Originally published on the Seattle Collegian
In 2019, I wrote an article for Scoop Marketplace, a zero-waste grocery store, about how to prepare a to-go kit to help avoid trash in your daily life. Since then, I’ve been working and studying full-time at home and barely go out. Since the school is reopening and people are going back to the office, it makes sense to revisit the topic to refresh.
To avoid single-use items, there are five things I recommend bringing with you in a bag while on the go: reusable utensils, a leak-proof mason jar/silicone bag, shopping bags, a thermal bottle, and a reusable handkerchief/towel.
This may sound very basic, but it takes some discipline to do this effectively.
I have lived a low-waste lifestyle for several years, yet there were many times when I didn’t bother preparing them before going out. What ended up happening was a fix-as-I-go, messy, guilty experience. For example, I carried a muffin with a compostable napkin instead of a single-use plastic bag because I didn’t have my gear — or using a plastic produce bag for fresh, watery vegetables at a grocery store because I forgot to bring a wet bag.
Yes, sometimes, I needed to let go and not think too much. However, when I came back home and thought about it, I realized that these disposables can be avoided so easily if only I had an intention to change my habit just for a little bit. So, I tried that.
Before going out each day, I put these five items in my backpack. The result is rewarding. This simple hack makes a huge difference by saving me from using disposable items throughout the day. Though it might seem obvious, let me emphasize how I use each of them.
#1 Reusable utensils
You may plan to come back to have your prepared food at home, but sometimes, things don’t go as planned. Reusable utensils prevent you from using the single-use plastic ones if you end up eating away from home. The most sustainable practice is using the utensils you already have at home. Keep them in a pouch or a reusable container that is easy to clean when you take the dirty ones back home. I have a set of bamboo utensils from Scoop Marketplace. I like them a lot because they’re compostable, light-weight, and are quiet, even when I use them with my steel container.
#2 Leak-proof mason jar/silicone bag (or both!)
This is gold when you eat out at a restaurant and have leftover food to bring home. You can keep the leftovers in your jar. But if you think the glass jar is bulky, heavy, or loud when bumping with other stuff in your bag, pick a silicone leak-proof bag instead. You can also use any other leak-proof, light-weight container you have too.
I’ve found that an 18-ounce leak-proof wide mouth jar works best for me because it can hold a lot of food or a large bakery item. It’s perfect for any soupy dish too. I can keep it in my backpack without worrying that it will leak. When reheating the food in the microwave, I can eat it straight from the jar; no additional bowl needed, which means less washing. Although I prefer the jar over the silicone bag, it never hurts to slip the bag in my backpack, just in case.
#3 Shopping bag(s)
No matter if you plan to go shopping or not, you’ll always appreciate them when you suddenly need one. I like to bring two shopping bags with me whenever I go out. I particularly love the ones I have because they are very durable (can hold weight up to 20 pounds) and barely take up any space in my bag. I have used them for several years now. If you want to look for a new shopping bag, look for a secondhand one first by asking around from people you know or buying from a thrift store. Plenty of resources were already used to make these bags, so we should take advantage of what’s already available before buying a brand new one.
#4 Thermal reusable bottle
If you invest in a high quality thermal bottle, it could last you a lifetime. A thermal bottle can keep liquid contents cold or hot for long hours because it has a vacuum sealed wall, which prevents temperature change. With some trial and error, I found one that works best for me: a 14-ounce Takeya thermo bottle. This bottle serves all my needs: it’s totally leak-proof, is the perfect size for hot coffee, and it has a simple design which makes it painless to clean. The highlight is the design of the “spout lid” that can form a close seal and is easy to drink from. I use this bottle for drinking water as well.
#5 Reusable handkerchief/towel
When I lived in Thailand (my home country), I always had a handkerchief in my pocket to use throughout the day due to the sweat from the heat and humidity. Although living in a cold place like the Pacific Northwest barely makes me sweat now, it’s still very helpful to keep it handy instead of relying on disposable napkins. Besides, I find it useful in a random moment like sneezing during a commute on a bus.
There you have it, five basic items to bring with you while you’re out and about. It takes only a minute or less to gather them from around your house and put them in your bag. The key is to use what you already have with you. Put together your own kit and be proud of it.
There are so many things happening outside of your home that can generate tons of disposable trash that you can’t control – I call them “traps.” Carrying your own to-go kit is the only part that you can control. Your to-go kit will save you from those traps and give you a chance to spread this awareness to those who see what you do. Have fun and be creative with your to-go kit!