How to Live With Others Who Are NOT Zero-Waste

Hello! So this blog post is a little different then my usual informational ones, I try to provide a lot of studies, facts and data to offer a well rounded view. But this information is strictly from my personal experience! I also did a video on this that you can watch below if your not into reading!  

Some background information:

I have been practicing zero-waste living for 8 years now. When I  first started I am the first to admit I was really aggressive. I didn't intentionally mean to be, I was learning so much and I think a lot of  that passion came off as aggression to anyone who wasn't trying to be environmentally friendly. Through the years and more experience I finally calmed down and now think and take a different, more positive approach to my education and my activism. 

My Living Situation

I am a bit unconventional in some of my living situations. I have lived in two trailers,and a tiny yellow house. I have lived with my  family, by myself, with partners, and with roommates- all of which I chose to live (and continue to live) as a family unit. I plan on diving deeper into family or communal living but for the sake of this topic I just wanted to get the idea across that living with other is not new for me- and I have plenty of experience living with others who do not share the same values and lifestyle as I do living zero-waste. 

Living with a Non-Zero-Waste family Tips + Experience 

When I was a teenager living at home with my family there where just certain things that I could not change such as  I didn't do the shopping and vast majority of running the household. So I just focused on what changes I could personally make such as:

  • Clothes shopping less
  • Swapping disposable make up wipes for reusable makeup wipes
  • Using a reusable water bottle
  • Creating homemade DIY skin care instead of buying conventional face washes
  • Asking for no straw when my family and I went out to eat.

    For things I had less control of I would spark a conversation with my mother and would talk about things like dryer sheets, paper towels, and ziplock bags that was a regular for my family to use and some simple alternatives we could make as a family. Some changes were made other not
    (Big shutout to my amazing mother who  adapted a lot of zero-waste practices once she started learning about single use plastic and listening to my rants).


    Living With Partners That Are Not Zero-Waste 

    When I moved into my first trailer with a partner we both  had similar views and goals on living as zero-waste as possible and for a time I lived by myself so practicing zero-waste wasn't so much a challenge in that time. I eventually met another partner that did not share the same passion and as we lived together challenges were brought up. 

    What I learned from living with a partner that did not have those same values was to not take your frustration out on them

    When we would do our grocery  shopping I found that I would get incredibly frustrated at them for selecting a lot of prepackaged food and items. This then made them incredibly frustrated and the evening would end in bad moods all around. Our solution to this was to shop separately and have separate cabinets. I had to acknowledge and accept that they were going to eat and use what they wanted and I should not shame them for that (difficult lesson to practices let me tell you) above that, I learned to practice and greatly appreciate when they did put in an effort - one time they got a tea in a glass bottle rather then picking the one in plastic. Seems so small but it meant so much, so learning to appreciate the small efforts our loved ones put in. They are not going to be perfect (and neither are you) but to acknowledge that this is not for everyone and that they are doing there best to both support you and live authentic to themselves.  


    Living With Non-Zero Waste Roommates 

    There was a time I lived with two roommates, they were both not into sustainability or zero-waste living in the slightest and prioritized convenience above all else. When moving in we all had a chat, I stated my priorities, goals and expectations and they stated there's. I remember at some point in that conversion turned to paper towels...I said that I will not be buying paper towels, I have my own system for cloth towels and am paper free in the kitchen. They were more then welcomed buy there own paper towels and use them no problem but that I will not be using them and so will not be paying for them. They all agreed and in the end they ended up just using the unpaper towel system I had in place!

    What I learned through this is that sometimes people wouldn't otherwise do anything but if you have a system that you are already doing that doesn't take longer they are more willing to try (or even end up using!)

    Another example of this is composting. It is something I was doing regardless of my roommates- I took it out every day if they used it or not, they ended up just tossing there food scraps in the compost bin rather then the trash! 

    So here are some lessons I have learned by sharing a space with people who do not practice zero-waste: 


  • Be respectful 

        1. Acknowledge that some people will not change- although it may be frustrating, people transition at there own time. Being passive aggressive or downright aggressive and mean will not make people change, rather then push them further away from the idea and ultimately they will resist. 

        2. Communication- definitely have clear conversations, explain why you are doing what you do and how you plan on doing it.

        3. Discuss what steps are important and see what changes you and your roommates are comfortable with. Make those transitions, check back and see how they are working. 


  • Lead by example

      1. You do you. Make the changes you can make.For example:  Roommate wants paper towels? Don't fight them, but keep using your cloth towels, you may be surprised that they might start using them too. 

    Shut up and listen
      1. Sometimes we get in the habit of preaching all the time we forget that everyone is diverse. People have different values, capabilities, and limitations. Learning to just sometimes listen to what others concerns and limitations are can give you better insight while also making them feel heard and understood as opposed to judged and ranted at. 

    Living with others who don't  practice zero-waste has taught me a sense of patience and understanding. When I first started my journey I am the first to admit I was a bit aggressive. Now I focus on what I can do and try and be a positive influencer on those around me, without judgment to where they are on their journey. 

    Do you have a similar experience? What are the challenges you face when living with others who don't practice zero-waste? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments below.