Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
My partner grew up very environmentally conscious in a way I did not. I am actively trying to get better about this, but it’s been challenging. I’m the primary breadwinner in our household, and I work 12-hour days. When I get home, all I want to do is unwind with frozen dinners and veg out. Sometimes this veg time includes throwing away a used yogurt container instead of washing it out and putting it in the recycling bin. My partner gets extremely upset when I do this, and it’s pretty much our only source of conflict. I love that she cares about the Earth, and I am actively trying to improve, but it’s a long road, and I’m sick of fighting about it. I don’t like feeling like a terrible person for this. What can I do to get her off my back while still respecting and appreciating her environmentalism?
You describe the issue here as being a pretty straightforward matter of convenience (throwing a yogurt cup away), then claim it’s “a long road” to try to improve. But I’m not quite sure I can see the length of the road. If you were to do a cost-benefit analysis of how long it takes to rinse the yogurt cup against how much time and energy it takes you to regularly quarrel with your partner about recycling, would the former end up easier and less tiring than the latter? You’re not being asked to manage your own backyard compost heap, grow your own produce, or take part in a difficult political action. Your partner is just asking that you put recyclable containers in the bin right next to the trash can, and to rinse them out before you do. This seems less like a question of intense environmentalism and more like a question of basic household maintenance.That’s not to say that individual or household recycling is the end-all, be-all of environmentalism—far from it. And I know trying to develop a new habit, even a straightforward one, can be hard to remember at first, and there are far more pressing environmental issues than individual recycling. But putting soda cans in a different bin and rinsing your empty jars isn’t something you can only grasp if you “grew up” in an environmentally conscious household, and even very busy people can do it. If you’re sick of fighting about this and you want to stop wasting your limited free time, I think your best option is to make a good-faith effort at turning recycling into an automatic habit, rather than trying to get your partner off your back. If you’re prepared to do that, it’s fair to ask your partner to modulate her response if you occasionally forget. But I think trying will result in a lot less work for you than not trying.
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