Houseguests in a Zero Waste Home

Zero waste houseguests

A few weeks ago, I hosted a good friend of mine for a few nights while she visited Chicago. It was a hot week, ninety degrees in the city, and since I use my air conditioner almost never, we couldn't figure out how to get it to work. But it was fun to lay on my couch with wet washcloths draped over our necks, with the windows open and the fan blowing, playing "Would You Rather" late into the night.

Taking her on a mini tour of my apartment when she arrived, I was struck with how weird it must be to stay with a zero waste friend like me. Where would she put trash? How can I explain my compost system so it feels easy to use? Mostly: what can I do to make her feel comfortable and at ease in a home that's more than a little different from her own? In case you have houseguests coming up, here's what I've come up with:

-Take 'em on the tour. When you're showing your guest around, be sure to point out the things that they might need to know, that are different from what they're used to. If you don't keep tissues around, be clear about where they might find a clean handkerchief. You can explain how your compost works and where they should put apple cores, point out that there isn't a trash can in the bathroom but there's one in the kitchen, show them where to find a kitchen towel if they need it, or any other little thing that you think might be helpful.

-Provide places for trash and recycling. You probably still have a place for trash and recycling in your home. Mine looks like a small box for recycling under my kitchen sink, and an even smaller bag for trash in the same place. But if by some miracle you've nailed the art of living with neither: you'll probably want to make an exception for your guests and designate places where they can get rid of their inevitable trash.

-In their stack of bath towels, include a cloth napkin. They'll likely be eating at some point when you're not home, and this prevents them from having to dig around too much when trying to find what they need. Of course, you could also just point out where you keep them, but I think providing it up front is a nice way to help them forego a moment of panic when their iced tea is dripping ALL OVER and they can't remember where to find a cloth. Since they're probably used to finding a roll of paper towels always in easy sight, you can make using their napkin just as easy, too.

-Buy easy snacks. If you open my fridge and kitchen cabinets, you'll typically see a lot of food, but not a lot of quick food. Instead, you'll find the building blocks for meals: fruits and veggies, jars upon jars of beans, whole grains, and spices. When I need a snack myself, I'll usually cook up something quickly or reach for yesterday's dinner leftovers. It works well for me, but I didn't want my friend to have to choose between eating raw nuts or cooking oatmeal or popping stovetop popcorn if she were home without me and hungry. So, I stocked up on a bunch of fun bulk snacks, and left them out on my table so that she could find them easily. Equally nice - scratch that, even nicer - would be to make something like a batch of muffins. As long as there's some type of ready-to-eat food in your house, you're good.

-Let it go. My friend asked if I'd grab her some yogurt to eat in the mornings, and who would say no to that? It's not usually something I buy, but of course I was happy to. I bought her favorite type in a large tub (less packaging! recyclable!) and called it a day. If she'd asked for something like, say, almond milk, I might have made it myself, zero waste style. But with requests outside your normal zero waste purview: it's best to honor them, as you'd never want your friend to feel hungry / embarrassed / unwelcome.

The above can all be summed up thusly: it goes without saying that the most important tip is to be gracious and flexible. I think that's really all you need. Happy hosting!