If you are living with your parents, or anyone less committed to sustainability than you are, it can be challenging. In any shared home, especially a multi-generational one, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Often, people have very entrenched views and habits, and those views and habits might not always mesh with your own. So how can you go greener and go zero waste when not everything is within your control? Here are some tips to help you move towards zero waste if you are in this situation:
Accept the Things You Cannot Control
The first thing to say is that if you are living with parents, there will always be certain things that you cannot control. You may not be in control of shopping decisions or what you eat if your parents take care of those things. You will not be able to make material changes to the home, or necessarily to the garden if there is one. You certainly won't be able to control how your elders live in their daily lives. It is important to be respectful and co-operative. You need to accept that you are not always going to be in charge.
Change Minds Before Trying to Change Behaviours
Not all parents will be on board with a zero waste lifestyle. But often, they may simply not have thought much about the issues involved. They may simply be too busy or pre-occupied to make zero waste living a priority. They may simply behave as they always have without really considering the bigger picture.
The parent-child dynamics mean that taking a didactic or bossy approach will rarely go down well. Don't try to tall your parents what to do – especially in their own home! Rather than starting to try to change behaviours right away, take small steps to raise zero waste living as a topic. And try to gently keep it on the agenda. Having a simple conversation about why you'd like to reduce waste is a good idea.
Keep The Conversation Going – But Avoid Green Fatigue
The key to a happy and harmonious home is conversation. Keep talking, and try to work through all your issues in a collaborative, kind and productive way. You might not always agree on everything, but when you keep talking, even through disagreements, you can often find more areas of accord.
If, when you raise zero waste living, a parent raises difficulties or places roadblocks in the path of what you want to be doing – keep talking to find practical solutions to those issues. For example, if you want to buy less food in plastic, but your parents don't want to drive further to go to a suitable store, you might be able to source options online. If money is an issue, as it so often is, talk with them about how you'd like to start growing your own to reduce food costs (and waste).
Those of us who are committed to aiming for a zero waste lifestyle are often pre-occupied by the topic. But it is important, when living with those who don't necessarily share our ideals, not to bore on. Avoid always bringing things back to green issues, so green fatigue does not become an issue. Try to talk to your parents about these issues from different perspectives – talking about how zero waste living can save money, for example, rather than about environmental issues.
Lead By Example
Even when living with parents, there are plenty of things you can control. There are a number of small, simple, everyday steps you can take to go zero waste, even when household level decisions are out of your control.
For example, you can:
- Start growing a little food for your household on your bedroom windowsill.
- Set up a composting system to deal with food waste.
- Make sustainable decisions whenever you make any purchases, and slip in sustainable, zero waste products here and there.
- Take zero waste reusable products when out and about.
- Sort household recycling.
Leading by example is one way to make zero waste living the new normal where you live.
Be Helpful – And Make Sustainable Household Decisions
When living with parents, it is easy to fall into a child-like mentality. Even when grown, kids living with parents may often simply sit back and let them do all the work. But no matter what age you are, you could step up and do a little more here and there. The more helpful you are, and the more you can contribute, the more likely it is that you'll be able to shift the household in a more positive direction. For example, you could:
- Offer to make the odd trip to the shops for your family.(And make sustainable purchasing decisions while you are there.)
- Make delicious meals for your family using fresh, local, seasonal, organic, sustainably grown produce.
- Volunteer to do some cleaning, and use natural, sustainable cleaning products when doing so.
- Make helpful additions to your home – for example, new recycling bins, or a composting container, in a sensible location. (The easier you make it for parents to go zero waste, the more likely they are to make necessary changes.)
- Offer to contribute more to household finances, so there is more money in the kitty for everyone to make the right choices. (Even in your teens, there are a number of ways that you might be able to sustainably make money from home.)
Over time, try to forge greater autonomy within your parent's home. Keep acting with kindness, humility and co-operation in mind and you can keep everyone moving in the right direction.