How to get your spouse to recycle at home

Getting your children on board with recycling is easy. Get them onto some of the recycling web sites for kids, have them play some games and they usually fall right in line. A reluctant spouse, however, is a much harder sell. 

My husband’s family is not at all interested in ‘going green’. My in-laws actually are among the group that believes recycling is a scam. So getting my husband to recycle was a huge challenge for me.  Here are some tips for getting your spouse to cooperate. 

Make it easy.

Like the majority of people, your spouse is probably put off by the amount of effort involved in recycling. All the washing, sorting, label removal, etc. just doesn’t seem worth it to a lot of people. So the easier you can make it the more likely they are to participate, and you’ve probably removed the biggest barrier to their behavior.

If you have single-stream curbside recycling collection that will solve a lot of the convenience issues. Single-stream completely eliminates the sorting issue and most programs also don’t require removal of labels and plastic bands. 

If your hauler requires extensive separating and sorting, or if you have to transport your recyclables to a drop-off center it’s a much bigger challenge. In that case, try keeping a small receptacle in the house (right by your trash can is a good place) where you can store a small amount of material and take it out to your other bins periodically.  

You may also want to have small bins in other areas of the house, like the family bathroom, the laundry room and the kids’ play room.  Keep a bin for paper in the den or wherever you open the mail. Having at least one receptacle per floor is advisable. If the only container sitting there is the trash can, that’s the one that will most likely get used. 

There is no easy answer to the inconvenience of having to do things like remove the labels from jars and cans or remove rings from plastic bottles. Without a doubt this is a hassle. If you have kids try enlisting their help. My kids earn money for helping me recycle and they actually think the prep work is fun because they get to use a special little tool to remove all those labels and plastic bands. 

Keep it neat.

Another disincentive is the constant clutter that can result when your recycling isn’t well organized. Having cans and bottles pile up on the sideboard is messy and they’re lightweight so they tend to fall over and get even more spread out. Stacks of newspaper and magazines waiting to be taken out to the recycle bin can get scattered everywhere. All those loose recyclables can make your house look like a dumping ground. Again, make sure you have containers of the right size in places that work for your household. 

Get organized.

If your hauler doesn’t provide bins you don’t need to buy special containers, but it’s a good idea to either invest in some labels or use a permanent marker to clearly indicate what each bin is for. If your spouse isn’t able to determine where the recycling goes, it’s an easy excuse not to do it. 

If you’re providing your own containers, make them as convenient for the household as possible. You’ll need to work within your hauler’s guidelines on size and weight, but try to select bins that are easy to get out to the curb or into your car. Think about things like, would having wheels on this container make it easier? Do they fit easily in the space I have? Do I need a bigger or smaller bin for this specific material? 

Get your kids to apply some peer pressure.

There is no better incentive to do anything than to escape the pressure applied by your kids. They are masters at it. From quitting smoking to exercising they will hound you until you make the right choice. Kids are bombarded by information on saving the earth every day. It’s in the classroom, it’s on TV and it’s in the books and magazines they read. They are learning that the environment is important and they make great allies in getting other grown ups to participate. 

Use some quid pro quo. Your husband wishes you’d start golfing with him. Your wife wants to go antiquing on the weekends.  Trade some of the things they want you to do with them for their participation in recycling at home. 

Be patient No one responds well to constant nagging. If you get your spouse to recycle this way, it will always be a chore, never something they do because they want to. When my husband kept throwing recyclables in the trash, I just picked them back out and put them in the recycling without saying anything about it. He noticed, and eventually he just started doing it himself. It was gradual. First he set the recyclables aside but didn’t rinse them. Then he started rinsing and setting aside, but not taking them out to the bins. Now, after a couple of years of gradual improvement, he takes care of everything but putting the bins at the curb on collection day. 

With a little effort, and some give and take you can get the whole family to become recycling pros!

Got something to add? Feel free to chime in!