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Going Zero Waste When Your Partner Doesn’t Want to

Sustainable Relationships

Last Updated on April 8, 2020

I have been absolutely loving married life. I get goofy excited about my husband when I think about him. He’s so kind and handsome and he snuck out of the house before I woke up this morning to bring me a veggie breakfast burrito without any packaging.

How to go zero waste when your partner doesn't want to from #zerowaste #ecofriendly #sustainable #eco #lifestyledifferences #gogreen

Love y’all. That’s love. 

It’s funny because I get all sorts of messages when it comes to love, romance, and my husband. I get angry emails because how could I ever marry/date/interact with another person who eats meat!? 

I get sad emails about the inability to make any zero waste changes because their partner isn’t on board. I get emails wanting to know the black magic spell I used to conjure up the perfect supportive man. 

RELATED: Interdietary Relationships: How to Cook for Different Dietary Restrictions Without Losing Your Mind

So, I want to tell you a little secret…… 

Justin wasn’t always on board with zero waste. 

Can you imagine, just out of the blue your partner comes home and says, “Honey, I’ve decided I want to stop making trash.” Kinda weird right? Like where is this normal, sane person I was dating, and what Koolaid have they been drinking? 

I get it, I totally get it. 

It takes time for people to adjust. You didn’t make the decision to go zero waste in one moment. You probably at least thought about it. It took a couple of articles or learning facts about climate change, health benefits, cost comparisons, proximity to package free goods, etc. before you decided to go all in. 

For anyone struggling with zero waste and a partner, I thought it would be helpful to get a different perspective. I interviewed Justin. He was a littler nervous about the whole thing… he’s not really a spotlight kinda guy. So, give him a little love. 

what did you think when I first told you I wanted to go zero waste?

Well, to be honest, I was surprised. It came out of nowhere really. You never really talked about the environment or being vegetarian prior to that. 

how was living with a zero waster in the beginning?

It was a learning experience for sure and kind of annoying at times. I just didn’t understand the point of donating a perfectly good reusable plastic water bottle to upgrade to a stainless steel one. 

Now, I understand more about the problem with plastic from both the health side and environmental side. 

how far into zero waste living did you start warming up to the idea?

I warmed up to the idea fairly quickly mainly because I grew up in Maine which is a pretty environmentally conscious state. We don’t really have litter and have recycling/compost services.

I’m not the biggest fan of plastic bags and had already been bringing my own bags to the grocery store before I met you. Also, the reusable water bottle culture is strong where I’m from everyone carried a Nalgene instead of a Klean Kanteen. 

do you consider yourself to be zero waste?

I’m not 100%. I still have impulsive urges for packaged snacks mostly. I try to be more aware of what I buy. I take the snack, the packaging etc all into consideration. I look for brands that have recyclable packaging or made from recycled content. 

how do you feel being married to a zero waster for life!? / how’s living with a zero waster now?

I love it! It all makes a lot of sense to me, and I’m not sure why more people don’t embrace these practices. Simple things like bringing your own container for takeout or using a bamboo toothbrush are so easy!

To be honest, I don’t really notice. I mean we’ve been doing this for a few years now so it’s just life.

what zero waste things do you participate or not participate in and why?

I do most things zero waste. I bring my own water bottle with me, and I always carry a handkerchief. I bring my own bags shopping which is usually just my backpack, and I try to be aware of packaging in general.

I still buy regular toothpaste and deodorant because it’s what I’m comfortable with. I use Toms of Maine because I’m from Maine and I like that we can send the products back through Terracycle. 

what’s your favorite thing about living zero waste?

Hands down the bidet attachment. Can’t live without. 

what’s been your least favorite thing about living zero waste?

All of your science experiments in the kitchen… and fridge…. and freezer…. 

how much zero wasting would you do if I weren’t a part of your life?

I don’t think I create a lot of trash, but I did have a problem with letting go of things.

You’ve really helped me see value in minimizing my possessions. Having fewer things has helped me focus more time and energy on the things I really love.  

have you ever felt pressured to go zero waste?

I haven’t felt pressured I just “saw the light” I guess. Once you take a look at packaging and see all the plastic around you, it just makes sense to make more of an effort.  

It just makes sense. 

This is what I try and tell people all of the time. It just makes sense. It’s a whole bunch of little tiny changes that add up to massive impact. I also love where he says, ” I mean we’ve been doing this for a few years now so it’s just life.” 

I always try to explain this to people. I don’t even feel like my life is different at all! I honestly can’t even tell. I am normal. I do everything everyone else does, just a little differently. 

lead by example:

The key to helping your partner understand this is time, patience, and kindness. 

You have to lead by example. Things might change overnight for your partner or they might not! And, that’s OK. Justin and I have probably some of the biggest most “upsetting” (to some people) lifestyle differences. We consume differently; we eat differently; we have different religions. But, we still love each other so much! 

Why? Because we respect each other. I respect his choices even if they don’t align 100% with mine. Without respect, this whole thing unravels. 

be respectful: 

The moment you believe your partner is not “kind,” “compassionate,” “smart,” “capable,” you fill in the blank “________” because of their beliefs, you’ve lost. 

I have never once doubted Justin’s intentions. Just because we don’t see eye to eye on everything doesn’t make him less of a compassionate person towards the earth. There are multiple ways to do things, and somewhere out there lies a compromise. 

Instead of forcing him and nagging him to join me, I just did my thing. If he wanted to join, great! If he didn’t, oh well! My decisions are MY decisions. His decisions are NOT my decisions. 


I like the toothpaste example. He doesn’t like toothpowder. That’s fine. So, now let’s ask some questions, what toothpaste do you like? (He has always used Tom’s of Maine, but let’s say he didn’t.) He likes crest and it has microbeads! Yikes! 

I would explain to him the problem with microbeads and ask if he’s thought of switching to a type that doesn’t have microbeads. I would present all the facts about microbeads. Knowing this and alllllllllllll of that information, the answer will most likely be, yeah, I can find a different type of toothpaste. Compromise.

Another example, poptarts. Justin LOVES poptarts. Every couple of months, he’ll buy a box of poptarts for comparison we used to buy two boxes of poptarts a week. I personally think me asking him to change this habit would be unreasonable. But, he respects my deicison for less packaging and buys them less often. Compromise. 

you do you:

You can only control you. You should only worry about the things in your control. Take some time and focus on yourself. Be the best human you can be!

If your heart is in the right place, I promise you, after you’ve been authentically living your lifestyle change, you’ll start to see changes in those around you. It just takes time. 

And, of course, most importantly always remember to be kind. 

I would love to hear stories about you and your partners on the zero waste journey. How has lifestyle differences impacted your relationships? 

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  1. Awesome post Kathryn! This is really cool, I’m currently on my waste minimising journey and my fiancé is mostly on board but probably less thoughtful than me about what daily choices he makes. I can’t believe people send you angry emails about your life choices… wow. You do great things and inspire me daily 🙂

  2. I enjoy reading about the relationship with your husband so much, and I try to follow your example to be a better wife, because that is really important. I don’t know how to describe our current situation shortly though, but it’s rather typical, I guess. My husband’s parents own a house and so he is able to grow vegies. They also have hens, so there is no need to buy eggs. It means that actually my husband comes from a conscious family (although the main reason was not to waste money). But I guess it counts as well. They also have a giant (not plastic!) bin for composting at their backyard, so this is pretty much how they live. I live in a flat, so I was accustomed to all the social conveniences. This year the Recycling projet was launched in our city, so I was very excited and participate a lot. So my journey (although not correct) started from recycling. And surprisingly my husband supported me in my decision to collect trash separately. But now that I am slowly going to DIY cosmetics, cloth bags and bulk purchases, my hus doesn’t seem to develop any further in this journey. But given that he consumes very little in general, I don’t think that I shoul push him gently to this. I am glad that he supported me, and really thankful for that. And I still have to learn a lot myself before guiding anybody else. So this is how we live. BTW we are from Russia.

  3. I’ve made a lot of personal changes in the past two years…but I haven’t really explained everything fully to my husband about why. For example I only use bar soap in the shower now, but I wouldn’t expect him to stop using his favourite body wash in the plastic bottle. He already used tote grocery bags and composted before I met him, so actually he inspired me! As long as we are putting out less waste overall from our household, that makes me happy. And I guess I should talk to him a little more about why I’m so motivated by the zero waste community.

    1. Maybe have a movie night where y’all watch a documentary about plastic in the ocean. Pop some popcorn (from bulk bins 😉 and have a great evening learning new information together.

  4. Thanks a lot to the both of you ! For this post and all the experiences you share ; I’ve been a Zero waster for the 2 or 3 past years and your blog is my favorite (and is a great opportunitie to read english – I’m in the french team fans 😉 ). This post is so funny and accurate, thanks Justin for sharing, my husband laughed a lot hearing about your problem with the toothpaste : he’s just the same ! Just like you, he was really surprised when I decided to change and take a Zerowaster path, but now he feels like its just the normal way to do things. It’s been really hard for him to change his habits, cause he just didn’t think about another solution before buying something, but I have to admit our daughter is my best ally : she just runs for ZW solutions, be it stainless stell straws or lunch boxes or handkerchief – and he just can’t say no to her, or avoide her "Dad, you know it damages nature…" so… They kinf of grew up together as zero wasters 🙂 Kathryn, I just don’t understand why people feel the need to judge, keep going because you’re a great inspiration ! Just like yours, our couple is based on love, with really different believes and ways to eat and see the world around us. Still, we’re happier than ever, and we’ll celebrate our 10 years of love with a Zero waste party next spring 😉

  5. I had to lol at the science experiment quote. Thats me.I convinced mine to get a reusable coffee cup and he loves it because it dosnt spill and keeps the coffee warmer for longer. I think this is a good way to convince people to make the change.

  6. My husband, without being prompted by me, took cloth bags into the grocery store for the first time last week. The items he bought were still wrapped in plastic, but him making the decision not to bring home another plastic bag makes me so happy! He is all about convenience and routine, so this is a step in a better direction. Hopefully i can continue to positively influence his decisions!

  7. I have been bringing my lunch to work every day for years now. My husband on the other hand eats out for lunch almost every day. That’s just what he does and that is fine by me. This past month he has been bringing lunch into work most days! I never asked him to make this change. He came home one day and said "I brought my lunch to work every day this week!" He was so proud of himself, and I am so proud of him for making this decision and change all on his own!

  8. This was sooooo helpful to read!! And the timing couldn’t have been better for me to read this. The other day, I got so frustrated with my partner for not taking the produce stickers off before putting fruit in the compost. I had to catch myself after because I realized he was trying his best and that should have been enough for me. I later apologized to him, and he appreciated that. I have never tried to push my low waste lifestyle on him, and surprisingly he has started to take his own initiative without me even asking. Leading by example is honestly the best way. If the people around you come on board, then GREAT! And if not, then that’s ok too. At least you know you are taking care of your part.
    – Shannon @

  9. Great post 🙂 I started to quit plastics a year ago and naturally just got into a more zero waste lifestyle. At the beginning I thought: nooo zero waste is just too extreme, now so much is just naturally happening.
    My partner is really supportive but would not be on this path without me. He is carrying reusable bags since we know each other but everything else is because of me. He accepts most plastic free choices but is not into it a 100%. and thats ok. Now. In the beginning I was really mad when he bought a bag of chips every couple weeks. Or if he got a coffee in a disposable cup because they didnt had any ceramic mugs. But now I realize: he asked for a reusable, he refused the lid, etc… I needed a year to accept this is my choice and now I see what he is actually doing, so I am grateful he is so supportive and I accept his choices chips bags, toothpaste too. 🙂 thanks for sharing, this is so important.
    Jule (thehappychoices)

  10. This post made me laugh, thank you for that. I apply partner loosely to my situation since it is my Mom that lives with me now since my step dad passed. I figure some of the strategies will still be useful with her. My mom being older is set in her ways with her plastic conveniences. We are starting with plastic free, some documentaries have scared me and I started doing the research into plastic and it further scared me. So here I am starting my journey to zero waste eventually, trying to eliminate plastic first I figure it will be easy from there to take zero waste path once plastic free is just the normal thing to do. We are just starting or journey, we are in this now for only a few months.

    I was getting upset with my Mom and her standing firm with plastic use. Then I just stopped pushing, she is on facebook so I have been reposting plastic post there that she sees, she’s coming around now that she is seeing the plastic problem first hand in videos, she at least is not fighting me now that I am buying more things in glass jars and bulk then in the easy ready made stuff in plastic packaging. So I am sending subtle hints about plastic is bad while making changes I can control and letting the things I can’t wait for now at least. So we aren’t zero waste yet, but zero waste and plastic free have so many things that just so nicely go hand in hand that I sometimes forget i am reading zero waste when I am looking for a plastic free alternative I see them as almost the same thing now, one really does lend to the other.

  11. I "went all in" only a few weeks ago, but for some time now we have been getting used to creating less trash and paying more attention to recycling than before. I told my Hub that this is what I want to do, it’s important to me and it’s not a whim. I cannot stop knowing what I know or feeling how I feel. This is about changing my habits, not his, but I would appreciate if I had his support.

    So now we are moving to the same direction, only it’s not side by side or the same speed.

    I can make suggestions like "you can wrap your sandwich to this beeswax wrap and take a cloth napkin instead of paper" but it’s his choice to actually do it and I can’t hit him in the head with anything if he doesn’t. What really matters a lot is to make these choices attractive enough, so for instance we do not have rags instead of paper towels, but I’ve used the overlock machine to make them look like real napkins.

    Back in 2004 when we renovated the kitchen, we got a bucket for compost. It took him years to get used to it (and it’s still not 100 % yet…). That’s why I’m not expecting to see big changes quickly. As long as he is trying it’s all good.

    For him beaches and sea are a big deal, so there are some documentaries to open his eyes a bit wider and motivate him I suppose. There is proof however that he takes my efforts seriously: we were celebrating our 18th anniversary in July and from all the restaurants available, he chose to take me to a zerowaste (fine dining) place <3

  12. I haven’t quite gone all in yet, and my partner doesn’t live with me, but there’s definitely a huge difference in how we think. I grew up with an environmentalist mother with very liberal views. She encouraged me to be curious, compassionate, and caring for the world around me. They grew up with a mother they basically had to take care of themself. I took environmental science classes and went to college for architecture so I could encourage green and universally accessible design. They weren’t able to go to a university and worked their way up to being an important part of a rigging company. I had the luxury of finding my own way with a lot of wiggle room and support, but they didn’t. So when I started reducing waste, it wasn’t a problem for me that they’d bring in their packaged snacks, straws, and what-have-you. They’re learning from my lead. They just bought a menstrual cup because I raved about mine and I was so proud! It’s about understanding each other and respect.

  13. Great post! My habits have been ‘creeping’ towards zero waste over the past year and our garbage has dropped considerably. I haven’t specifically told my hubby about my plan, but he’s seen my zero waste library books laying around. We’ve both always been environmentally conscious, especially with cleaning products and food ingredients. My latest ‘happy moment’: on the weekend his power washer broke and he spent ages trying to fix it (didn’t work). He asked me to go to the store with him to buy a new one, so I asked if he really needed one, and said I’m sure there are other ways to clean whatever he’s trying to clean. If he really needed one, I said sure we could get one. He obviously thought about it for a while. The next mention of it…he was asking a friend to see if he could help fix the old one…so he’s now still working on it. Fingers crossed!

  14. When I started to quit using plastic my partner understood why and tried to make changes too. He was really annoyed about me being too consequent, but I never told him not to buy his favorite chips or anything. He is not as strickt as I am but doing fine. Zero waste is way too much for him though. While I try to go this direction, I am not pushing him. I understood after a few months of trying too hard to get him to follow my lead, that this is my decision, not his. and I can only control my own habits/choices, and I am trying to show how to live without plastic by leading by example. So I see my family and partner doing small changes. slowly but thats ok.

  15. Just had a big fight with my husband. I have been slowly going zero waste and it is nothing new to anyone that I have a big passion for the environment and wildlife. We both worked as diving instructors all around the world. We have seen it first hand. Now we are living back home (his home) with his mother to save on rent. It is so difficult for me to not get upset. I do not understand how this isn’t as close to their hearts as mine. He is trying but there is a line. And he wont cross it. And he says he does everything so far just because of me. I want it to be because of him. He knows all the facts. But yet he doesnt seem to care. He just throws a blind eye. Like all my friends. I talk about it, they agree and then on facebook i see photos where they went for drinks and there are straws in their drinks. And i feel so betrayed and alone and confused.

    How do I ignore my husbands choices and and and, how doni treat him with kindness and respect?! Today i cracked.

  16. I love that his least favourite thing is your experiments everywhere, if you asked my partner this question, he would guaranteed say the same!

  17. My husband is not at all environmentally conscious. He drives a pick up truck, refuses to take the train, packages his snacks in ziplocks, covers the frying on with a sheet of tin foil to avoid the oil spattering…the list goes on! I love him to death, but he just doesn’t understand or feel any urgency around the waste problem in our home. I’m trying to take little steps to help him (and us) reduce our waste – for example, I bought him a reusable metal frying pan cover for Christmas. When I don’t bombard him with the changes all at once, he seems to take them in stride. I’m hoping that seeing my commitment to changing what I can change in the amount of waste I produce will cause him to emulate my behaviour. I’m also going to try to “own” things like grocery shopping as much as I can do that I can control what we’re buying, the amount of plastic bags we’re using (ideally none if it’s up to me!), etc. Wish me luck! It’s not easy!

  18. I am so happy that I decided to read this post. Today, I would be sitting with my boyfriend and telling him that I am trying to change the course of my life and the world. But I can’t be part of the problem and definitely won’t tell him how to live his life. Hopefully, we can both agree on this and still love each other. Love reading your posts; keep up the excellent work. Thanks, Kathryn!!