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Zero Waste and Roommates

Zero Waste Lifestyle

Last Updated on April 3, 2020

Fun fact: I live with three roommates. 

How to be zero waste when you live with roommates

They want to write a rebuttal post titled “Living with a Zero Waster,” which could be pretty cute…. could being the opportune word. 

 My Roommates from Left to Right: Peter, Justin, and Dylan

My Roommates from Left to Right: Peter, Justin, and Dylan

I’ve read a lot of emails from people lamenting their roommate situations.

They feel as though they can’t achieve zero waste while having other non-zero wasters living with them.

While it presents a different set of challenges, it’s far from impossible. I want to give you sneak peak at my situation and hopefully it will inspire you. 

what to split:

BILLS: We split all of the bills. Including the trash bill.

DISPOSABLES: Justin and I don’t chip in for paper towels or toilet paper. Our roommates still use paper towels, but I’m noticing them use rags a lot more.

Justin and I still buy toilet paper, but we don’t buy much since installing the bidet. We buy 100% recycled paper or bamboo pulp.

It comes wrapped in paper and we store it in the built-in in the bathroom. 

CONSUMABLES: I make all of the cleaning products, and they’re open for the whole house to use.

We all buy our own food, except Justin and I make our meals together. I’m the only person who cooks on a daily or even weekly basis.

So, the spices and olive oil are pretty much solely mine. You’ll have to make this call depending on how often you and your roommates use them. 

I would offer to buy all of them from bulk bins, and have them split the price with me if we both cooked a lot. 

separate spaces:

We have separate cupboards, separate shelves in the fridge and freezer, separate bathrooms, and separate bedrooms.

This is why you never see a full picture of my fridge. Two of the shelves aren’t mine. 

Having separate spaces really helps me. If there were packaged goods all in my space, it would make things a lot more difficult.

There’s a peace and joy that comes from how clear and uncluttered my space is.

If I had packaging encroaching in my space, it would rob me from a lot of that joy and peace.

I like having my own bathroom.

There’s no trash can in the bathroom, and my medicine cabinet looks clear and uncluttered.

Justin still uses conventional deodorant which is why he says, “I’m not zero waste.”

But, that’s the only thing he buys in packaging. I still think he counts as zero waste. 

Everyone can participate in zero waste, it’s a goal not an ultimatum. 

shared spaces:

We all share the living, dining, kitchen, and laundry room. Which means we still have a trash can.

It would be so much easier and prettier to not have a trash can in the kitchen.

Out of habit, I still sometimes go to the trash can. Then remember I’m supposed to put it in the jar.

I do refuse to take out the trash, which I feel is totally justifiable. 

I’m the only person that really cares about how the house looks. I was given free range. 

Justin obliged in garage sales, thrift store hunting, and late night craigslist pick-ups to decorate our little home. Almost everything we have is second hand. 

 Photo by Andrew Burton from an article by The Guardian. The picture is linked to the article.

Photo by Andrew Burton from an article by The Guardian. The picture is linked to the article.

A typical evening involves crowding into the living room, snacking with real plates, someone playing a video game,

Nala fighting for a spot on the couch, and I’ll probably be blogging…. this may or may not be happening right this second.


I supplied all of the dishes, cutlery, and cups for the house. They were all bought second hand, except my set of china given to me for graduation.

We started out using those, but they’re really fragile.

After having four plates break and a roommate who doesn’t know his own strength, they’ve been relegated to picture taking and special occasions. 

Everyone is welcome to use the cloth napkins, dish rags, mason jars, and reusable shopping bags.

When a rag or napkin is dirty, I throw it into the bottom of the washing machine.

Whoever does the next load of laundry will wash the rags and napkins.

They’re also more than welcome to use my compost bin.

Since they aren’t big cooks, they don’t have a lot of food scraps, but I’ve definitely noticed them using it when they do. 


Zero waste is my personal choice, no one else’s. I don’t expect anyone to join me.

But, because of how normal, easy, and economical zero waste choices are I have seen a change in my roommates.

They’re using dish towels and cloth napkins. They’re using homemade cleaners and looking at their consumption differently. 

They know I write a blog, but I don’t talk about zero waste. I don’t tell them what they should do.

I just do my thing, and if it interests them – they do it too. 

They will probably always buy Stoffer’s lasagna and mac and cheese, but they’re still refusing so many disposable items.

I’m really proud that our house of four only takes out one 12oz trash bag a week. I’m super proud of my boys! 

Leading by example is the best thing you can do. People will take notice and start to make small changes in their own life.

And, small changes over long periods of time done by many will lead to HUGE impacts. 

Do you have roommates? What have some of your biggest challenges been? 

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  1. Hi,
    I came across your blog through the Guardian article and I’m trying to make one change a week. I live on my own so really I can’t blame anyone but myself if I wasteful and throw things away. It’s a case of breaking habits which is harder than I thought.
    Today however, I did have some conflict in a shared space. I took some yoghurt etc to work. After I’d eaten I did all the dishes in the staff room and broke my mostly cardboard containers down to take home and recycle/ reuse after washing them. Came back to collect them at the end of the day and someone had helpfully put the whole lot in the rubbish (taken away by the cleaners)!
    Right now it’s a funny story but I hope I can rescue some more potential "trash" at work in future….

    1. That’s amazing to hear! It’s all about baby steps. You’ll get there in no time. Hopefully who ever put them in the trash will learn from you example and it won’t happen again! Lol.

  2. Wow, your situation is so similar to mine! I live with two guys, one of which is my boyfriend. I furnished the place and a lot of the crockery etc. is mine too, which is all very old or second hand. My boyfriend and I cook from scratch almost every day yet our other housemate generally lives on ready meals, except for on occasion when he will go out and buy a whole list of packets of ingredients to only use a small amount and have the rest linger in the fridge its plastic packaging until I have to begrudgingly throw it out when it starts to smell (although I’ve lived with him for a year now and am getting good at working out when I can use the ingredients up myself to save them from the compost without him complaining).

    My boyfriend is also very interested in reducing consumption and waste and has joined me in things like switching to bar soap, but my other housemate couldn’t care less, which is definitely a challenge! Like you, I don’t preach or tell other people what to do, but I’ve worked in the waste industry for 5 years and I’m an Office Manager at a Recycling company, so I find my housemate’s refusal to recycle particularly frustrating! I have been known to fish various recyclables out of the bin before…

    In my previous flat I also had a housemate who refused to recycle things, and I always think living with people is a challenge in its own right, let alone when you throw bug bears like that into the mix.

    It’s really nice to see that you’re in a similar position though, it gives me hope that things are still achievable! Great post!

    1. That is so strange. I can’t believe someone would refuse to recycle something. Especially if the Bin is next to the trash can. Well, I hope he changes his mind. I might try explaining to him why it’s important to recycle. We’re told to do it, but we’re never told why landfills are bad. We just no our trash goes away. We don’t think past that. Maybe little enlightenment would help put it into perspective.

  3. Awesome! I’m in a similar situation – my husband is very supportive, but our two roommates do their own things. Which is fine! The only difference is that we all share a food bill. Luckily I usually do most of the shopping, so I keep that zero waste, and I just don’t use their processed stuff. However, they do sometimes buy stuff and then not eat it, at which point I will often step in and do something with it (for instance, one roommate recently bought a bunch of packaged spinach, baby carrots, and cherry tomatoes for a "diet" and then proceeded to not touch any of it for over a week!). I really hate food waste, so I will eat the food in that case rather than see it go bad and get thrown away (especially since I’m helping pay for it). I’ve gotten pretty good at making "refrigerator soup"! I don’t take out the trash either and I don’t feel bad about it in the slightest! 😉 Keep being a great example for them and for all of us!

    1. Thank you!!! Yeah I cannot stand food waste! If someone bought something in a package, I’d always eat it before it was thrown away. They created the packaging waste- I’m just preventing more waste from being created.

  4. I live with 7 other people. One being my s.o. I lay down house rules so before they even move in they get to know that recycling and composting are mandatory. Often there is some learning curve on the cloth napkins and towels instead of paper towels. A few people have purchased their own paper towels. Most adjust. Many choose our living situation because there is support for a less wasteful life. I work on living the way i think is best but it fascinates me how much people change their views by the time they leave. Without doing much other than watching and sometimes asking what i am doing.

  5. This just made me feel more motivated to make due with my living situation and not stress. It’s a bit more complicated, as I kind of live in two places, but I’ve been doing my best with it. I officially live with my grandparents and 21-year-old younger sister, and I was able to claim some (small) separate spaces for myself in the kitchen, big freezer, and downstairs pantry. None of it is picture-worthy though haha! Grandpa lets me compost and we got grandma on board with a bin on the counter to collect it. It’s less convenient, since I try to keep my things out of the way so they don’t annoy my grandparents, but definitely less limiting than living zero-waste at my boyfriend’s, which is where I spend more time. He and I do our thing – he’s switched to most of my natural products and we try to buy from bulk for his house when we can. I end up eating what is provided there, and really need to find a convenient way to collect scraps for compost to bring home that won’t annoy his mother. His mom doesn’t really understand my lifestyle, but we finally got her recycling so that’s a step!

    It can be a very frustrating situation sometimes (maybe I just feel a lack of control, who knows), but your post definitely gave me some hope that I can work a bit harder with what I’ve got. Thank you <3

  6. The article also encouraged me to be more accepting and try to be ‘a good role model’. It’s quite frustrating living with flatmates who don’t zero waste. My roommate doesn’t care much about the environment, she buys food and goes on vacations, leaving things to rot in the refrigerator and when she’s back she just throws away everything, even the things that are not expired. She refuses to use my home made washing detergent and buys her own liquid in plastic bottles, she wants us to get rid of the bidet because she thinks it’s gross (because it’s attached to the faucet in the shower), she buys toxic bath cleaners, leaves the heating on max when she leaves and so on. A few things she doesn’t seem to mind are the washable kitchen towels, the trash cans without plastic bags and the washable cosmetic pads… My boyfriend however, is very supportive and wants to help me fulfill my dream, what more can you ask for…
    I will repeat this phrase to myself: "Zero waste is my personal choice, no one else’s. I don’t expect anyone to join me".

  7. My roommates go for the dish clothes, I’ve moved them away from K-cups and more towards loose leaf tea (although the Keurig is still in the house and once it’s clean it’ll get used again). I’ve gradually shifted them over to reusable produce bags, and they do a good job with that, and 4 out of the 7 other girls I’ve lived with switched over to a menstrual cup. What drives me nuts is that we still have so much preventable and divertable waste. Anything that gets used or emptied in the bathroom is thrown in the trash can, so I dig through stuff a lot (we share the bathroom). We have dryer balls but my roommate refuses to use them and uses petroleum-based dryer sheets because "the balls don’t get rid of as much static," so I’m making my own this week. but she also doesn’t use the homemade cleaning products because "they’re not as effective," and if the dog has an accident we HAVE to use paper towels because sterile pee can’t stay in the house. The toilet and dishes HAVE to get cleaned with bleach so there’s no not sharing that burden. Plus plastic garbage bags are actually the stupidest invention-gone-ubiquitous on earth. I’ve still got a little ways to go but it’s so sad to see the low hanging fruit just sitting there. Like, you’re willing to go through the learning curve of using a cup, but you’re afraid of Castile soap and vinegar? How?! Hopefully the lead by example method can break a couple more habits.

  8. I live with my family (I’m in High school) and it is an uphill battle with them… They are good with the concept of recycling they just often forget… It breaks my heart to see wine bottles in the trash… 🙁

    However they are getting better and I am trying to do baby steps by introducing one thing at a time. Today is the day to introduce the government compost bag. Then next time will be Unpaper Towels etc.

    They can be difficult though, like if the recycling is not taken out everyday one threatens to throw the whole thing in the trash, so I have to remember to take it out everyday…

    But they are getting better so wohoo!

    Plus where we live they only recycle glass and metal, not plastic which is really annoying plus there are no bulk stores… but I am doing what I can and plan to move soon.

  9. Hey some of these ideas are amazing, I own a rubbish removal company in Birmingham which is called and the amount of goods we see go to waste is totally astonishing ! Over the last 10 years I’ve tried as much as I can to recycle as and where possible, I just wish others looked at doing it a lot more.

    Great Read

  10. Great article. I’ve read a lot of blogs about living zero waste and it always seems to be unachievable as the writers are always living in a house on their own or with their family. Sharing seems like it makes it more difficult, but the way you’ve written this makes me think "hmm, all I’m doing here is making excuses…". I’ve managed to introduce a compost bin to the house, we all buy food separately so that’s easy and I’ve become the recycle guru in the household. My housemates are now remembering to bring a bag when they go to the shops too! It’s when my housemates offer to make me dinner and they buy everything overly packaged that I get a bit unhappy, but it’s a nice gesture and it’s not my place to dictate what they purchase. Hopefully my habits can brush off a little more.
    Thanks for showing how it’s possible to share common areas and maintain the life you want to live. I can get discouraged thinking all I’m doing is for nothing because the rest of the house isn’t involved, but as you said it’s the life I’ve chosen, I’m just going to do my thing.

    Thanks Kathryn!

  11. I live with a roommate who runs the tap in the bathroom for the entire 15 mins or so that he’s pooping. We have 4 bathrooms in the house all equipped with fans and no one cares if they hear you poop! It infuriates me. Here I try to conserve water by not flushing if it’s only pee, and then he goes and wastes 150L of water so no one hears him poop. SMH

    1. I’m not sure if you even live with this roommate still but maybe you could put a sound machine in the bathroom for him to use instead?

  12. My biggest challenge is that I’ve moved to a city with zero green initiatives. We don’t even have composting facilities. It’s a very old city in a pretty poor province (New Brunswick) and there isn’t the education on reducing waste. My roommate has a 40L garbage can that I try to wait as long as possible before taking out (i.e. I’ve been able to wait 2 weeks with her), but she will take it out if it’s only half full. She also uses a lot of toilet paper and will buy new spices and reusable containers (for example, as this just happened this weekend) without checking to see what she already has. I have taken initiative to refill the dish and hand soap containers that we already have in hopes that she will see how 1. it saves money, and 2. to reduce waste. I know it’s not my place to preach and just to lead by example, but it is really difficult to ignore her habits as I do my best to adjust to this new city. Any recommendations? Thanks!

  13. I struggle with being zero waste with my family, but having the cloth napkins came in handy during the pandemic when paper napkins were no longer available. Now my family is used to using cloth napkins, even though we still have the paper napkins they bought for a memorial we just had. as for the Stoffer’s lasanga, I actually save those pans for making and freezing my own homemade lasanga for later, but I could also use them to make other make ahead meals. i usually get two or three uses until they get a hole punctured.