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How to Go Zero Waste While Living With Your Parents

How to Go Zero Waste While Living With Your Parents

I recently came back to live with my parents for the summer after my semester at university ended. I quickly realized, to go zero waste while living with your parents is a lot different than living on your own. 

For me, I don’t do the grocery shopping when living with my parents. This makes it difficult because they don’t shop at bulk stores or farmers markets. Paper towels are often used for dinner rather than cloth napkins, and take-out food is brought back in styrofoam packed in a plastic bag. All of this results in a lot of single use plastic waste. So, what’s the secret to living zero waste with your parents?

The secret to go zero waste while living with your parents is to focus on what you can control. You may not be the one buying groceries. So shopping at bulk food stores and getting food without compostable, recyclable, or no packaging might happen, and that’s okay. Focus on what you yourself can do to reduce waste. Some examples could be asking for no straw in your drink when going out for dinner, biking instead of asking for a ride in the car, or asking for plastic-free gifts under the tree for Christmas. Let’s dig a little deeper and find out exactly what you can do to reduce waste while living with your parents, and where to start.

How to go zero waste if your parents aren’t living sustainably

It can be difficult to maintain a zero waste lifestyle when you live with non-zero-wasters. This could lead to you forgetting some sustainable habits you have. I found the best way to overcome this is to use the “Green Set Technique.

The Green Set Technique is having a list of activities in your head that you know you can reduce waste in. So when the occasion arrives and you need to do a certain activity, you’ll remember exactly how to reduce waste. 

Let’s take a look at an example of the Green Set Technique. Let’s say one of the activities is getting take-out food. You know a restaurant that gives takeout food in compostable or recyclable containers. So when your parents suggest take-out food, you can suggest the restaurant that packs food in compostable or recyclable containers. You may want a list of options in case your parents want a different type of food, like burgers instead of sushi for example.

Just to get your creative juices flowing, I’ll list a few activities that you can add to your “Green Set” list.

  • You’re asked to go grocery shopping with your parents, remember to grab a reusable shopping and produce bag.
  • Going out to a restaurant for dinner? Bring a reusable container in the car. If you have leftovers, you can run to the car and have your leftovers put into your reusable container.
  • If you’re going to the park, grab a few reusable drink bottles for you and your family.

With the Green Set Technique in your tool belt, you’ll be able to reduce waste whenever possible. However, even with this trick under your sleeve, sometimes living zero waste can get pretty difficult. Let’s find out how to overcome lack of motivation so we can keep pushing for a cleaner earth!

zero waste living with parents

How to overcome a lack of motivation to live zero waste

Living a zero waste lifestyle can be challenging when people you’re close to aren’t practicing sustainability. That’s why it’s really important to have a reminder why you’re doing this.

I want you to write down five reasons why you’re going zero waste. Go ahead, write it down. I’ll wait…

If you need some inspiration, here are my five reasons.

  • I want my future kids to live in a world where there’s more fish than plastic in the ocean.
  • I want to be able to walk down the street without seeing a mess of litter on the sidewalk.
  • Humanity can overcome the climate crisis, and I want to be apart of the solution, not the problem.
  • Seeing animals getting hurt by our plastic is not something I want my future kids to see.
  • Anything is possible when a large community is pushing for the same goal, and the zero waste community is getting bigger and bigger every day.

I want my future kids to live in a world where there’s more fish than plastic in the ocean.

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Now that you have your five reasons, whenever you’re feeling unmotivated or questioning if living sustainably is worth it, read your reasons. Remind yourself daily why you’re fighting for sustainability. 

With the Green Set Technique and your five reasons, you’re ready to take on a zero waste lifestyle even if your parents aren’t. Speaking of parents, let’s take a look at how you can make the most of single-use plastic if your parents buy it.

How to make the most of single-use plastic if your parents buy it

It may be frustrating to see your family bring home single-use plastic; I get it. However, you can use a lot of “single-use” plastic more than once. If you do this, you can make these plastic products last way longer, and your family won’t need to restock and buy more.

Here are a few single-use plastics you can use over and over again.

  • Ziplock bags: After you’re done using a Ziplock bag, you can reuse it to store more food. Simply wash your Ziplock bags by filling them with warm water and soap, using a rag to clean it, then leave it out to dry. 
  • Plastic bags: Plastic bags from grocery stores can be reused by storing miscellaneous things around your home, reusing the bag for groceries, or using it as a garbage bin liner.
  • Plastic water bottles: You can reuse plastic water bottles by refilling them with water or another drink. If you don’t want to do that, you can get creative and upcycle them!
  • Plastic cutlery: Instead of throwing plastic cutlery out, just wash and reuse them for another time! Make sure you hand-wash plastic cutlery with warm water, the dishwasher could melt the cutlery.
  • Frozen food bags: I actually went over this tip in my blog post “21 Zero Waste Tips You’ve Never Heard Before.” Sometimes frozen food comes in resealable plastic bags. If that’s the case, you can reuse those bags for fruits, vegetables, or anything you need to freeze for the future (I would not recommend using it for meat). Once you’re done with the food, wash the plastic bag out with warm, soapy water and reuse it!


Even if you’re living with people who aren’t zero waste, that doesn’t mean you can’t go zero waste. By using the Green Set Technique and learning how to overcome a lack of motivation, you’ll be unstoppable! If you liked a few or more of the ideas from this post, it would mean the world to me if you shared it on social media to spread the message. Now, what tips did I miss? Let me know what you’re doing to go zero waste while living with your parents in a comment below!

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