Months ago, I went on the world’s first zero-waste adventure tour.
Prepping for the trip hosted by Natural Habitat Adventures (NatHab) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) upped my zero-waste game. There would be 12 of us on a seven-day safari. The aim was to fill just one single mason jar with our collective non-recyclable and non-compostable waste.
One jar for 12 people over seven days. Like, what?
But we also wanted to keep our food waste down.
We’d be hiking and touring in Yellowstone National Park from dawn until dinner, and those of us who’ve been to National Parks know that the food and snacks in park restaurants and gift shops often come in single-use containers alongside plastic silverware.
I’d been dabbling in reducing my waste, slowly.
I’d purchased a natural, refillable deodorant. I’d replaced my plastic, disposable razors with a metal safety razor. I’d purchased stainless and glass straws.
I’d been waiting—for what, I do not know—to fully embrace the lifestyle, despite seeing many a person rocking it on social media.
So, I reflected on my habits before the trip. I knew that I most often saw myself tossing food items and their containers into waste bins. So, I prepped to minimize my waste in that area. No way was I going to be the one stuffing us out of that jar, or filling our compost bucket.
I made myself what I call a to-go tote. I contributed to our compost bin just twice.
And I’ll tell you what: I wasn’t the only one who found my tote to be handy. I had trip leaders approach me at least once to ask me if I had my container with me so that someone could bring their left-overs back to the evening’s lodging.
Today, I often bring an extra of a few of these items for friends if we go out to eat. It’s a fun conversation starter that gets like-hearted folks thinking about how they too can reduce their impact.
Here are the four tools to release our inner zero-waste superhero while on the go:
1. A cloth tote
A simple cloth (preferably natural fiber) bag will do the trick. It can even be smaller than the typical ultra-light, packable shopping bags we might already be using. This will serve as the vessel of all vessels. Your little magic bag of zero-waste tricks.
Eco bonus: Make a bag out of that old t-shirt, repurpose that favorite pair of pants, or that sheet set that your cat clumsily clawed holes into.
2. A utensil pack
I lucked out. On my zero-waste trip with WWF, NatHab provided me with a roll-up silverware envelope filled with wooden versions of everything I needed.
Envelopes like these are easily purchased online or even in outdoor gear stores, but why contribute to resource-intensive new production if…
Eco bonus: We can make one at home, and we can make it artsy.
Visit a few local thrift stores, or ask granny if she has any old mismatched silverware that she isn’t using these days. Pick a fork, knife, and spoon that screams to you, “I’m a modern eco badass,” or, alternatively, “I’m such a classy and refined eco warrior.”
Add in a reusable straw of your choice. I love the aesthetic of glass straws, but I also broke a couple of them in my purse. Besides, I adore the feeling of an ice cold drink climbing up a stainless straw and hitting my lips before it even touches my tongue. Such a unique feeling to be mindful of and present with while sipping.
Splurge here. Maybe.
I bought my set of cloth napkins new, years ago, when I was still purchasing things new as a standard practice.
The print of the cloth napkins I chose back then still gives me so much joy, which helps me to remember to bring one everywhere I go. It’s kind of like a kid with a favorite blanket.
Eco bonus: Okay, okay, fine. You can also repurpose your old, favorite garment that’s getting holes in it here and there. Or, the kids’ super cute cactus print crib sheets that don’t fit their new big-kid bed. Or the old curtains.
You get me. Sewing is a cool thing.
Stack the silverware and straw, wrap it in the cloth napkin, use a piece of scrap fabric to tie at the neck of the spoon and fork and there it is, you refined, eco badass warrior, you!
3. Reusable take-out container
For my trip, I went out and purchased a stainless stacker tin for my left-overs. It’s got two layers and it’s awesome.
But while on my trip, WWF’s director of sustainability research & development, Erin Simon, explained to me that sometimes what can be kinder to the environment is actually just reusing those plastic containers we get from things like deli meats or the higher-quality, reusable stuff we get when we order something liquid for take-out.
The rule of thumb is that reusing plastic 100 times helps get us closer to a more neutral place when it comes to use of resources and our impact on our environment.
The more durable the material, the more resources likely went into manufacturing it. So, the more durable the material, the more uses we need to ensure we get out of the container.
Still, either one’s better than polystyrene (Styrofoam), any other single-use plastic, paper, or even commercially compostable options.
So, choose wisely according to what’s best for your lifestyle and budget.
4. Reusable water bottle or coffee mug
Plastic lines our everyday disposable coffee cups. They end up in landfills where they then take forever (or, basically never) to decompose.
Choose a mug that best suits your lifestyle. There are tons of varieties to choose from.
Based on my own habit of spilling coffee all over the place, and my tendency to take hours to finish a drink, I choose to use canteens that have a stellar lock on the lid, and also keep my drinks hot or cold.
I use a Klean Kanteen mug, which has kept ice solid for literally more than 24 hours.
The two-fisted drinker who enjoys coffee or tea alongside water could add a reusable water bottle to their tote. But I like to keep things simple.
Eco bonus: Instead of washing my mug with soap and water, I’ll just fill my newly empty coffee mug with water and drink it—coffee remnants and all. Dual-purpose! Rinsing and drinking at the same time.
Plop all items into that tote, plop the tote within a larger bag for work or school, and we’ve got ourselves a little magic bag of eco tricks to help us save the world one bite or sip at a time.
Just remember to bring it along and to:
>> Ask servers for no straw with drinks.
>> Ask if food usually served over a counter and in a disposable container can be placed in your vessel instead.
>> Be kind to yourself if you forget here and there. You’re improving and that’s what counts.