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Eco Etiquette: How To Stop The Green Bickering

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Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

When I read in The New York Times this past weekend that therapists are seeing an increase in environmental-related disputes among couples and family members, I couldn't help but chuckle. Now, I don't mean to seem cold-hearted (I realize that people, myself included, can get worked up about their pet green issues, and that this can translate into tension when you try to force loved ones to adopt those very views), but a shrink session over a few yogurt cups tossed in the trash? Irreconcilable differences over recycling? Really?

Let's put things in perspective: The national unemployment rate is at 10 percent and nearly a quarter of all US homeowners are upside down on their mortgages. People are struggling to find their next meal, and you're going to break up your family because you've decided to go vegan and now can't make peace with your wife's cheeseburger habit? Come on, people, we're better than this: With a little creativity, compromise, and humility (because, as I like to repeat in this column, none of us is perfect when it comes to the environment), you can find solutions to the most hair-pulling of green disputes -- without shelling out the green for professional help.

Below, some oft-heard sticking points from frustrated HuffPost Green readers, and my suggestions for how to (peacefully) reach common green ground.

I'd like to eat less meat or even go vegetarian, but my spouse insists on meat for dinner every night.

This is not like the case of, say, political pundits Mary Matalin and James Carville, who live together in ideological opposition but at least knew what they signed up for. In the instance above, one member of the couple has changed his or her thinking altogether and may have decided to eat tofu three nights a week, while the other is perfectly happy in beef land. And while it's true that for some newfound vegetarians, the issue is philosophical ("Can I live with a person who doesn't see what's wrong with eating animals?"), I've found that for most couples in this situation, it's having to prepare two separate meals, or no longer being able to enjoy dinner together, that causes the friction.

That's an easy fix, thanks to a suggestion from a friend of mine who eats veg way more often than her husband. To avoid cooking two meals, she makes dinners where the meat can easily be added, like a vegetarian pasta dish with a few meatballs on the side for him, or a grilled vegetable medley where he'll throw on a steak and she'll add a meaty portobello. No muss, no fuss, and either partner can easily cook this way for the other.

No matter how many times I tell my mom when she comes to visit that sauce jars/soda cans/contact lens solution bottles are recyclable, I still find them in the trash.

While The New York Times article cites one husband who seems to be taunting his eco-conscious wife, I don't believe most recycling resisters fall into that malicious category; in my experience, they're either forgetful or just plain lazy. And while you can't force your mom to recycle in her own home, you can make it easy for her to do so in yours. (Disclosure: I collected empty plastic bottles and cans from my mom's apartment for two years before her building instituted recycling; this isn't recommended unless your mom really loves you for the eco-nut you are.) Here's my suggestion: Buy a big, shiny recycling container -- the shmancier and more attention-grabbing the better -- and place it right next to the garbage can. Next, slap a big ol' RECYCLE label on it. Finally, type up the list below, title it "How Long I Last in a Landfill If You Don't Recycle Me," and tape it above the recycling bin:

Glass bottle - 1 million years
Styrofoam container - 1 million years
Plastic bag - 500+ years
Plastic bottle - 500+ years
Aluminum can - 80 to 200 years

Drastic? Maybe. But it beats the heck out of nagging your own mother.

My kids won't stop taking l-o-n-g showers.

You may want your children to fully grasp the environmental consequences of their water-wasting ways, but sometimes, in the name of instilling good green habits, you have to skip the lecturing and go straight for strategic bribery. So after you install a water-saving shower head, add a shower timer to their bathroom, give them each their own "water savings jar," and donate a quarter to each jar for every minute their showers come in under the agreed-upon shower length. After all, they're not only conserving water and the fossil fuels used to heat that water -- they're also saving money for your family. (To ensure no cheating at first, you may have to stand outside the bathroom door for a week or so.) If all else fails, try the harsh yet effective Shower Manager. It automatically cuts water flow once the time limit you set expires.

I'll leave you with this thought: Green is worth fighting for, but that doesn't mean you have to actually start a fight. If you manage to alienate even your most beloved in the blind pursuit of eco-correctness, then how much success will you have convincing others to change?

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