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’.”

  1. Omg thank you for this! I am trying to transition to zero waste but it is definitely not a priority for my husband- this makes me feel much better. He is supportive but he won’t give up his kraft singles or Frosted Flakes. I think it definitely helps to compromise. He was not happy about getting rid of paper towels but I said we cold keep them if he promised to only use it if he felt he absolutely needed to instead of for everything- he agreed since he had a safety net and he found he really didn’t need them. Btw it’s nice to have an Indiana blogger- I’m from Fort Wayne

    1. Finding little compromises like that are so key to your partner’s interest and your sanity! Congrats on the paper towel switch!

      That’s so exciting your from Indiana – let me know if you’re ever in Indy.

  2. When you mentioned your husband putting a pack of ramens in the cart, I nearly laughed aloud. My husband just about does the same thing! (Although, technically, I buy the groceries by myself but he sure does give me the sad, kicked-dog look when I don’t buy him what he asks for!)
    I actually sat down with him last night and, for the first time, completely opened up about the zero waste lifestyle I was trying to adopt and, oh!, he was defensive! Patiently, I tried to talk with him about why he was so defensive and it turns out that he’s actually just afraid I’ll eventually force him to give up all the foods he loves. (To be fair, I do have an extreme personality so, as he has learned, it’s either going to be done all the way or not at all!) I just took a deep breath and patiently explained to him that this is something that I feel strongly about and I am still incredibly new to all of this so he needn’t worry for quite some time. I told him that I’d just like a little bit of personal space in kitchen and time to work out what I am doing and only after I have become comfortable, will I ask for his slow, gradual assistance. I firmly reassured him that I understand there will be things he wants that I’ll disagree with but I’ll just have to deal with it. I also reassured him that pulling him along with me wouldn’t happen this year and who knows what next year looks like. After saying all this, he was significantly more responsive and we were able to have a pleasant conversation about all the things I would like to have done differently in the future and he, in turn, spoke of the lifestyle he’s been dreaming of (namely, wanting to move out to the country and build his own house) so I reassured him that we’d buckle down and work on our dreams together.
    As of this morning, he seems to be a lot more relaxed about everything! The puzzling daily grumpiness he’s had the past couple of weeks has completely dissipated. It really is all about communication and compromise.

    1. That’s amazing! It takes a lot of work (and courage) to have an open dialogue on big changes like these and I’m so in awe of how you were able to navigate it successfully!

      You rock Noa, and I’m wishing you all the luck on your journey!

  3. Living with a partner and family who don’t always support your zero waste and green goals is definitely a challenge! I love seeing the little changes they make without even thinking about them. That’s when I know my example is rubbing off on them! Thanks for this!

  4. I can totally relate to the points you made in this post. My husband is not very interested in living sustainably or in reducing waste, in fact, he loves to shop for bargain household products which are often in plastic containers. We read environmentally friendly articles, watch relevant films and discuss issues together which is a start. I’m pinning and sharing.

  5. My husband is sort of on board with reducing waste until it comes to the moment he wants something and cannot find it waste free …. so he gets it. But over the years we have been together he has greatly reduced how much waste he creates so my gentle influence is working. Likewise with my teenage boys. One if far better as being a waste reducer than the other although both know how important it is and why we don’t buy certain things now. One step at a time we are getting there as a family. #WasteLessWednesday

  6. My husband is very concerned about climaten change so us sort if on board but at the same time doesn’t want to be inconvenienced so when he shops we still end up with plastic. He does now remember to take his own bag or ask for things without a bag which is encouraging. I can easily see I am both a crusader and a money saver from your list but I am not so sure where he is – neither of those certainly.

    1. I feel your pain! My husband is for sure someone who values convenience over anything else which makes zero waste a REALLY hard sell. Best of luck!

  7. I feel this so hard. My main problem, other than not feeling supported, is the distribution of labour. My partner is fine if we buy things in bulk, but that basically means that I bike to the different bulk placed when something runs out and end up doing the planning and running around for the shopping. Sometimes I feel he really doesn’t get it, like when I’m spending time applying tent sealant to our tent fly and he asks why I don’t just buy a new one. 🙁 I definitely agree with the point about creating zero waste shelves so that you can see personal progress, and shift the focus to your zero waste journey isn’t of getting stuck on your partners progress or lack thereof.

  8. My partner is amazing. My journey started when I became a vegan for many reasons including environmental. I never once asked him to stop eating meat, but naturally it happen because we cook together. He still eats meat if he craves it, or we are out for dinner etc. I am more flexible with that too now as we live in a town that isn’t very vegan friendly.

    Aside from that, when I ventured into my zero waste mission over 1 year ago he was very supportive but he seems to only embark in zero waste when I am around. During the day at work he won’t take a keep cup for coffee and often buys lunch in packaging. But he is great at not using plastic bags (most of the time).

    I do supermarket shops without him as sometimes things can end in arguments. But I always ask him what he wants and buy him his kraft single slices or mei gorein noodles if he asks. I don’t want to not have him in my life because I have decided to be waste free.

    We still have long way to go. If we had more money and weren’t located almost 2 hours from the nearest bulk store, things would be easier but we get one step closer every week. The latest thing I got for free was a bread maker. We don’t have an oven but now I can bake my own bread weekly.

    I am very lucky to have a go with the flow partner. And he loves the idea of being self sustainable at home and the fully off the grid life style so he is great with gardening and composting etc.

    Focusing on the good aspects and not worrying about the end goal is getting me through, after all there is more fun and colour on the journey.

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