How do I go zero waste with a partner that doesn’t care?

How do I go zero waste with a partner that doesn’t care? is part 1 of the series on exploring zero waste with other people.
Part 2: How do I go zero waste with kids?

Let me set the scene: we’re wandering through the aisles of the grocery store, tossing in some loose produce and bulk dry goods here and there. I turn around for a second to consider a sauce of some kind and when I turn back around: BAM! A pack of ramen sits in the cart, taunting me with its plastic.

No, it didn’t jump in there by itself. I’ve got a husband who, while pretty receptive to a lot of my wild ideas, really really loves ramen.

I roll my eyes and sigh less-than-goodnaturedly.

Does it get bought? Yes.

Do I complain a little bit each time? Yes.

While I’d sometimes like to chastise and guide my husband like a toddler, unfortunately that’s probably not the best idea. Unlike kids – who we’re specifically tasked with teaching and instilling values in – adults are their own beings that are going to do what they want to do.

So throughout the remaining sections, please keep in find that these actions will only be effective if the other person is somewhat receptive to the idea. Forcing zero waste practices on someone is almost sure to backfire spectacularly and make them resentful of the good work of the movement.

Be an example of what you want to see

Has anyone shoving a pamphlet at you on the sidewalk ever actually changed your mind about anything?

No! Of course not!

In the same way that people are turned off by the hyper-militant vegans or all-or-nothing political people, there’s no way your partner will ever be open to zero waste if you shove it in their face. Take a step back, live your best zero waste life, and make your partner insanely jealous at all the fun you’re having while doing it. They’ll likely come around.

Actionable step: figure out your partner’s favorite snack and make it available in a zero waste option. If they love salty chips, find a salty, delicious snack available in bulk and make sure it’s always stocked in your pantry!

Get some sneaky education in

Provide easy education options. Rather than lecturing towards your partner, choose key opportunities to educate them in a non-oppressive way. Ideas include:

  • Watching documentaries for movie night. It might be less fun than your typical movie night, but if it’s your turn to choose a movie pick one that has a message. I’d recommend Wasted, The Island President, or The True Cost.
  • Use eating out as a teaching moment. Don’t make it a big deal, but refuse single-use items while eating out for you and your partner. It’s a great way to show how simple and impactful such a small step can be.
Identify opportunities to fill holes with zero waste options

There are plenty of everyday problems that could be solved by a zero waste solution. For example, my husband likes ramen and had a few pairs of wooden chopsticks from take-out that he’d use a few times and then get rid of as they deteriorated. I gifted him a set of metal chopsticks that he uses at least 1-2x each week. You live with this person – find a problem and offer a simple zero waste solution. You can gift the items on holidays or just as a little ‘I was thinking of you!’ surprise.

Be prepared to negotiate non-zero waste zones

Someone on Facebook asked me what our fridge looks like. Honestly, it’s usually a hodge-podge of items both plastic-free and plastic-full.

It really bothered me for a while, so eventually I created a ‘zero waste shelf’ for both the fridge and pantry that was JUST for the items I’d consciously purchased as zero waste. When the items were divided, it was easier to see that I was actually making strides in reducing our plastic. The bonus? My husband was swayed by the aesthetic/delicious options available and began to reach for items on the zero waste shelf.

This would also work great in the bathroom if you have a lot of products!

How do I go zero waste with a partner that doesn't care? - Green Indy Blog

Appeal to their love of aesthetic/saving money/whatever

People do not make major life changes just because someone asks them to. Appeal to their basest instincts, whatever it may be:

The crusader: this person wants to make a difference and will be swayed by statistics about landfills, pictures of wildlife stuffed full of plastic, and an impassioned plea for the future of our planet! Honestly, zero waste should be a pretty easy sell if your partner is a crusader!

The money saver: this person is financially driven. Do two shops – one without a zero waste focus, and one totally zero waste. While some zero waste or low-waste options may be a bit pricier, by cutting down on senseless, nutritionally-deficient foods you’ll likely end up saving money. Save receipts and do a comparison – you’ll probably be surprised! (Be sure to share this post about zero waste swaps being cost-effective!)

The aesthete: this person values beauty and aesthetics. Spam them with Pinterest boards full of perfectly curated zero waste kitchens and bathrooms! Appeal to their sensuous side with the beauty of a pared-down, refined zero waste lifestyle!

The end game? Ruthlessly exploit your partner’s biggest passions to turn them on a path to zero waste!

set easy, concrete goals

As I was doing the Q&A with my husband (see the end of the post for that), he agreed to totally stop buying sponges that weren’t 100% compostable. We now have two competing sponges, but he agreed there wasn’t a definite upside to the traditional sponge. Win! He’s now committed to only investing in Twist products. They’re 100% compostable, last forever, and I find they stink less than traditional sponges. I highly recommend them!

Talk stuff over with your partner and encourage them to make one small shift in their habits. Here’s a whole list of ideas.

You feel a little accomplished and they see switching to zero waste doesn’t always have to be a huge challenge.

Going zero waste with a non zero waste partner

A quick Q&A

Before ending this post, I wanted to actually give my partner a chance to speak about his experience as someone peripherally involved with zero waste. He’s been a great help and does often work with me to create a more zero waste household, but he freely admits it’s not a priority to him like it is for me.

NB: I’ve put down exactly what he’s said – my husband’s first language is not English so any small inaccuracies should be forgiven!

What do you think of the zero waste movement?

“I think it’s cool – like it helps. The idea is great, the system doesn’t support it. That’s the reason why not everyone is into it… It needs to be more affordable. When I go to the store, everything is in plastic. I understand why, but I don’t see why it needs to be done. Most stuff – like milk – is in a plastic thing. It needs to be… like, the options need to be on the same level.”

What ways do you think you could be made more motivated in going zero waste?

“I feel like the struggle of finding stuff you want in a zero waste way is hard. I get you can buy bulk and it’s not that expensive. But it’s hard. You have to think ahead…. Maybe show me the pictures of giant garbage piles or animals stuck with plastic. Scare me like cigarettes.”

What are some of the benefits/drawbacks of living with someone who’s going zero waste?

“Benefits: I don’t see that many changes because we don’t shop very much. Maybe that produce is better quality. And general better quality of food.”

“Drawbacks: Money and convenience. I can’t shop in just any store. I have to think where I should go and what should buy. It’s not a super problem, but if you go to the store and something isn’t there you’re like ‘oh… sh*t’.”