Whether you’re running some errands down the street or going out for a bite to eat, it’s easy to forget our zero waste habits when we’re on the go, in the moment. It’s not entirely our fault. We’ve been a bit brainwashed by very talented marketers and advertisements that lure us into buying things we don’t really need. Like that mini-bottle of cherry blossom hand sanitizer they conveniently place at the check-out counter at Walgreens. Or a snack pack of chocolate chip cookies that cost twice as much they would in a regular box.
Sticking to a list is the best way to avoid these unnecessary temptations. Avoiding the internet after Thanksgiving might also be helpful. Cyber Monday deals are often scams – the ratings are fake, the original price gets spiked so the deal looks better, and besides, do you really need an endoscopic camera for $49.99? What are you planning to do with it anyway? Weirdo.
Just as important as knowing what you need, is being prepared. Most of us already do a mental checklist before leaving the house: keys, credit cards, and cell phone. The holy trinity. But it’s time we upgrade that. Because those who are prepared waste less.
So what should you bring on a typical day out? Or maybe when you’re grabbing a bite with a friend or S.O?
First and foremost, always carry a reusable bottle. Something that can seal tightly without risk of leaking in your bag. You can use this for water or any other pour-able beverage you encounter. And as free water bottle refill stations pop up in cities around the world, there’s no reason not to partake. Why spend 1000x more on microplastic-infused bottle water? For the convenience? How many times have you grabbed a bottle of water, drunk half of it, and then tossed it?
If it happens a lot, there might be a reason. You’re not a bad person. I know that. You wouldn’t be interested in reducing your waste if you didn’t care on some level. I think the reason is that you might not yet appreciate the scarcity of freshwater on this planet. And perhaps you’re not aware of how much people suffer because of this. I had to see it with my own eyes to really have it sink in. Now I’ll even catch the shower water in a bucket as it heats up so I can use it to fill my dog’s water bowls or water my herb garden.
Reusable water bottles are everywhere. Hopefully, you already have one, or can obtain one pretty easily at your local thrift store or even grocery store. If you have to buy a new one, consider one that is plastic-free. Even though this wouldn’t be considered single-use plastic, I question the safety of all plastics. Just because it’s BPA-free does not mean it’s safe.
Here is an example of a plastic-free water bottle:
Of course you don’t have to a water bottle. You could just carry a cup or mug, but you wouldn’t have the ability to transport it as easily without a leak-proof top. Any mug will do, but you might want to find one that isn’t ceramic. I imagine that would chip quite easily in a bag. Instead, consider something a bit stronger like metal. I have been using this glass KeepCup for about two years. It’s not totally leak proof, but it works in a cup holder. Ivo loves the KeepCup more than I do. I think it might be a situation of fashion over function, but that’s just my opinion:
Again, any sturdy, non-easily-breakable mug would work fine. I recommend carrying your own mug, even in place of water bottle, because you can use it in almost any coffee shop nowadays. Most cafes are happy to fill your clean mug, and usually give you a bit of a discount!
Reusable takeaway containers are a must in my zero waste life. I can never finish a full dinner at a restaurant, and always had to take it home for later. Lately, many restaurants have opted to use paper/compostable boxes, but some are still using plastic, and worse, some are still using Styrofoam. Gross.
Even if they are using compostable boxes, why waste the material when you can bring your own? Any seal-able food box will do. You could definitely reuse sturdy plastic cartons you may have received in the past for takeaway items. But I get it, you might not trust the safety of the plastic, especially with continued use, and it might feel a little awkward using something that doesn’t look “classy.” For example, I might feel a bit awkward filling a Ziploc bag with leftovers at a restaurant, and not just because I dislike single-use plastic. But I don’t feel awkward filling my metal bento box or glass containers. They’re nice looking. And they’re extremely functional. Fashion meets function.
You don’t have to step outside your comfort zone. I’ve never had anyone say anything but nice things about my containers. Here are sets I use, depending on the situation. If I’m going to be walking a lot, or traveling long distances, I use the metal bento boxes because they’re more durable, light weight, and won’t break if my bag falls.
If I’m just going out to dinner, I might bring the glass ones. They store just as much food, and even though they’re a bit heavier, they look adorable.
So what do you store all these lovely supplies in? Well, I just use my large purse. I could also use a backpack. There’s no need to go out and buy a big old bag, just use what you have, or check out a thrift store, they’re full of lovely big bags and lightly-used backpacks.
But let’s not forget shopping bags. I always leave some in the trunk of my car if I’m driving. Otherwise, I leave one or two rolled up in that big purse I just mentioned. It might also be a good idea to carry some produce bags inside those bags, in case you want to stop off at a grocery store and grab some fruit to snack on, or maybe some chocolate covered pretzels or almonds from the bulk bins. Now you can snack without waste!
Some people still don’t know where to buy reusable grocery bags. They’re everywhere! But don’t be lured into buying cheap reusable bags that are usually flimsy and made out of plastic. They’ll break in no time, and then end up in landfill. Purpose defeated.
You can also make your own bags out of pillow cases or other reused materials! But if you’re not feeling very crafty or simply don’t have those spare materials, I recommend these 100% reusable cotton totes:
Other recommended items:
If you’re the kind of person that gets a lot of takeaway or fast food, consider carrying your own utensil set. Even the “compostable” utensils are not easily composted, and the planet would be better off if you didn’t use them at all. Reuse, reuse, reuse. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy a bamboo utensil set, even though they’re very pretty. They’re not super functional. I speak from experience. It’s another case of fashion over function.
Instead, camping utensils work best. They’re smaller, light weight, and do what they intend to do.
I like this set because it comes with the whole she-bangy-bang. Fork, spoon, knife, plus a straight straw, bendy straw, straw cleaner and chopsticks. Oh, and a case to stuff it all into.
For the record, this was the bamboo set I was talking about. But again, I found them to be difficult to use, the knife was useless, and they weren’t easy to clean. I kept wondering if bacteria was adhering to the damp wood. I do not recommend them, although they are very popular on zero waste sites:
If you’re the takeout/fast food eater mentioned above, I also recommend carrying a cloth napkin/handkerchief with you. Same principle: why waste materials unnecessarily? Americans go through a lot of paper napkins when they eat, but are more reserved when using cloth napkins. That’s a fact I just made up.
But seriously, even just carrying a little dish cloth with you will save a lot of paper. Sure, paper often comes from sustainable forests, but remember, it takes a lot of water to produce and recycle paper, so let’s try to avoid that if possible.
Don’t be tempted by freebie pens, or accidentally walk off with one that doesn’t belong to you. This might seem obvious, but having a pen has been a life saver in many situations.
Are you a snacker? A mid day muncher? A granola grazer? Me too. I snack all day. I get full easily, but then am hungry again 15 minutes later. Snacking works for me. But when I’m out and unprepared, I might be tempted to buy something in a package because of the convenience. That’s a dangerous place to be. So if you foresee yourself getting a bit peckish, plan for it! Bring some cookies or almonds or an apple. Bring all three! Fill your water bottle up at home with whatever you want, maybe some delicious hibiscus tea, and have a nice, cost effective, waste-free snack whenever you’re hungry. You can always refill it with water later. Who cares if there’s a little hibiscus tea residue remaining from your beverage that morning. Consider it an infused water now. Hah.
And on that note, why are we chopping up fruit an vegetables to put in our water bottle just to throw away later? It looks nice, it adds a very subtle flavor to otherwise bland water, but at what cost? I’ve never seen anyone eat the mushy remains after they drink all the liquid. Ever. That’s just so wasteful to me.
Stock Photo: Pixabay.
You had me at glass mason jar. You lost me everywhere else.
I hope you found this list to be helpful in your zero waste journey. And remember, try to reuse what you have, then look for something second hand before buying anything new.