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10 Tips to Go Zero Waste When You Live with Your Parents


Last Updated on January 23, 2024

I went zero waste after I left home. I was in charge of my own space, and I was the main purchaser. 

10 tips to go zero waste when you live with your parents from #10tips #zerowaste #liveathome #roommates

If you’re living at home, you probably don’t have that option. You’re probably not the main purchaser for your household. You aren’t going to have control over what is bought and especially how it’s bought. 

Zero waste is very much a consumer lifestyle choice. I get asked all the time by teens and pre-teens what they can do since they don’t have the power. I’ve thought about it for a while, and here are my top 10 tips for what you can do! 

1. reusable water bottle

Do you have any extracurricular activities? Do you go places on the weekends with your friends? Instead of buying a bottle of water from a snack stand, why not bring a reusable water bottle with you when you leave?

Growing up my extracurricular activities were golf and theatre. I’d always have a reusable bottle at the theatre that I filled up at the water fountain. On the golf course, there’s a cooler every three holes where you can fill your bottle up. 

This is a place where you don’t have to purchase anything, and you can easily prevent waste. In fact, you’d be saving your parents money.

2. leftovers

Do you go out to eat with family or with your friends? Try bringing your own containers. I have tips for eating out and for getting food to-go without creating any trash. 

If you have leftover food, pop it into your own container to avoid the styrofoam clamshell. And, don’t forget to ask for no straw in your drink! 


3. lunch

Do you pack your lunch? I am not embarrassed to say that my mom packed my lunch every day for school from kindergarten to my senior year of high school. 

I wasn’t a picky kid. In fact, I had a pb&j every day. Every. Single. Day. And, I loved every moment of it. My mom would always pack my lunch in reusables, until I told her I didn’t think it was “cool.” All the other kids had disposables, and I wanted to fit in. 

She switched to a brown bag, which I, unfortunately, threw away every day. If I could go back in time, I’d tell myself – reusables are bad ass. 

So, if you’re packing your lunch or your parent, opt for a reusable instead of disposables. I have 10 tips for packing a zero waste lunch here

4. experiences

My mom still makes me write out a wish list. My Christmas list must be turned in by June first. My Christmas list is typically a combination of things I really, really need (typically zero waste items) and experiences. 

I would recommend that you write out a wish list and give it to your family. You can get really specific in what you want and how you want it. It is your wishlist after all. 

You can write out all sorts of experiences you’d like and focus on items to help you on your zero waste journey. Maybe one of your wishes is to get your family composting, or a zero waste meal, a new stainless lunch box or water bottle.

Ask for tickets to the movies, a gift certificate, maybe an art class or museum passes. Get some zero waste gift ideas here and a zero waste guide to receiving gifts here.

related post: Back to School Snacks

5. thrift shop

Instead of heading to the mall with your friends, why not head down to the thrift shop? My friends and I were always down to dig through Goodwill or the local antique shop for vintage clothing. 

My favorite piece of clothing I’ve ever had was an $8 dress from the 60’s found at an antique store. It fit like a glove. It was a long sleeve, black lace pencil dress, with a high neck and a low cut back. 

It was perfect in every way. If only hips didn’t develop, I’d still have that little baby. This was long before you took pictures for every event, so I don’t think I have a single photo of it, but believe me… it was perfect. 

Also, keep an eye out for school supplies like binders at the thrift store too. 

6. beauty products

I don’t remember ever requesting food growing up, but I was always able to request my beauty products. I could choose my shampoo, make-up, soap etc. 

Try to go for package free or green products if possible. My number one swap would be for a bamboo toothbrush, but check out my post on 15 zero waste bathroom swaps here

Lush also has a number of awesome beauty products you can buy plastic-free. I remember having a lot of bath bombs in high school. As a bonus, those products are also perfect gifts for friends. 

7. rent formal wear

Let me tell you something. From experience, you will not wear your prom dress again. You won’t do it. It will sit in your childhood closet until you donate it.

You will grow hips… probably boobs too. You will become a woman and that dress won’t fit. Most of the guys I know rented their tuxes. Take a cue from the gentlemen and give renting a try.

Nowadays there are TONS of websites like Rent the Runway that will let you rent gorgeous designer dresses for a fraction of the price of owning a dress, and you’ll save valuable closet space.

8. get involved

See if there’s a local organization you can get plugged into around your town or school. Volunteer for a beach clean up or pick up trash around town. Get involved! 

Make the environment, picking up trash, fighting climate change as one of your extracurricular activities. Not only will it look good on that college resume, but your parents are more likely to get involved too just by association. 

related post: Zero Waste School Supplies

9. take responsibility

Take the initiative. Ask if you can cook dinner one night. Ask if you can go and buy the groceries. Ask if you go to the farmers market. Ask if you can handle the cleaning for the week. I’m going to guess your parents would probably be more than happy to let you try your hand at a new task, if they can remove it from their to-do list. 

If you’re allowed to take control of an aspect, then you can try it out zero waste. If it goes successfully, maybe your parents will give it a try! But, be warned you might also wind up with a new weekly chore. 

10. talk to your parents

The most important thing you can do is educate your family. Be careful that you don’t preach to your parents. Nagging won’t get you anywhere. But, when you’re truly interested and excited about something, you want to share it. 

Maybe pick a documentary on trash like “The True Cost” or “The Minimalists” or “The Clean Bin Project,” when it’s your turn to pick the movie on movie night. Always be kind, but make sure that you tell your parents how you feel and why you feel that way. 

They may or may not accept it, but it is important to try and talk to them. 

Your parents, also want to spend time with you. They want to be a part of your life. As you get older, your relationship tends to grow apart. Maybe even try to suggest some family outings like a family trip to the farmers market, to the local co-op or bulk store.

Try a mother-daughter date where you try and make your own cosmetics like mascara, a face mask, lotion, or mouthwash. Get your dad into composting, talk about how zero waste can save your money, or teach him how easy it is to make household cleaners. The average American family spends $42 a month on cleaners! Eek! 

Those are some of the tips I have on how you can go zero waste if you still live at home. I hope you have found them helpful.

Do you have any other tips? Do you live with your parents and there’s something else you do to reduce your waste? 

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  1. Thank you, Kathryn. I am 15 years old. I live in Spain with my brother and my mother. They disagree with most of zero waste ideas, but I´m trying my best. I go bulk shopping when I can, I carry my own reusable products, I don´t use liquid shampoo, gel, conditioner…
    My grandma wanted to buy me a gift a few weeks ago, I told her I wanted some bamboo toothbrushes because here you have to get them online.
    I love your blog, you are such and inspiration.
    Thank you so much.

  2. For me the most difficult is the 10 haha. It’s hard for me to express my self with my family, they think that i’m too exaggerated so I get angry and blah blah. So I decided to do my best in "silence", so they can see how happy I’m with this lifestyle and maybe they will join me.
    I love your blog, really informative!
    Kisses from the south of Argentina.

  3. Hi there, I think I have done a pretty good job keeping my life style as "zero waste" as I can :P. But I don´t have a lot of control on things like groceries and cleaning items. My dad is pretty green. He knows that pollution and litter are big problems and I know he tries his best. However I have a lot of problem convincing him to adopt this kinda of life style. He thinks it´s to expensive (buying vegetables and fruit at farmers market, buying fish and meat locally, buying things with glass packaging because I actually don´t have a bulk option on my city) and he doesn’t think that making your own cleaning items is really effective. So do you have any advice?

  4. Great post Kathryn
    There’s just one sugestion I disagree, the bath bombs, even though it’s funny and can be made of natural and non poluent ingridients, to use it, you have to spend around 260 liters (I don’t know the equivalent in USA, like I live in Portugal) of water instead of 25 in a regular shower.

  5. The most difficult thing for me is the kind of food we eat: my dad is a huge meat addict. When my mom does the shopping it’s okay, she often buys some low-meat (with fish or poultry in it) salads for toasts, but when my dad does we’ve just got several kinds of salami and other lunch meats, and it’s annoying as I want to try to eat less meat. I’ve been thinking about buying some vegan options and stuff which I’d buy myself but I am afraid that if I don’t like it, it will be wasted.

  6. These are great tips! Even as I’ve moved out of my parents house and am living in a college dorm, it can still be difficult to maintain control of all my purchasing. There are some things like toilet paper, soap, food, and waste management that are provided by the university and I don’t have much control over. I try to remember that every little bit helps, even if some waste can’t be avoided while I’m at college. Any tips for getting spearheading institutional change with places like universities and big businesses?

  7. Hi,

    Shelby: Some years ago I was part pf getting one hole university of 6000 students in Finland limiting their free printing amounts, before tgat people where printing one sided paper what ever came to their mind without much consideration: funny cartoons, whole books (that where in the library too), e-mails etc. After limited printing rights it was generous enough for studies and other nesessary, but made people think first.
    Change was through Students’ unions environmental group i was part of. We had to make a small study first about printing amounts, expected savings (moneywise and environmentally) and excisting experiences. Same with any other thing. Find a group, find experiences in other universitys, make a small paper together or by yourself (nothing too fansy) and suggest a change for university.

    Gitte: if you have friends who are interested vegetarianism or veganism as well, try new alternatives together. Find a local vegan group to join and suggest an experimentation evening. Cook for your whole family. There is really meatlike vegan foods, you could ask help from your mother to make a suprise meal for your father and he would’t even know the difference!
    You can also buy your own protein or even make it to freezer and eat everyting else with your family.
    If it feels overwhelming, you can also consider if one step at a time would be easier for you. First you can change protein when its separate, in soups you can ask you parents to take a small batch for you before they add meat in and then you add your own protein etc. Discuss with your mother and learn when and where it would be easiest for you to make the changes.
    When I turned to vegetarian in the middle of school lunch (really!) i was 13 and even my mother was ok with it, i heard so many times it’s not going to last, it was difficult and there was no alternatives for meat available. It’s been 27 years, i just turned 40 and i haven’t touched meat since.
    I know it’s not always easy, but you can do it if you want!

  8. thanks for giving ideas to protect our mother earth.
    I always ask parents to cook only required quantity of food with out wasting not only food ,electricity or gas.

  9. Thank you, I am 15 years old. I live in Spain with my brother and my mother. They disagree with most of zero waste ideas, but I´m trying my best. I go bulk shopping when I can, I carry my own reusable products, I don´t use liquid shampoo, gel, conditioner…
    My grandma wanted to buy me a gift a few weeks ago, I told her I wanted some bamboo toothbrushes because here you have to get them online.
    I love your blog, you are such and inspiration.
    Thank you so much.