7 Tactics to Counter Zero-Waste Sabotage in Your Home

“Hey kids! Guess what? I’m never buying ice cream or chocolate bars or cookies or chips or cereal again! And look at these nifty stainless steel containers for your school lunches of homemade sourdough bread and hummus with carrot sticks. You’re friends will think you’re SO COOL! By the way, I need your old t-shirts to make “the family cloth”* for the toilet. What do you say? Aren’t you EXCITED?!”

In 2011, my daughter MK, fed up with both my rants about plastic pollution and my paralysis to do little beyond banning plastic water bottles and plastic wrap from our home, found Beth Terry’s blog. It was just what we needed to get us onto the plastic-free path. My younger daughter feels less enthusiastic about this lifestyle. In fact, just now I asked her to choose the worst aspect of plastic-free living. “Everything,” she said. (She just turned 14 and has asked I do not use her name.)

So what do you do when your loved ones don’t support your new desire for positive change, or—even worse—sabotage your efforts? I have some ideas.

Sugar, sugar everywhere, nor any food to eat
Sugar, sugar everywhere, nor any food to eat

1. Don’t explain, do.

Rather than talk about changes, make them and let those actions speak for themselves. At least some of your positive changes will rub off on others, even perhaps your family members that sneak in and hide under the sink store-bought dish soap during Plastic-Free July of all times because they claim your homemade version doesn’t work even though it works perfectly well, they’re just up in arms over the lack of suds compared to the commercial stuff.

When I give my friends a taste of homemade aioli or a slice of freshly baked sourdough bread still warm from the oven, that pretty much hooks them. They start to ask questions and several have made changes to reduce their waste. I could talk and talk about plastic waste, food waste and so on, while bombarding them with terrifying statistics, but the proof is in the (formerly stale bread) pudding.

zerowaste popcorn
Zero-waste snack replacement: melt 3 tbsp coconut oil, add 1 tbsp salt, 1/2 cup non-GMO popcorn kernels, cover; pops in about 2 minutes
2. Or, do explain.

Surprise, surprise! Your surly teenager scoffs at your zero-waste and plastic-free efforts, despite the obvious benefits: elimination of their garbage-and-recycling-to-the-curb chores, better diet and improved health, even weight loss. Try explaining why you want to make these lifestyle changes in terms they can relate to.

If you have a lefty-subversive type of teen, point to insatiable corporate greed and lack of accountability. Big Soda not only poisons us with its sugary drinks, but poisons the environment with its single-use plastic for which it has zero legal responsibility to clean up (moral responsibility, it does have).

If you have more of a young Republican type, go with the libertarian angle. By increasing their self-sufficiency, they will no longer need to rely on others (i.e., corporations) to take care of their every need. Or something like that. You’ll make it work. Tell them Reagan drank kombucha.

When dealing with the most common species of teenager, genus apatheticus, develop an iPhone app that grants Instagram screen time every time they refuse single-use plastic or finish their lunch at school. I will invest in your start-up.

3. When explaining, don’t proselytize.

In your office kitchen, if the act of reaching for a donut while simultaneously adding sugar to your coffee triggers a coworker’s 15-minute diatribe about your brazen pancreatic assault, the risks of metabolic disease and the symptoms of type II diabetes, what do you do? You eat two donuts. Don’t preach.

4. Look for positive reinforcements.

Tune out the naysayers surrounding you and stick with your lifestyle changes. You will find this easier if you seek out support. Visit Twitter and Facebook and search for hashtags such as #zerowaste, #plasticfree and #foodwaste. You’ll find plenty of like-minded people. On Twitter, I’m finally normal (not that I have ever striven for this distinction).

Twitter friends

5. Become a nun/monk/hermit.

Abandon your family, remain single or live alone if you want to avoid compromises as you reduce your footprint to virtually zero. Even if you do join the Poor Claires or Franciscans, where you will reduce your footprint, you’ll still deal with people. A hermit is your best bet on this front.

6. Figure out how to deal with gifts.

This is a big one! You can control both what you give others and what you bring into your home, but how do you accept gifts? Ideally you will diplomatically discuss this before holidays and birthdays. Request gifts of services, charitable donations, something homemade or nothing at all—without sounding demanding or self-righteous. Unintentional, well-meaning sabotage may still creep in. Don’t allow set-backs to undermine your efforts. And please share your gift-giving and -receiving ideas (or any other thoughts) in the comments below.

Vlads valentines gift
A Valentine’s gift: sourdough bread, kombucha and krautchi
7. Accept that you cannot control the behavior of others.

Even with my kids (mostly) on board with the (nearly) zero-waste routine, they may never reach my level of OCD. Ultimately, I can control only so much. If you have figured out how to make a spouse or partner behave exactly as you wish, please clue me in. I will invest in your book/speaking tour/publishing empire. All I can come up with is a zero-waste version of Lysistrata and that probably won’t work.

Many of these tactics can be deployed for other lifestyle changes for which your family does not share your enthusiasm, from weight-loss, to a new exercise regimen to personal and spiritual growth.

*Bathroom tissue replacement my kids won’t go for. That’s okay. I do my best and keep at it.

41 Comment

  1. a great post.

    1. Thank you, Annie 🙂

  2. Aggie says: Reply

    That Vlad is one lucky human!

    I notice that my children follow many of my strange ecological practices that they once protested, now that they are grown and living on their own. So you may only need to wait another 10 or 20 years. lol.

    1. Thanks, Aggie. I think Vlad was very touched. My older daughter is really into this—she started us out and makes kombucha and ferments in her dorm—and my younger one goes along with it (mostly) but doesn’t like it so much. But I think you’re right, it will rub off in a decade or so 🙂

  3. I just wrote a post about the lasting impact that my parents had on me in terms of recycling & frugality – so your lead may be sinking in even if it is not yet obvious!

    1. Thank you, I hope so. My younger daughter dislikes it but she goes along without too much grumbling. I think by the time she is out in the world, it will look much different than it does today and resourcefulness will be more the norm.

  4. For more than 25 years I’ve lived this way with an “in house subversive’..my husband. My 3 daughter have followed his lead but I have noticed lately my oldest showing signs of coming to the other side. I ignore being called “eccentric” and “artsy, and “witchy” and keep to the path. Someday I may opt for the hermit option, lol. Great post! Clever and so true! genus apatheticus, so funny!!

    1. Thanks, Cynthia! I laughed at your “in house subversive” description! That’s how it feels sometimes. My older daughter and I visited a cloister on a school trip several years ago and thought it looked pretty appealing, for a few months at least!

  5. Great ideas! I find the soap saver bags are really awesome for washing dishes. They give you that satifactory lather while you are washing the dishes.

    1. Thank you! Do you carry those Cory and how do they work? They sound familiar. I think you mentioned them once before.

      1. Yes, I designed them, and I make them with the serger. You just put all your small soap scrap into the pocket and they make dish washing really fast. http://www.aquarianbath.com/soap-saver.html

      2. That’s so clever! And made from hemp and cotton too! Do you use your bar soaps to wash dishes? I have been making liquid dish soap and recently ran out. We tried a new recipe but I’m not crazy about it.

      3. Yes, I use bar soap scraps to wash dishes. No end to bar soap scraps here.

      4. Awesome! Thank you for the tip 🙂

  6. […] via 7 Tactics to Counter Zero-Waste Sabotage in Your Home | The Zero-Waste Chef. […]

    1. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Gosh… my ‘witch’ comment immortalised in this post!

    I generally take the approach of “Do”, “Explain the big issues”, “Just do all the other stuff, without drawing attention to it so it becomes the new norm”. Admittedly I don’t have to handle ‘stroppy’ teenagers, mind 😉

    1. That sounds like a great approach. This all could be part of a bigger conversation on winning people over to your side on any issue, such as climate change and how we can mitigate its effects.

  8. It’s “alioli” (all-i-oli wich means garlic and oil). Nice post. 😉

    1. Thanks. I’ve seen it spelled aioli, alioli and allioli! It’s a bit confusing…

  9. Polythene Pam says: Reply

    Hahaha love this post! Kids will thank you when they are older (hopefully) and if they have iPhones thats enough! don’t know if you can get this over there but this loo roll comes in compostable wrapper http://plasticisrubbish.com/2009/04/14/you-know-what-s-coming/

    1. Thank you! Well, we all become our mothers eventually 🙂 I haven’t seen that here in the US but I can find toilet paper wrapped in paper. I had to search for it. Most stores don’t carry it. Luckily I live near one that does. I don’t mind that I pay more for it. Overall, I save quite a bit of money with my frugal ways.

  10. Rachel says: Reply

    You are a fabulous writer! These are awesome suggestions and this piece was also absolutely hilarious! I laughed out loud several times while reading it and learned a lot too! I’ve also got a surly teenager who carries stainless steel containers of bulk bought snacks to school. She initially hates every change, but then seems to quickly adapt. I’m keeping the Diva cup and family cloth to myself at the moment. I don’t want to push her too far too fast! Thank you for the great ideas and laughs! I needed that!

    1. Thanks so much for that, Rachel 🙂 I agree, you’ll probably turn your teen off with the Diva cup! My kids are already mad at me for writing this piece…I don’t want to add fuel to the fire…let me just say, your daughter may eventually warm up to the idea. I use pads I made out of my youngest’s receiving blankets several years ago. Most people (not just my kids) find that revolting but what do they think women used to do? (I never thought I would blog about menstruating…) I agree that kids adapt quickly to these changes. And this is a trend. They’ll eventually see more of their peers at school carrying around stainless steel lunch containers.

  11. la fille fleurie says: Reply

    Love this post!! I’m currently an au pair and live my my employers, and I would really love to not use toilet roll ha! However, if I don’t even feel like I can explain the komucha to them I don’t think they would go for it ha!! Would you ever write a post about using “family cloth” (wow, written down I feel this is a weird request!)? Seriously love this blog though, so many useful ideas, when I finally get a place of my own I want to start things off ‘on the right foot’ with good habits and you are such an inspiration!

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate that. I haven’t implemented the family cloth…yet 😉 Another blogger sent me this link to a great post about it: http://www.pennilessparenting.com/2010/06/reusable-toilet-paper-family-cloth.html I need to do some sewing for an upcoming event so when I haul out my machine, I’ll experiment with some fabric. I hope that leads to a post 🙂 Thanks for the suggestion.

      My daughter took part of my SCOBY with her back to university in Canada a couple of weeks ago. She keeps her kombucha in her room. She said her roommates wouldn’t understand. So, you’re not alone on the kombucha front. People are either fascinated or disgusted by the SCOBY, or maybe both.

    2. 'Becca says: Reply

      Here is my sort of index post about reusable cloth things, with links to many articles including one on replacing toilet paper:
      http://articles.earthlingshandbook.org/2013/05/29/cloth-wipes-for-bedroom-bathroom-and-more/
      Feel free to ask me questions!

      1. Thanks for sharing 🙂 I tucked a cloth napkin in my bag just this morning. I have a ton of them but keep forgetting to bring them with me when I head out. It’s a little thing, but all of that paper adds up!

  12. OMG! LOL’d!!! I think our daughters would probably have a lot in common. 😉 We went (okay, I made us go) off plastics back in 2008 I think it was. We still buy some things in plastic (you are my role model on this–still trying!!!) but we’ve got the glass storage jars, the tin lunch containers, metal water bottles, etc., etc. We get milk in returnable glass bottles and I ditched plastic wrap eons ago. Most of the time, it’s very easy. The hardest part is when you’re on the road and you’re thirsty.

    1. Wow, that’s great! You’re a pioneer 🙂 It is easy when you’re at home. It’s when you go out to dinner or travel that you find plastic land mines all over the place. And I’m always shocked too! You forget how much plastic people use–how much I used to use!

      1. It’s a challenge to find actual food when you travel–that’s changing a bit but with young children, it’s still even more difficult. On a side note, I saw some of the Tedx Manhattan food talk yesterday (one of the satellite viewings). Some interesting stuff. Thought for food, as it were.

      2. Oooh, I noticed something about that on Twitter, but it was late by then. I will look that up. Thanks 🙂

  13. chris says: Reply

    Hm… I need to implement some of these strategies with Todd when it comes to healthy eating!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome. I hope they help!

  14. Thanks for helping me along with idea #4 from your list! <3

    1. You’re welcome. Twitter makes me feel normal 😉

      1. Perhaps I should join then! I was actually referring to your inspirational article 😉

      2. Ah, okay. Thanks!

  15. Leigh Giddy says: Reply

    My favourite thing to do is use fabric scraps ( from old clothes or linen) for wrapping gifts
    My mum started this by wrapping gifts in dish towels or hand towels! Sometimes I go to thrift shops and buy silk scarves and old ties for a lux result!

    1. Oooh, great idea! May as well wrap in something useful. It will look unique too 🙂

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