Reduce your waste when you’re on-the-go with these eco-friendly alternatives to create a zero waste kit.
My coworker cocked her head at an angle and furrowed her brow, curiosity filling her face as I scooped up a spoonful of Israeli couscous salad with a bamboo fork.
“I’m trying to get into the habit of bringing my own cutlery instead of using disposable ones, ” I responded with a smile to her unspoken question.
Each year, Americans throw out about 230 million tons of garbage. Of course, making all of those things that get thrown away uses a lot of energy. While it’s possible that some of what’s produced is made from renewable energy, in 2017 only about 11% of the energy consumed in the U.S. was from renewable sources.
That means the vast majority of all stuff filling landfills is also creating a lot of additional waste in making it.
While those stats are staggering and it can feel futile to feel like anything you’re going to do can make a difference, there are lots of little things you can do to combat the waste. One great habit is to create an eco-friendly on-the-go kit.
Carry these items with you in your giant purse or diaper bag to help reduce the amount of waste we’re sending to landfills.
What you need to make your own zero-waste kit
Many municipalities no longer offer the option of plastic bags and they may charge you for one. There are lots of options for cute reusable shopping bags that you tuck into a little attached sack and pop into your purse or diaper bag. As a bonus, they’re stronger than most disposable shopping bags and tend to have longer straps that make them easier to carry.
Set of cutlery
Ditch the plastic forks, spoon and knives when you’re eating on-the-go and pack a set of reusable cutlery. Either use what you have at home (and don’t mind if it gets lost), buy some extra random cutlery at a local thrift store, or purchase an eco-friendly set.
I’m a huge fan of my bamboo cutlery set that comes in a cute pouch (and is a great conversation starter!). It even includes chopsticks, which can be especially handy if you let your germ-laden toddler use your fork and you want something else to eat your food with. You can also stick a reusable straw with the set.
(There’s also a kid-friendly version that I pack with my daughter’s lunch.)
In addition to its obvious purpose, you can use a cloth napkin to wrap your cutlery in if you don’t have a case. For the ultimate eco-friendly version, simply cut up fabric from old t-shirts or sheets or find some used ones at a local thrift store. When you’re done eating, use it to wrap up your dirty cutlery so you don’t get the rest of your bag dirty.
Alternatively, you can also use a cloth napkin to dry your hands in a public restroom that doesn’t have hand dryers.
Yes, a good old-fashioned hankie with embroidered flowers has become a staple in my to-go kit. I got it years ago as a present — at the time it felt really old-fashioned (and truthfully, kinda gross) and I wondered when I would ever use it. Fast forward a couple of decades (and two kids later) and here I am! (It’s amazing what you find less disgusting after you have children, especially when you cloth diaper.)
You can buy a set of simple cotton hankies, scout thrift stores for some pretty ones, or simply cut a piece of fabric from an old shirt (notice a pattern here?). Use them for wiping snotty noses or blowing your own, wet them for creating an instant wipe for sticky hands, or tuck them in your pocket for some decorative flair.
According to an EPA report, almost half of the garbage in landfills from the U.S. is from food and food packaging/containers.
One solution? Carry reusable food containers to bring home leftovers whenever you go out to eat. Nesting steel containers are great for this purpose because they’re lightweight and durable and you can bring a bunch without them taking up a ton of space (as a bonus, they make an excellent toy to keep your toddler entertained, as long as you don’t mind the clanging).
My personal favorites for me are U-Konserve nesting trio and the Seal Cup™ Trio for my daughters because it’s easier for small hands to take the lids to get the lids off (although, in my experience, the lids are more likely to accidentally fall off and then risk having chickpeas falling out in your diaper bag and sprouting, but that’s a story for another day…)
If you want something a little less bulky, Stasher silicone storage bags are a really nice substitute for ziplock bags. (Plus they’re a woman-owned, Certified B company!)
A million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, and the vast majority of them are thrown away and ending up in landfills and the ocean. Fortunately, here in the U.S. most of us have easy access to clean drinking water which we can easily fill up with a reusable water bottle.
My personal favorite is Kleen Kanteen insulated water bottle, which keeps water cold for hours. And I find that if I have a water bottle on me I’m much better to actually drink enough water throughout the day because a) it’s easily accessible and b) I can track how much I’ve had to drink based on how many times I fill it up.
Finally, you’ll save a LOT of money in the long run — if you buy a bottle of water each day, a reusable water bottle will pay itself off in just a couple weeks.
With their plastic linings to help keep their shape, many hot beverage cups are not only not recyclable but can be harmful to your health. Plus, it can impact the taste of your morning joe.
If you often grab a coffee to go, keep a reusable coffee tumbler in your bag. I like my Klean Kanteen tumbler, which is dishwasher safe, durable, and keeps my forgotten coffee hot for a few hours. (The only downside is if it’s bumping around in a stroller the coffee can spill out, so don’t put it full of super hot coffee next to a baby’s head!)
As an added bonus, some coffee shops will give you a small discount if you use your tumbler!
While creating a zero waste kit may seem like a lot of extra stuff to remember, it’s all about developing a habit. Plus, using these items are great conservation starters for encouraging others to start carrying their own zero waste kit!