Starting your low waste journey is exciting, but what happens if those around you disagree and push back on your new ideas? What if you still live with your parents/family members and have little control over many decisions? What if your roommates just don’t understand why you should bother recycling?
It’s okay to be the “green sheep”.
In this post, we’re going to discuss how to stay motivated living with others while dealing with judgement and the proper ways to encourage others to make more sustainable choices in their lives.
When I started lowering my waste and living more sustainably, I was living alone at college. It was easier for me to start making changes in my life because no one was around to discourage me. However, when I moved back home and later moved in with my now-husband, things got much more difficult. And I still consider my parents and husband to be very open-minded about zero waste and know they have made changes because of me or of their own will.
In college, I switched to a nearly 100% vegan diet. When I moved back home, that wasn’t an option. My mom has pushed back on me becoming vegan for years and years. My husband also disagrees with me going vegan mostly because he enjoys sharing meals rather than both of us making our own each night.
At college, I cut out granola bars. But when I came back home, I fell back into my old habits of relying on single-serve snack foods. I would bring two or three granola bars or other snacks to work, along with a yogurt or applesauce. It took me about a year to kick that habit again, but I still fall victim to snack foods from time to time.
My husband has no desire to be as zero waste as I would like to be. He is a bargain-hunter and usually does not like to buy things that have a cheaper alternative even if the more expensive item is better (local, package-free, organic, etc.). So we still buy a lot of packaged foods. We have a few bulk places somewhat nearby, but the costs are just too high for us. We buy at warehouse stores to get the large “bulk” options whenever possible, but to me, these sometimes are just more waste than buying multiple of an item because it’s just two or three normal items plastic-wrapped together.
That said, my husband has transitioned to a lower-meat diet (poultry only) and often will make vegan meals with me from one of our secondhand cookbooks. He is all for bar soap, wants to get a bidet when we buy our own home, and wants to give low waste gifts for holidays. He has truly embraced thrift shopping and worked with me on our lower waste wedding. But still there are times when I get discouraged that he doesn’t agree.
The Hard Truth
The fact of the matter is you can’t change everyone’s mind about everything. It’s a hard thing to accept, but it is necessary for the happiness of both parties.
People may have many reasons for pushing back on change. Our world has become one of convenience. For example, it’s easier to go buy a coffee in a plastic cup on your way to work than it is make one yourself at home. It’s easier to take the plastic shopping bags from the store than it is to remember your reusable bags. Some people don’t want to give that up.
Maybe they just aren’t aware of the consequences of their actions. Maybe their vision of trash stops at the edge of the driveway where the garbage truck picks it up each week. Maybe they don’t know about unethical human rights violations with regards to the fast fashion industry.
They could also just be set in their ways. “We’ve always done it this way. I’m not changing now.” Or they could be bargain-hunters and refuse to pay more for better products when there’s a cheaper version on the next shelf. Whatever it is, they have their reasons, but there are many ways you can open a dialogue and compromise with them.
Start simple and suggest the easiest swaps first. Don’t go all in pushing for composting when you haven’t even tackled proper recycling practices yet. Check out my post on 50 (Free!) Little Changes to get started. They cost no money (in fact, many save money), and most are very easy to adopt.
You can also go the “buy it once” route. Ask them to opt for energy-efficient appliances and switch to a renewable energy provider. Suggest they buy a glass product over a plastic one of similar price. Put a stop to junk mail using optoutprescreen.com and dmachoice.org. This way there is no upkeep and extra work involved to living more sustainably.
If they don’t want to go and buy their own products, offer to let them borrow yours. Say they are welcome to use your reusable containers or bags. Let them clean up using your DIY natural cleaners. Encourage them to put food scraps in your compost bin.
You can also offer to do the “dirty work” involved. All they need to do is put the food scraps in the bin; you’ll take the compost from there. You will launder the reusable cleaning rags and kitchen towels that replaced the paper towels. You will handle growing some veggies in the garden, and they can cook with them.
But if you’re still making no progress, sometimes it’s better to just move on.
Focus On You And Bigger Issues
Sometimes I need to have a talk with myself and remember that I am separate from my husband. His trash is not my trash. I can make swaps that he doesn’t (such as recently going No Poo). It’s okay. Just focus on what you can personally change.
While this includes doing more to lower your own footprint, you can also turn to activism. Join an environmental group, write to companies explaining your disagreement with their practices and suggesting changes, and vote in every election. One voice may not seem like much, but the aggregation of everyone’s single voice can cause big change.
In sum, don’t let others get you down. Reach out to the zero waste community in your area or online. We’ve all been there before. Advice and support are waiting for you.
Lead By Example
The best way to encourage others is to lead by example instead of being all preachy that you have seen the light. No one likes to feel lectured to and told they are wrong. No one likes a know-it-all. So instead of speaking from a “You’re causing more X to happen so stop and be more like me” point of view, speak from a “I do this thing because X is happening and it’s so easy to do” point of view.
You can also do small things like packing an extra fork, bag, or container for them to use when you go out together. It shows you care and that it took very little effort to bring along. Don’t force things on them; just offer.
Respect is a mutual concept. If it’s still a hard no, you just have to accept it. Go on living your life as a silent example for them anyway, but accept they may never come around to zero waste.
Educating others is a great way to encourage sustainable living. You can hop over to my Start Here section to find posts on getting started with reducing your impact on the planet and share those with others.
You can also use science and facts to explain the issues our planet is facing. Statistics, reports, and news articles are useful tools, but make sure to look for ones written in plain English (or whatever language you speak) so they aren’t just a wall of science-y text. You can also suggest they read some books on zero waste living and environmental problems. Check out my List of Must-Read Books on Sustainability.
Better yet, skip the reading altogether and watch a documentary together. There are docs on everything from food waste to wildlife to fashion. Read some quick blurbs about a handful of awesome documentaries on my List of Must Watch Eco-Documentaries.
Finally, you yourself can also be a resource for others. Answer their questions. If you don’t know an answer, look it up and get back to them. Keep sharing information and leading by example, and they may start picking up on some of your habits.
How have you dealt with living with non-zero waste people? What tactics have you used to encourage others to act more responsibly? How do you stay motivated? Let us know in the comments!