My roommate is a hardcore recycler and I am not. What now?
April 11, 2016 1:43 PM   Subscribe

My roommate has confronted me about putting improper items in our trash that can be recycled. I don't really care. Where do I go from here?

My roommate has confronted me about putting improper items in our trash that can be recycled. Things such as a plastic container from takeout, aluminum foil, and a paper bag. I order delivery when I'm tired and it's easier to throw it all in the trash instead of going through the process of cleaning and sorting all these items. I do the basic amount of recycling like sorting out glass jars, plastic bottles and cardboard. As far as I know, this has no impact on our financials (we will not be fined, but the building might.)

I plan to discuss this with him eventually but I feel like he is forcing me to take on these additional household chores because of his own ethical/moral beliefs. I can probably make some changes in my habits but I'm annoyed to be diligently wiping down aluminum foil just for recycling. This also was not presented to me as a request on their part, which aggravated me further.

I get that I may doing the planet some environmental harm, but in the grand scheme of things, this is simply not a concern for me. Am I being unreasonable? Are they? What's the best way to come to compromise? I plan to discuss this issue with them regardless but I could use some perspective.
posted by joeyjoejoejr to Human Relations (66 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, paper products with food waste aren't recyclable. (eg pizza boxes with grease and cheese stuck to them).

Things aside, it sounds like roomie is willing to make this a hill they would die on, and you aren't. If it's that big of a deal to roomie, roomie can scrounge the trash to find recyclables, and you're off the hook if you keep doing the basics.
posted by k5.user at 1:52 PM on April 11, 2016 [21 favorites]

It seems like you're exaggerating the amount of work required to recycle. For example, nobody I know wipes down aluminum foil to recycle it. Do you rinse the jars before you recycle them? Or the food containers? Most people don't. What are we talking about? Another four or five minutes of chores a week? The compromise is, "I'll try harder. How can I make this easier for myself?" And then you try harder. Because who wants to argue with their roommate over recycling?

(In general, there should be no food left in to-be-recycled items, but the system is very forgiving. However, if you are doing something like throwing out a half-full spoiled jar of something, that goes in the trash — unless you're a super-recycler who will actually spoon the spoiled food into the garbage disposal and then rinse that jar. I don't know anyone who would do that and I would be surprised if that's what your roommate is referring to.)

If it's mostly the loss of face or your resentment at being told what to do that's bothering you, my advice is the same: just do whatever it takes to avoid arguing with your roommate about it. Suck it up. Nobody but you is keeping a mental list of all the times you took the non-argumentative way out.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:55 PM on April 11, 2016 [22 favorites]

Are you in the US? Or someplace else where this stuff all ends up in the same bin?

Because sure, we should ideally be recycling all those things, but to the best of my knowledge used foil isn't actually recyclable. This WaPo article from last summer pointed out that a number of the problems with the region's recycling is that people are just throwing things in bins together rather than pre-sorting them. So in a way throwing soiled things in your recycling may actually be its own problem.

That of course may not help with the roommate.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:56 PM on April 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

I am an environmental studies major. I will suggest that if they are being obnoxious about this, you can nitpick their entire lifestyle.

Do they walk/bike/skateboard everywhere instead of owning their own car, taking the bus, etc? If not, why not? Aren't they trying to Save The Planet?

How much clothes do they own?

Are they composting?

Do they smoke, drink alcohol, have any "wasteful" habits whatsoever?

If they aren't living incredibly frugally and are trying to police your recycling habits, just call them on their hypocrisy -- especially if there are ways in which you are, in fact, living more frugally and lighter on the land.

Maybe something to do is find a website that calculates your environmental footprint and crunch the data for both of you and see who actually has the larger environmental footprint. Because I will tell you that recycling at all first requires there to be consumption. And if you really want to have a light footprint and be all holier than thou, the "correct" answer is to not consume to begin with.

This is not a great way to win friends and all that. You should first try something more diplomatic. But, no, I don't think they have the right to tell you how to live "morally." They are your roommate, not your pastor.
posted by Michele in California at 2:09 PM on April 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I was taught back in the day that it's actually far more deleterious for stuff to get into the recycling stream which doesn't belong there, than for some recyclable stuff to go in the trash... If your roommate is really telling you to recycle aluminum foil, there's a good chance your roommate doesn't actually know the rules on what's recyclable. Maybe if you look up the exact rules where you are, you'll feel better about following them, and double bonus you can tell your roommate to take a step back when they're mistaken.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:10 PM on April 11, 2016 [38 favorites]

There are lots of things that roommates can do that directly and adversely affect the lives of the other roommate(s). Examples of this are: not replacing the toilet paper roll, taking up the entirety of the fridge, bringing over sketchy guests, microwaving fish. In those sorts of situations, if one roommate has a problem with the behaviour, it's reasonable for the other roommate to try to find some way to avoid the adverse effects. Oftentimes, a compromise can be worked out and it's dickish to not even try to find a better way forward. not one of those things. You are producing waste, and doing what's necessary to get the waste out of the house. You're doing it in a way that your roommate doesn't agree with, but honestly this seems like a question of personal choice. For example, maybe your roommate also doesn't like that you wear red pyjama pants when lounging around the house because they clash with the pink wallpaper. While it might be reasonable for your roommate to bring something like this up once, I don't think it's reasonable for him to actually demand a change.

You're the one paying for the stuff that becomes waste. I assume that you are also paying your share of the waste removal costs (whether it's part of your rent, or a separate charge). You get to choose what you do with your waste.

Now, if you wanted to try and address this with him on a at least somewhat reasoned basis (not guaranteeing that this is possible, because it seems like this might be an emotional issue for him), you might want to bring up all of the various reasons why it might not make sense to recycle. You could even lie and say that those are the reasons why you choose not to. For example, recycling has environmental costs as well as benefits. In a lot of places, the benefits outweigh the costs, but the energy costs of turning that aluminum foil into usable stock are not zero. Another possible concern is who is actually profiting off of the recycling? Many cities have "free" recycling because the recycling company is a for-profit business -- maybe you don't support the politics of the owners?

Another tact you could take if you wanted to debate this (and I really think you shouldn't), is to challenge your roommate about why he doesn't donate to the same causes that you do (assuming that you do do something like that). Just as it's his choice of how to spend his money, it's your choice as to how to spend your time.

TBH (and I'll admit this is a little passive aggressive) I wouldn't bother confronting him, and just go about my business instead. If he says something again, you can respond with something like "I understand that recycling is important to you, but it isn't that important to me, especially since it doesn't contribute to any uncleanliness in the apartment, and so I choose not to invest time and energy into it."
posted by sparklemotion at 2:14 PM on April 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

is it possible you were putting incorrect / non-recyclable things in the bin for things to be recycled? that's a no-no because it fucks everything up.

but throwing away recyclable stuff is "ok". i mean, we try not to do it, but it's a free country.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:15 PM on April 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Check with your local waste management's recycling website to see what's actually recyclable where you are. Where I am, aluminum foil is not recyclable whether or not it's been wiped down.

Similarly, look at the bottom of your takeout containers. Where I am plastics up to #7 (the number inside the little recycling logo) are recyclable. If there's no number, then it's not recyclable. If it is recyclable, just dump what's left in the trash and toss the plastic. Nobody rinses nominal residue.

So it sounds like you're at least being mostly reasonable, and they may be unreasonable about the amount of prep work involved in tossing old jars and takeout containers. Figure out what's required in your jurisdiction, then go from there.
posted by cmoj at 2:18 PM on April 11, 2016 [10 favorites]

Keep recycling what you already recycle, don't stop doing that.
Offer to leave the takeout items in a box or some sort of container for them to deal with. Don't be snarky about it. Approach it like "I can see thins means a lot to you but I'm just not going to do it, what I will do is save it somewhere for you to go through at your leisure".
On preview, you mention the building may get fined, I didn't know that was even a thing and that will change things. As a landlady myself, tenants who take this kind of attitude rapidly become those jerks I can't wait to get rid of. If your building may get fined because of you and you just don't care because it's not coming directly out of your pocket, that will reflect badly on your roommate as well as on you.
I kind of started out on your side but I think you may be in the wrong here.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:19 PM on April 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Both my husband, who I live with, and my sister, who I stay with while visiting, are twitchy about recycling. With my sister, I make an effort to ask her about things I'm not sure about, because I'm a guest in her house. (Also, she lives in Berkeley which has, like, the most complicated system.)

With my husband, I told him I will make an effort to use the recycling bin, but sometimes I will just throw stuff in the trash because I am lazy and it is expedient. I let him know he was free to pick stuff out of the trash and not talk to me about it. When he does talk to me about it ("this is actually recyclable blah blah blaaaaah") I tell him I don't care and to not talk to me about it. Works for us!
posted by Squeak Attack at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have had a similar struggle-- our landlord would not spring for a larger trash can pickup, and one roommate got really good about packing the entire thing, and could not be moved to share.My solution was to minimize my trash, and then pack out my trash and throw it away at work or in a public trash can. I chose not to fight the battle since I was moving out in six months.

You could offer to let them go through the trash before it goes out, but make it clear that it's a chore you won't do (you could offer to let your roommate sort, but take responsibility for always taking the trash out to the main bins or cleaning the bins or something as a fair trade.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2016

Just toss the food, rinse under a faucet (wasting water!) and toss the recyclable take-out containers in the recycle bin.

I also think used foil is not recyclable. Yep. Check your local waste management website for details.

Don't talk to your roommate further, geez!! Just rinse and recycle your take-out containers. This is not a big deal and... gosh. This is not a big deal.
posted by jbenben at 2:24 PM on April 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

My second thought was for you to keep your own trash in your room - but then I thought about bugs, rodents, smell -- and I realized it was easier to toss the food residue, rinse, and recycle the container.
posted by jbenben at 2:27 PM on April 11, 2016

Possible solution: each of you have your very own trash and recycle bins which are kept separate so that neither of you have to police each other's behavior (unless it's to say, "yo, your trash smells, take it out please").
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:27 PM on April 11, 2016

I would like to recycle more than I do. I always find it hard to tell if a specific item of plastic, glass or metal is recyclable. So when we get the new waste calendar from the city I'll put the "Where does it go" poster above the recycling bin. What I really should be doing is putting it above the garbage and organic bins as well but one thing at a time. Maybe if you had the posters above the bins then you'd be able to easily check if you're putting it in the right place.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:28 PM on April 11, 2016

Sounds like it might be time to reach back into the past and do an old fashioned chore trade off. Is there something that you hate doing MORE than the recycling stuff? That they don't mind doing as much but maybe you share responsibility for because you are roommates? Tell them "fine, I will do this recycling thing, but you are assigning me a chore. I know you don't see it as one but I do. So I am assigning you a chore. Here are three, pick one to be your responsibility from now on." Admittedly this is a juvenile way to go about it but if you are careful it can work out because most of us have childhood experience with this kind of chore trading. And honestly from their end of things, maybe they know it is kind of ridiculous but a pet peeve is a pet peeve and they will feel better being able to handle one of your pet peeves, as compensation.

Definitely look into the actual recycling guidelines for your building. If it is a government operation there should be information available online. If it is a private company, talk to your building manager, who should be able to hook you up with information, possibly online, too. If it doesn't mesh with your roommate's recycling expectations, let them know. Or, you could ask them to do this research for you both, couched in phrases like "I want to be sure we're both doing this right, since this is so important to you."

Here's the thing, though. If you don't have a compost program, greasy takeout paper isn't recyclable. Waxed paper isn't, either. Foil that needs more than a shake off of crumbs isn't good, and unless your area has a plastic bag ban, chances are high that the plastic bags you get your takeout in aren't recyclable in the normal way and you'd need to take them to a special drop off point with other grocery bags.

So I'm not saying you shouldn't recycle at all. But instead, anything that is recyclable is not going to be much of a mess if it hangs out for a day or so. So you can be tired and lazy with your takeout like normal, and just be even less proactive in the moment. Stick all the stuff in a paper bag, to be dealt with later, when you are less tired. If your roommate has a problem with that, well, dang, they are seriously unreasonable, especially if this is in your own space.
posted by Mizu at 2:33 PM on April 11, 2016

You could point out that the price of plastic is tied to the price of oil, and when the price of oil crashed as heavily as it did it became too expensive to recycle plastic and cheaper to just make new plastic.

Which means a lot of plastic is going from your recycling bin straight to the landfill. And now China won't accept our plastic because it's too dirty.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:34 PM on April 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

"Hey, I'm not into recycling. If you want to dig through the trash, go nuts."
posted by paulcole at 2:35 PM on April 11, 2016 [20 favorites]

My partner has been using the same sheet of aluminum foil to pack the occasional sandwich for the past year. We know precisely what goes in which bin and where to take the things that can't be recycled at the curb. We each carry a personal spoon.

I think it would be awesome if you did all those things too, but different people have different priorities and unless you get charged for trash and not charged for compost and recycling like we do, your roommate doesn't really have a leg to stand on given current social norms 'round these parts.

It sounds like the root of the issue in this case is that you're bothered that your roommate is telling you what to do.

I think the best way to handle it would be to go to your roommate and start by listening: figure out why it is that they're bothered that you're not recycling to the same extent as them. How does it make them feel? Really listen to them. Restate their concern and feelings in a way that they feel like you understand why they care. Now they know you're on the same page as them. When they feel like you understand where they're coming from, they'll be more open to listen to how you feel.
posted by aniola at 2:36 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to have this be a thing, you have some options:
1) manage your own trash and don't put your recyclable materials in the common garbage where it will invite roommate's scrutiny.
2) find out exactly what your local municipality's recycling guidelines are and take a minute or two to follow them. It's really not that hard and is this the hill you want to die on?

OR, if you don't care:
1) tell roommate you don't care and be fine with living in home where there's an undercurrent of anger and bad feelings and be prepared for roommate to possibly get passive aggressive about other household stuff. Also, if you live in a city that is strict about recycling, your garbage removal company can start fining the owner of your building in an escalating manner, which will aggravate owner and possibly lead to surcharges/rent increases (in my city, fines start at $100 and escalate to $500 per infraction).

Your roommate obviously has some strongly held beliefs and it doesn't sound like he was very diplomatic in his approach with you at all. But, living with roommate drama is also terrible. Before escalating, do 2 minutes of research about your municipality's rules, and then consider taking a couple of minutes to take care of this in the interest of harmony. Plus, if you ever have to ask roommate to fix something that bugs the ever-loving shit out of you, you can bring this episode as encouragement for him to similarly compromise.
posted by quince at 2:36 PM on April 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

It may be helpful to find out what your roommate's underlying concern is. You present it as if it's about an ethical belief in the importance of recycling, but it sounds like it could also be anxiety about being evicted or having the rent raised or just angering the landlord if the landlord gets fined. Once you have a better idea of what your roommate's actual goal is, it will be much easier to determine if there's a compromise you're willing to make (or to research whether the concerns are even valid).

Someone who thinks not recycling aluminum foil will mean that the recycling company will fine the landlord is likely to be assuaged by different facts than someone who thinks not recycling aluminum foil means you're an evil person. It's worth drilling down rather than making assumptions about what's going on.
posted by lazuli at 2:48 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Everyone in the US should be required to visit a waste water treatment plant, a landfill and a recycling center before they graduate from high school.

Allegedly high minded people go on an on about how disconnected we are from our food sources but never stop to think about their garbage, their poop and scarcity of clean water.

When you see how much work it takes to deal with the byproducts of humanity, you look at it differently. We waste and throw away so much. Human beings, not machines do a lot of the manual sorting of your recycling and trash. It's a hard, gross job.

Your roommate problem isn't a problem at all... you are being lazy and being called out on it... and you are rebelling against behaving the right way because it pushed your buttons.

So find a way to fucking recycle to advance your own agenda (recycling for revenge!) and then congratulations, you can both feel smug for doing the absolutely bare minimum required for being an ok person.

When we started composting at work, people had the same attitude... and these are super well educated people with money... "ugh! it's such a chore!"

um... it takes a minute and it's a net positive, STFU coworkers, adapt and move on. 2 years later, everyone recycles and composts. It's dumb not to.
posted by bobdow at 2:52 PM on April 11, 2016 [58 favorites]

Keep separate trash in your room for takeout. Take it out to the curb discreetly.
posted by unknowncommand at 2:53 PM on April 11, 2016

I'll take another angle here:

As far as I know, this has no impact on our financials (we will not be fined, but the building might.)

And what do you think the building is going to do to offset the fine if it gets one? It's gonna raise rents. Including your rent.

Suck it up and do the recycling. Run the plastic stuff under the tap a couple seconds, dump out the water, boom.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:55 PM on April 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

I feel like he is forcing me to take on these additional household chores because of his own ethical/moral beliefs... This also was not presented to me as a request on their part, which aggravated me further.

People who want to save the planet can get sort of pushy about it. So part of this is just you deciding how much work you want to do and part of it is setting boundaries with this roommate and part of it is compromising.

But first my question is: is this a place the two of you share equally or is there some sort of power differential (i.e. if it's their place or if they lived their first and you moved in knowing the rules, that is a different situation)

Second question: is there local legislation determining that recycleables should NOT be in the trash (in a few places there are, in most there are not) or is there actual $ cost associated with trash that the two of you share.

Otherwise I'd just be like "Roomie, i get that this is important to you. However it is not important to me. I am willing to do $COMPROMISE and I am asking you to do $COMPROMISE or we need to find out another way to work this out that isn't just "I do it your way" Have any suggestions?" and go from there.

To me if it's a five-minutes-or-less situation, I'd just deal with the hassle and doit. If its really more than that I'd work out a way to compromise with your roomie or see if there's a way they couldmake this into a simpler-to-manage situaiton for you.

My sister, for example, basically rinses all her cans before she recycles them, for $REASONS (sort of emotional, not logical like "ants"). Her recycling is a hassle and there's dread associated with it because it piles up. I do not. I get my stuff out the door. As a result it seems like a lot less hassle to me. Maybe there's a way you could get to that point what whatever's required in your house?
posted by jessamyn at 2:56 PM on April 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I don't know anyone who would do that and I would be surprised if that's what your roommate is referring to.

I have lived with this roommate. She did and she got super mad at me basically all the time. It was her problem and fuck her.

What I ended up doing was keeping my own garbage can in my room and using only it for my trash and taking it out on my own. It let her trash be her problem and my trash be my problem, and all the impotent pissing and moaning she did about my recyclables could be solved by shutting my door in her face.

It wasn't my only problem with her, nor was the recycling the only thing she got controlling and awful about. If I had given into her bullshit on this, it would have just been something else the next day.
posted by phunniemee at 3:04 PM on April 11, 2016 [9 favorites]

Where are you? In some parts of the country (like where I am), I think this is a much larger cultural snafu than not recycling. Also you can get fined where I live for not composting! The compost is hauled away weekly by the city, thankfully. Recycling is so ingrained in my habits that I'm shocked when I travel to other states where they don't recycle or only recycle glass and cans, that kind of thing.

I don't see what the big deal is--other than the way your roommate brought it up. Read up on what the recycling rules are where you live and just do it. A lot of municipalities have nice color brochures with pictures of what goes in which bin. That can be handy to post on the fridge or by the bins so you don't have to think about it as much.

Do you keep your recycling bins right next to the trash? That makes it easier too.
posted by purple_bird at 3:08 PM on April 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

Recycling helps, it's easy, and it is not cool to incur fines for your building just because nobody is going to jail you or take your money-- I had no idea so many folks find it acceptable to bend over backward to pretend otherwise! The effort it takes to argue it's okay to put plastic containers in the landfill because you don't feel like scraping out the leftover food seems more difficult than getting in the habit of complying.

In general, in roommate situations, the person who cares more and is more of a pain in the ass about something (and I will believe you if you say he is a pain in the ass) should be in charge of enforcement.

So as official Environmental Czar, he can get that definitive list for you, make separate containers, make it easy for you, scrape your foil if it is not up to his standards, make frequent runs to the curb or basement or wherever your trash goes. If you are in general complying but he is finding fault, he can deal with those smaller matters-- i.e., evaluating cardboard for greasiness can be on him. But if you get one of those plastic takeout containers and it has a number of the bottom that means it's recyclable, surely you can take 40 seconds to scrape out your sesame chicken?

Make a trade-- maybe there's something you care more about and are better at enforcing than he and you could take that off his plate? You could be the Vacuuming Czar, the Stocking Plenty of TP Czar...the sky's the limit.
posted by kapers at 3:12 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

We have Trash Valet in our building. We were provided with a regular trash can and a recycle bin. I asked about special bags and was told, "Go ahead, use a regular bag." I wasn't to surprised to learn that they weren't recycling at all. It's demoralizing.

That said, be honest, "I'm willing to do the bare minimum of recycling. That's where I am." Let your roommate come up with some ideas.

You don't have to do stuff just because people ask you to. "No," is an answer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:14 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just recycle properly. It's not that difficult. Here are some instructions from NYC.

Since you say "we will not be fined, but the building might" I'm going to assume you live somewhere that recycling is the law and there are fines for not following that law. Your roommate probably cares about not getting their rent raised due to totally avoidable fines, not to mention totally avoidable lectures from your landlord.

So instead of rules-lawyering whether your aluminum foil is really going to be recycled in the end, follow the guidelines for your city properly, avoid getting fines and therefore rent increases, and as a bonus, have a non-annoyed roommate. I'm sorry they didn't talk to you in the exact tone you want, but in some places it's not a matter of opinion, or whether you're too tired to follow the rules.

(ps rinsing containers keeps sanitation workers from getting a face full of sour milk and keeps the local rats from being as interested in your recycling)
posted by mgar at 3:16 PM on April 11, 2016 [18 favorites]

If there are fines involved, I think you should do it even if your roomate is being annoying. Although you might not personally pay the fine, it seems pretty obvious that the landlord is eventually going to a) make a stink about it and/or b) raise everyone's rent. I have never met a landlord who got avoidable fines that were 100% the fault of tenants and just paid them quietly...that is unrealistic to expect!

But, definitely look up the details for your area, I agree with those who said foil and many types of plastic are not actually recyclable everywhere - it varies by location.
posted by rainbowbrite at 3:29 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

re: the fines

The building I work assesses fines for throwing things that aren't actually recyclable into the recycling, in which case it's better to err on the side of tossing the questionable stuff into the garbage-garbage.

OP, if you care you should ask and get details.
posted by phunniemee at 3:37 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

he is forcing me to take on these additional household chores

Wow. He's not asking you to shovel the snow off the sidewalk after a blizzard. He's asking you to take an extra several seconds to rinse the plastic and put the recyclables in the correct bin when you get takeout. Geez, how hard can that be??
posted by merejane at 3:42 PM on April 11, 2016 [19 favorites]

The extra time is negligible once it's a habit.

It's possible to become really angry and sad about the damage that has been done, and continues to be done, to the environment by our parents' thoughtlessness, our own thoughtlessness, and yes, our neighbors' thoughtlessness. Seeing it played out in front of your eyes every day with a roommate would be difficult, I imagine.

I get it - sometime it's hard to dot every I and cross every T. We all need some slack sometimes. However, if you get into the habit, it won't be such a big deal.

If you have a dishwasher, you can put those plastic cups and cans and stuff in the dishwasher, which might help.

You can also try using less of that stuff to begin with, which will save you money and maybe time (eventually - at first, it will take longer. Some re-use solutions always take longer, but some don't).

Even if LCA says that rinsing some things is not that much better than just making new ones, LCA doesn't take everything into account, and the _habit_ of being conscious of what you use is really important.

Maybe you, like me, come from a family that disdains this kind of thing. Please try to be open minded :)
posted by amtho at 4:11 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Follow what is required of you where you live. Different locales have different rules. Stand (politely) firm if your roommate asks more of you than is actually required of your city's recycling program.

Also, this shit ain't rocket science. It's super fast when you're used to it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:14 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think part of the roommate contract is generally to follow city bylaws. So, follow the recycling bylaws.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:18 PM on April 11, 2016 [8 favorites]

The other thing I will add is that people who are wound too tight about this are sometimes being "penny wise and pound foolish." If you want to do good for the world, try walking more and eating less meat. This will drastically reduce the environmental burden you present without fussing about details.

Systems work more efficiently when they have some slack or wiggle room. And if your roommate isn't a vegan nudist pedestrian, then they probably still have lots more they can do to live more lightly on the earth without getting all up in your business.
posted by Michele in California at 4:24 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I get that I may doing the planet some environmental harm, but in the grand scheme of things, this is simply not a concern for me. Am I being unreasonable?

Are they?
Hard to say. Maybe?

What's the best way to come to compromise?
Find out how to correctly recycle according to your city's regulations. Then do that.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 4:25 PM on April 11, 2016 [18 favorites]

i'm surprised at how many people are making excuses to not recycle. if you can rinse it out and recycle it, you should always do that.
posted by noloveforned at 4:49 PM on April 11, 2016 [25 favorites]

Watch the documentary "Bag It" on Netflix. Just give it a shot, it's pretty entertaining and it might give you insight into your roommate's intense feelings about recycling. If you're friends with this person - and it's so much easier to be friendly with a roommate - then just try to see this from their perspective. It sounds like recycling is a small thing you can do that will help your relationship, make your friend happier and ultimately maybe help the environment. So why not do it?
posted by areaperson at 5:07 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Came back to nag from a different angle since the environmental one doesn't move you: ever since our building got fined, my super's wife has to go through tenants' horrifying garbage by hand to separate the recyclables they were too lazy to separate themselves. This is not her job and she hates this, but the building will get fined again and her husband will get in big trouble with management if she doesn't do this.

If she finds identifying information (junk mail with name and address, takeout receipt with unit number) she will bring their garbage to their door and tell them to sort it themselves. Then we all shun these tenants for their antisocial behavior. (JK on the last part but the evil eye is not out of bounds.)
posted by kapers at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

As far as I know, this has no impact on our financials (we will not be fined, but the building might.)

I plan to discuss this with him eventually but I feel like he is forcing me to take on these additional household chores because of his own ethical/moral beliefs.

Household chores that keep your building adhering to city code aren't "additional" or extra. They're the basic minimum for being good tenants. This sounds like you've moved into a no smoking building and are complaining that your roomate is getting on your case about smoking in the house. You must realize that eventually any building fines are going to trickle down to the tenants? Like other people are saying, these aren't really your or your roomates' rules to make or break, especially if waste management is actually monitoring your building's trash. If it turns out foil isn't recyclable in your city, then yeah, your roommate needs to get off your back. But if your local government requires apartment buildings to recycle takeout containers and aluminum foil under threat of a fine, you need to suck it up and recycle your takeout trash as a basic condition of living in the building.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:29 PM on April 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

As a homeowner I participate in the recycling program because of town ordinances and because it is relatively easy to do so. However, I have always suspected this is "environmental theater" similar to the "security theater" at airports.

This NY Times article from October 2015 "Reign of Recycling" seems to confirm my suspicions.

Additional weight (though not proof) comes from my employer in a different state where they all follow totally different recycling rules in the lunch rooms. I understand different states = different laws, but I do not believe the laws of supply and demand, or commodity pricing, or physics change at state boundaries.

So I just go with the flow with one eyebrow raised. For the sake of apartment harmony I would suggest the OP do the same.
posted by forthright at 5:38 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you want to keep living with someone who you know is annoyed with you over petty shit that you acknowledge you could change, then keep putting recyclables in the trash.

This is a pick-your-battles moment. Until you can afford to live by yourself, or choose a roommate who cares/does not care about stuff like this like you do, then decide if you want to live with a perpetually irritated person or if you want to take two minutes and rinse the damn container and put it in the recycle bin.
posted by rtha at 5:46 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

[A couple of comments deleted. Friendly reminder, AskMe's not a debate space, and metacommentary doesn't belong on the green. Please keep it oriented toward helping the OP with their question. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 6:22 PM on April 11, 2016

Your roommate has presented you with an opportunity to become a better person. Take them up on it.

Your city/county/metro government will have a list of acceptable items. Do it unti it is habit. And if your roommates says something was put in the wrong bin, refer to the document and educate.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:58 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

On the one hand, I'm inclined to say "he who cares far more than everyone else should be in charge of that."
On the other hand, I don't have to live with your pissed-off roommate and you do. Is this a hill you want to die on? Do you plan on moving out soon or do you have most of a yearlong lease to go? Morally you're gonna be "in the wrong" (unfortunately), and other than "I don't wanna," you don't have a whole lot to argue in your favor. And again, pissed off person you live with. It might just be easier to cave in on this.

Also, where do you live (hippieland?) and what is with this building fining thing?
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:50 PM on April 11, 2016

Things such as a plastic container from takeout, aluminum foil, and a paper bag. I order delivery when I'm tired and it's easier to throw it all in the trash instead of going through the process of cleaning and sorting all these items.

I feel like you are really overstating the burden this places on you. I get it, long day, you're tired, etc. But it takes the same amount of time to toss that paper bag in the recycling as it does to throw it in the trash. (Okay, maybe 2 seconds extra to take the non recyclable stuff out of it.)

It takes maybe 2 minutes max, probably more like 30 seconds, to rinse out the plastic container and toss it in the recycling.

I don't think I've lived somewhere that aluminum foil gets recycled; if something is really disgusting, like containers with rotted foot, throw that in the trash. As mentioned above, if you have a dishwasher, you can totally wash out containers to make that easier.

Look, I'm not perfect either. Sometimes I throw my individual serving size container of yogurt in the trash when I'm done with it. I also use water bottles sometimes when I've gotten too lazy to clean out my reusable water bottle. But I can see why your roommate would be annoyed about this. I would be annoyed too. And it your building could get fined, that is extra not cool.

Tell your roommate that you'll make more of an effort, and then do that. Maybe they can help out by double checking what the guidelines are on what to recycle and what not to recycle. If they start getting really nitpick-y after that, then it's fine to ignore.

And even if you don't care about the environmental stuff, in the scheme of things, this seems like a pretty painless way to make living with your roommate more tolerable.

It also kind of sounds like you don't want to do this in large part because you resent him bringing this up with you. Maybe he was kind of a jerk about it, but resentment isn't really a good reason not to do this.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:00 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Fyi, aluminum foil is recyclable in New York City. It's really not a big deal to quickly rinse it off (if that's even necessary) and toss it in the recycling bin.
posted by merejane at 10:04 PM on April 11, 2016

You have a lot of answers already, but I wanted to answer because apparently I am one of the few 'super-recyclers' on AskMe. I feel the way your roommate does about recycling. I recycle absolutely everything I possibly can (although I do take care to try to keep items that shouldn't be recycled out). So, answering your question from your roommate's point of view after reading the answers above:

- Please don't just throw your stuff in the trash and tell them to pick through it if they care so much. They're trying to do the right thing and there's no call to be rude. If your roommate feels the same as I do, they will pick through the trash if you force them to do so, but I don't enjoy picking through the trash, it's a pretty degrading thing if you know that this is something they're going to do because it would really bother them otherwise.
- I live with someone (my dear spouse) who doesn't care about recycling and also believes that recycling doesn't really matter in the scheme of things, which is a convenient belief that allows him to do (to my mind) lazy stuff like throwing away recyclable things and not feel bad about it. We've lived together happily for 10 years so it's definitely possible to solve this problem. Our rules are as follows: he is a bit of a germaphobe and hates if I "go below the rim" (i.e. reach into the garbage can). So, he will leave out recyclable things and it's my job to do the rinsing and putting them in the appropriate bin. Sometimes he tries to sneak things by me in the trash, and sometimes I sneak them out and hide them underneath other recyclable things in the bin so he doesn't notice I dug them up (I know, I know, it's pathological). Yes, I pour jars and cans of stuff down the garbage disposal so that I can recycle them. I save a special bin of plastic films to take to Whole Foods every 6 months, and I even mail in normally non-recyclable items like baby pouches in packages to TerraCycle. It takes me very little time and it makes me happy. Is that so wrong? Could this not be seen as admirable in some way instead of annoying and foolhardy? It's just something I'm passionate about, I understand not everyone feels the same.
- If he leaves something out for me to recycle (or in the fridge, if it's a full or partially full container), then he has to give me a warning before tossing it. So once in a while he'll say "listen, if you care about this, do something with it, if I still see it here in 2 days it's going in the trash." Which motivates me to dispose of it and averts conflict. Did I mention that you don't have to scrub stuff in the sink to get it clean? You can put recyclable items into small extra spaces in the dishwasher and let the dishwasher do the cleaning part for you. Then it really doesn't take any extra 'chore time' to get them ready for the bin.

Hope you can find a respectful and not spiteful way to resolve this. Surely you have some quirk that this guy is putting up with, too?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:21 PM on April 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

This is a roommate, not a romantic partner? Do whatever you want.

I mean, I'm very much into recycling, but what your roommate is doing is the equivalent of an evangelical trying to convert you. It's obnoxious. Hell, I think it's horrendous to eat beef or pork, but I don't go around trying to force people to do the same, and I resent the hell out of people who do, even though I 100% agree with them. Tell them to shut the fuck up already.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:08 AM on April 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

You don't have issues putting things in the trash, right? Like that seems like no big deal and not a huge effort? Recycling is kind of the same thing. It's just habits. You throw the items in a different bin. Sometimes you might need to take 2 seconds to rinse the item before throwing it into the different bin. If you want to keep peace and can get into that mindset, you might find that you no longer feel burdened with an excess of unnecessarily imposed chores. I find that recycling doesn't really take me any appreciable amount more of effort than being lazy and throwing everything in the trash.

I also don't think a belief in recycling is an ethical/moral issue. Throwing rubbish in the trash isn't a moral thing, it's just something you need to do if you don't want trash all over your house. Recycling is the same thing but on a larger scale. Thinking of it that way might help, too. If recycling facilities are available I think it's really unreasonable not to use them, especially if the reason is just that you didn't feel like thinking about which bin to use.
posted by Polychrome at 4:26 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also don't see this as an ethical/moral issue, at least not completely. In your city, it is a legal issue, and there are penalties for the landlord, which might be passed on to you, the tenant, in the form of increased rent.

I see it as part of being a good tenant. Is paying your rent an ethical/moral issue? I guess it is in part, but mostly, it's one of your obligations as a tenant. So is recycling.

And it really, really is not difficult. Be a grownup about this.
posted by merejane at 5:11 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is recycling really that big a deal? The amount of extra effort required is tiny, once you get into the habit. Maybe preserving peace in your house is worth the extra effort of improving your recycling habits, especially since it really is the Right Thing to Do in terms of maintaining a world that's worth living in. Maybe have a meeting where you and your roommate sit down and work out a plan for what gets recycled, what doesn't, and whose job it is to deal with the waste afterward. Get on the same page about what does and doesn't belong in the recycling, and then just do it. Why is it worth digging in your heels over this? Think of it as an opportunity to become a better global citizen while preserving peace in your home, at little cost to yourself.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:27 AM on April 12, 2016

To clarify and answer a few questions:

1) I live in NYC. Apparently tin foil is recyclable here.

2) This was presented to me as an environmental concern. I was the one that asked about a financial impact and they replied that the building could possibly get fined but not us specifically.

3) He also composts which I've never done before but I didn't have a problem with because food=compost. Simple enough. I asked if they could put a post it note or label on the bins and they told me to look it up myself.

In my mind I see myself going "Is it worth it rinse out this tiny sauce cup or can I just toss it? There's a little bit of cheese crust on the tinfoil container, is that a big deal? What if the takeout container is rinsed but still oily? Can I recycle this pill bottle? I can't open this spray bottle to clean it out, do I trash it or recycle even with the liquid still inside?" I'm sure I am overthinking it but it is legitimately confusing to me and the guidelines posted online aren't always so clear.

4) Roommate specifically mentioned that they wash takeout containers like dishes. Implying that I should do this too.

5) We share the rent equally but they lived there before me.

Upon reflection, my problem has more to do with the growing tensions between the two of us. I've only been here for two weeks. We've had some petty disagreements such as him not wanting my single person couch in the living room because they thought it was too big whereas I thought it was fine because it was not blocking anything. Then they did not want to alternate the bath rugs with one I own for unknown reasons. There seems to be a consistent "my way or the highway" tone that I'm getting and them scolding me on the recycling pushed me to the limit.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 6:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

I live in NYC.

Recycling is mandatory in NYC, so just do it.

You could tell your roommate that you're only obliging because it's the law, but you have an opportunity to create good will while doing something you're legally bound to do anyway, so why not just tell your roommate that you'll make more of an effort and do so.

You might find that some amount of effort on your part goes far enough to create good will with your roommate. That good will doesn't have to start with him, you know, and you might be glad, the next time there's a disagreement, to be able to say, "You know, I obliged on the recycling issue. Maybe you could return the favor?"

I rinse cans, jars, etc., but I don't wash out the itty-bitty salad dressing containers, so those go in the garbage. That's to say, I'm not perfect, but I make an effort. I once got lectured (and ticketed) by a power-tripping sanitation cop because there was a cardboard salt container in the paper recycling and I had not pulled out the metal pour spout to recycle separately. I'd never want that jerk to know this, but ever since, I've pulled the metal off those (and off empty boxes of parchment paper) because it takes two seconds, and the law exists whether I like it or not (fwiw, I don't like having three separate containers in a NYC sized kitchen, but them's the breaks, and if the containers are there anyway, "I don't want to," isn't a good reason not to use them).
posted by whoiam at 8:38 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's 2016. Recycling is a basic functional living thing like chewing with your mouth closed. It's also the law; if you want to live in NYC, you recycle.

Work out the issue with your roomie without being passive aggressive about this single issue in which you are totally in the wrong.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2016 [9 favorites]

Living with that level of commitment to recycling when it's just not on your brainwave is going be hell.

I would start eating out except for cereal and look for a new place to live. It will not work. There will always be tension between you and him. He will always be watching and you will always forget to do something he wants.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:24 AM on April 12, 2016

Okay, upon follow-up I finally found something that your roommate might be in the wrong about:

I asked if they could put a post it note or label on the bins and they told me to look it up myself.

Can I just clarify - when you're asking your roommate for a post-it note on the bins, are you asking "hey, roomie, which bin are we putting the plastic in and which one is for the paper?" Or are you asking for "can you post a list of which stuff is supposed to be recycled and which isn't?"

If it's the latter ("can you post a list of what should be recycled"), then yeah, your roommate shouldn't have to do that, and can just use a really basic rule-of-thumb:

* Paper goods in one bin.
* Plastic, metal, and glass in another bin.
* Trash is trash.

If he's going to be super-granular beyond that, tell him that you got conflicting information and that you're trying your best to change a habit, and it's just gonna take some time but you're trying.

However, if you're asking him to post a label saying "which of these three trash cans in the kitchen is for paper", then...that's really not too much for you to ask and he shouldn't have a problem with doing that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:29 AM on April 12, 2016

Maybe not helpful, and probably not very nice, but I just throw the stuff in the recycling dirty. I'm diligent about putting the right stuff in the right place, and I will not throw away batteries or ewaste, even though they're a tremendous pain in the ass to get rid of properly.

But if the recyclers will throw away an unrinsed jar rather than wash and recycle it with all the other dirty jars, they probably don't want to recycle it all that badly. I'm not washing takeout containers like dishes. The water waste alone where I live makes this ridiculous.
posted by cnc at 1:35 PM on April 12, 2016

Just do the annoying recycling. Invite your roommates out for a couple drinks to smooth things over. If they resist then it will never work, move on and out.
posted by xammerboy at 4:45 PM on April 12, 2016

cnc, it's not about what the people at the recycling plant want to do or how badly they want it - taking care of your recyclables is their job and you're making it harder for them to do. See my link below for more details. If you're running your dishwasher anyway and you can put the recyclable items on top of stuff you're already washing, it doesn't take any more water to wash them than it would otherwise.

joeyjoejoejr, here is a link to a list of stuff that is recyclable in NYC. Here's a hopefully helpful link on "How Clean Must Food Containers Be For Recycling?" But - "If in doubt, throw it out!" (that means bottles with liquid you can't pour out) And I say that as a diehard recycler. But yes, there should be a recycling symbol on the bottom of that pill bottle, they are typically recyclable.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:35 PM on April 12, 2016

I am highly amused that people suggest keeping garbage in their room and then sneaking out a bag to avoid recycling. As if it's less gross and less work than just rinsing a container before throwing it in a bin in the kitchen.

I think your roomie is being a bit of a dick, but it's also not their job to educate you on how to recycle in the city you live in. It would be nice, but yeah, it can be looked up. Maybe he was annoyed that you implied it was only worthwhile if you were going to avoid a fine. At any rate, doing what the municipality dictates is sort of the minimum of being an adult roommate. Do the minimum and if this roommate continues to be an ass look for a new situation. Definitely don't let other people's assy behaviour stop you from doing what is the right thing.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:50 PM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Where we live, the recyclables bin is just a convenience/cost-saver for the trash collection company. They sort the trash and if there are recyclables in the trash they still get recycled. If it's the same where you live, then this information would likely assuage your roommate since the important thing to your roommate is probably that recyclables get recycled.
posted by OCDan at 11:59 PM on April 12, 2016

It sounds like you're off to a rocky start with this roommate. I'm wondering how much roommate living experience you have, what was your prior relationship with them, and what you discussed before moving in together.

Even if you're paying equal rent, if you're not on the lease it makes a difference. The one on the lease is taking the greater financial risk/commitment, and especially if they've been there a while and/or it's rent stabilized, may have a more ownership-like attitude towards than you might expect.

I am a recycling slacker too. But I live alone and I do what I want. I think you have to nail down your feelings and intentions with regards to this roommate thing. If for some reason you need or want to stick it out long trend term, you're going to need to do some accommodating here. If you're not long term committed and looking for an excuse to bounce and can afford to, logistics and financially, then why not. You can always find another crappy roommate sublet in NYC and eventually you'll find a living situation that suits you.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:35 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am an environmental studies major. I will suggest that if they are being obnoxious about this, you can nitpick their entire lifestyle.

Doing stuff for the environment isn't a binary 'you do everything all at once or else it's the same moral load as doing nothing at all'. The room mate could shoot baby seals with plutonium slugs, wrap the bodies in six-pack rings and throw them into turtle habitats. It doesn't make not recycling any less wrong.

I could use some perspective

Grown ups do their best to recycle.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:09 PM on April 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

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