours I seldom used up put me off (oh, and the management at the coop did my head in!). I use a shampoo bar and he used a bottle (about one a year). I'm sure if I bulk refilled it for him, he'd not notice, especially if it 'cost' him nothing! Razors or deo is another story I think...

    He'll put items in the compost box in the fridge (I must take it to the communal street compost). He'll rinse recyclables - but not once has self initiated taken out trash. Being zero waste is my thing, so taking it out is mine too. He'll do it when asked.

    Interestingly, some have stuck without an issue. The 90 hand made hankies - he's a convert. I help by making them within arms reach at the couch and bed. He wouldn't imagine buying tissues (though I recently did in the height of a cold!). He couldn't care what the laundry powder is - if it's there, he uses it. If things smell bad he blames it, but in reality I know it's cause he leaves gym clothes balled up for DAYS and vinegar will solve it. He hasn't looked back from refillable stainless steel bottles since I told him refilling plastic single use ones ruined his 'swimmers' (hehe!).

    Overall, he's moderated me.

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    1. Deodorant is the big issue with my husband! He loves his aerosols still :( But that's awesome that he uses the handkerchiefs. I need to get my husband over his ideas about the hygiene. That's too cute what you told him about the plastic bottles :)

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  9. Oh and now my colleague knows if he makes me a coffee, to collect a mug from my desk first, as I loathe the paper cups we end up using once...

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  10. Reading your everyday stories with concrete detail was very helpful as they're far easier to comprehend and translate to my life than the typical advice floating in the web of not being a zero waste dictator with one's significant other. I'm reminded by your blog post to be more compassionate and understanding of my hubby's own needs and wants versus my own goals and desires to be less wasteful. Sharing a life together requires Lots of compromises (and I mean LOTS[!] as you would certainly know) and striving for perfection through militant home rules (something I'm prone to do) is far less pleasant than if I were to be a bit more flexible. The journey along this lower-waste lifestyle can be more enjoyable, no?

    Thanks, Ariana! Any Spring flowers or blooming trees yet in Paris?

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    1. Thank you so much Natalie! I love how you phrase it- not being a zero waste dictator. The trees and the bulbs are in bloom here, it's so pretty :)

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  11. Cloth diapering, cloth wipes, exclusive breastfeeding, homemade baby food, etc. saved a ton of money, so my husband was happy to go along with them. Buying used or borrowing appeals to his thriftiness too. He didn't mind giving up processed foods because our diets improved. He liked the safety razor I gave him for Christmas. It has a nice masculine quality and the blades are less expensive. When I suggested we get rid of kitchen disposables and replace them with reusables, though, he said that was going too far. He got a bit pouty and went out and bought a roll of paper towels! As a compromise I put all of the disposables that we had left in the kitchen around the corner in the pantry-- on a low shelf that requires bending over to access. In the easy-reach drawers they once occupied, I put containers with lids and cloth napkins and dish rags. Guess which ones he now uses?? lol!!!

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    1. What a great idea! Making them inaccessible is brilliant. What awesome changes you've made in your household!

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