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.