When it comes to reducing your waste, one of the biggest challenge is preparation. Long gone are the days when you can run out the door with nothing but your keys and phone in your pocket. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. Transitioning into a zero waste or low-waste lifestyle requires a bit more foresight: you have to think about where you’re going, what types of trash you’ll most likely make, and how you can avoid making it.
Enter your to-go kit. This is where you pack the essentials in your bag to face the day ahead of you. Having a to-go kit makes life far easier, so you never have to say, oh shit, I really want to take my leftovers home/buy this coffee/buy eight books/go for an impromptu grocery run, but…
Avoid the guilt, and prep your kit!
Here are 5 simple items I keep in my bag when I decide to face the trash-loving world for the day.
- Reusable water bottle
Plastic bottles can release harmful chemicals into the water, you can’t reuse them without running risk of exposing yourself to harmful bacteria, and they’re terrible for the environment. Even though glass and stainless steel water bottles weigh a little more, they’re far safer to use, can be reused indefinitely, and are made from sustainable materials.
- Container or wrap for food storage
Most businesses still use Styrofoam as their go-to for to-go containers. Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic. Not only is petroleum a non-sustainable resource, but researchers predict that it will take over 1 million years for Styrofoam products to biodegrade. 1 MILLION YEARS! Most recycling companies do not accept polystyrene products, which means these items end up in the landfill after being used only once. Needless to say, Styrofoam is one of the worst possible options out there. Carrying a jar, stainless steel tiffin, or cloth wrap is an excellent option to store the food you want to take home with you. I personally love Beeswrap because it’s light weight and easy to pack. It’s great for storing food like baked goods or sandwiches, and you can also use it to cover leftovers in the fridge in place of plastic wrap. There are also soy wrap brands as well for those that do not use beeswax.
- Reusable utensils
I love takeout. Unfortunately, so does everyone. Since only 6% of all plastic waste in the United States is recycled, that leaves us with billions of plastic utensils making their way into the landfill every year. Bringing reusable utensils decreases the demand for cheap, single-use cutlery. Whether you decide to toss some silverware into your bag, or you buy utensils made from sustainable material, this is one of the most important zero waste swaps. I like my bamboo To-Go ware, because it comes in a handy little Velcro pouch complete with a fork, knife, spoon, and chopsticks. I’ve used these for everything from camping, birthday cake celebrations at the office, to last-minute sushi dinners.
- Cloth Bag
I don’t think I need to go on another plastic tangent, but let it suffice to say that plastic bags are also awful. They don’t biodegrade, they leach chemicals into our oceans, and are a major threat to wildlife. Cloth bags are sturdy enough to carry whatever you need, lightweight, and easy to roll up and store in your purse. Opt for bags made out of cotton, hemp, or another biodegradable fabric over the more heavy-duty synesthetic bags they sell in the grocery store aisles.
Cloth napkins are sophisticated AF, guys. So are handkerchiefs, and I can’t wait for it to be a thing again to offer people a handkerchief as a gesture of kindness. Let’s bring that back. Use a handkerchief to blow your nose, dry your hands, or as another way to wrap your food.
Before you start organizing a backpack full of mason jars and stainless steel tiffins in various sizes, I’ll remind you that it is possible to keep it light. Becoming zero waste is not a life sentence of carting glass jars everywhere. I was easily able to fit all of this into my tiny backpack during a Sunday afternoon in Downtown LA. It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated in order to get the job done. Start small, and make adjustments as needed.
Strangers and acquaintances will definitely notice once you start pulling things out of your bag of tricks, and they might think you’re weird. But who cares? It’s a great way to start a conversation, and it will probably encourage others to think about our disposable culture of convenience in a new light. Carry that bamboo spork with pride, and it might encourage others to do the same.