Recently, I have tried to be more conscious of the waste I produce. As you might imagine, the most significant impact stemmed from food and all things related. I am typically mindful about my food waste, but I have been guilty of using disposable silverware, cups, take-out containers, and straws when there were no other options available or convenient. Even if some of these may be recycled, much of them will end up in oceans or landfills where they will go on to live forever. So, I learned to start bringing my own.
I’ve found that alternatives to one-time-use silverware not only require a painless transition but can significantly reduce the amount of waste we all produce. It has made me more mindful of the items I use on a daily basis and I feel better knowing I contribute less waste by doing something as simple as using a reusable straw. Below are all kitchen alternatives I pack in a tote bag when I leave the house.
To-Go Ware. Reusable, portable, and sustainable utensils made from bamboo, which makes them compostable too! They’re compact enough to slip in a bag, the side pocket of a backpack, or kept in a car’s glove compartment. Purchase here.
Stainless Steel Canteens. I have one from Klean Kanteen and another from Hydro Flask that I love equally. They tag along with me everywhere; to coffee shops, boba shops, and even restaurants (I always refill with the water I don’t finish from dinner). Both brands run around the same price; $40 for an insulated 21oz bottle. Whichever brand you decide to buy, choose one that is BPA-Free.
Metal Straw. In addition to a reusable water bottle, metal straws are another great alternative to one-time-use plastic straws. I bought a pack from Amazon and had extra to share with my friends. If everyone who orders a coffee a day, 5 days a week, switched to a metal straw, we can save a ton of plastic from entering landfills and oceans. Purchase here.
Reusable Tupperware. I’m still building up the courage to ask for my food in a reusable container at restaurants where food is served on disposable plates (I think most will say “no” due to health rules, and I am not ready for that kind of rejection). Still, a reusable container is perfect to pack lunch for work, leftovers from a restaurant, or food for a picnic. ECOlunchbox and Wild Minimalist have great metal reusable containers while Life Without Plastic has great glass ones with bamboo caps.
Kitchen Cloth. Mine is an old hand towel I found lying in my kitchen drawer –– and now it has a new purpose! You can also cut and sew a napkin from an old shirt, canvas bag, or kitchen cloth.
Reusable Grocery Bags. Am I the only one who gets really happy when I see shop goers at the grocery store with one of these? Yes, some bring their own bags because they don’t want to spend the $0.10 for a paper bag, but it still brings me joy –– that’s one less disposable bag drifting along in the world. Most can be bought from your local grocery store.
Cloth/Mesh Produce Bags. A wonderful way to carry fruits and veggies from the produce aisle to your house, sans plastic baggies. I love my set from EarthJunkyShop, but EcoBags and ChicoBags are great too.
Mason Jars. Super practical and extremely versatile. I’ve used mine to purchase nuts, beans, and rice from the bulk section at Sprouts, store my homemade almond milk, or as a reusable cup for tea, oatmeal, and coffee.
Note: Although all of the above are wonderful alternatives to one-time-use items, I want to acknowledge the importance of giving life to the things we already have lying around at home. Before deciding to purchase a cool new metal Tupperware, consider the plastic ones you have stocked away –– my mom keeps a collection of containers from past deli meat purchases that she pulls out to store leftovers. Cut up an old t-shirt or cotton dish towel to use as a cloth napkin. Old [pickle] glass jars are great for bulk purchases at the supermarket. Simply look at what you have and repurpose those items to give them a longer life cycle.
If this all sounds too scary, remember that a long-term lifestyle change takes time and commitment. The best way I’ve found to move forward is to start small and remember that I don’t need to strive for perfection. Maybe I can’t commit to accumulating only a single-sized mason jar of trash within a year, but I will do what I can, as much as I can, to limit the amount of waste and recyclables I create. I’ve become more conscious of not buying things I don’t need or turning and walking away from my weaknesses, for example, chocolate covered pretzels packaged in plastic bags. I’ve even stopped saying “yes” to free samples from Trader Joe’s or tasting tea samples at coffee shops –– the temptation is hard sometimes! However, if I end up purchasing something once in a while, I won’t stress over it. The balance has made the transition a happy one.
What about you? Have you thought about living with zero waste? If so, what sort of products do you keep with you at all times?