I don’t know about you, but I find that it’s much easier to figure out how to reduce waste at home than when I’m out and about.
The iced tea I bought recently was served in a plastic cup with a plastic lid and plastic straw. To add insult to injury, the coffee shop offered a discount to people who brought in their reusable cups. What an unnecessary and expensive waste!
And how many times have I found myself at the grocery store and realized I’ve forgotten to bring containers from home for bulk purchases of, say, rice? I end up having to buy packaged rice or use the plastic baggies for the bulk version.
It shouldn’t be this way, and I was thinking recently about why I’m careful at home but can slip up outside the home. My conclusion: plan ahead!
This post is designed as much to help me figure out how to reduce waste as it is for you. With a little prep before we leave the house, it’s possible to follow a low waste lifestyle when we’re on the go, and we’ll even save some money in the process!
Table of Contents
How to Reduce Waste on the Go: The Basics
A little planning before you leave home will go a long way towards reducing waste when you’re out and about. Before you even step outside, gather these basic items, as more likely than not you’ll need them for your day.
Larger bags are ideal for throwing in the back of the car. I’ve been given or collected a bunch over the years. They’re so old now that I forget how I acquired them. Pop them in the wash every now and then and they’re as good as new.
If you’re in the market for some new large bags, here are my suggestions:
- ChicoBag‘s rePETe Messenger Style bag is made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottles. The entire bag stuffs into a foldable pouch.
- Bee Green. Another foldable-style bag for big shopping trips. Bee Green is a great choice.
- Baggu Duck Bag canvas totes are a stylish everyday tote.
Small and/or Foldable
Stash a few small bags in your purse or bag. Their foldable style is very practical if you don’t have or are not using a car:
- ChicoBag. You can’t go wrong with Chico. Choose from a variety of styles, sizes, and colors. The carabiner clip is a handy addition.
- Baggu. These are so pretty! My favorite is the Cherry Blossom.
- Stoncel Net bags. Although they don’t fold up, net bags are still compactable and stylish additions to your shopping trip.
I’m in the car a lot. The easiest way for me to remember my reusable bottle is to fill it in the morning and either leave it in my bag or put it in the car cup holder. I’m ready to go!
Have an extra on hand – in the car or in your bag – so you always have at least one clean mug/bottle to fill at your favorite coffee shop.
Here are a few types of bottles my family uses and my favorite brands.
- All-purpose glass. The LifeFactory glass water bottle with Active Flip Top Cap is my favorite reusable bottle. It’s dishwasher-safe and the flip cap is convenient for sipping while driving.
- All-purpose stainless steel. The S’well stainless steel bottle comes in all shapes, sizes, and beautiful styles. A great gift idea. The screw-top doesn’t work for me in the car, but I love the pink 12oz bottle a friend gave to me. I often pop it in my bag for meetings.
- Bottle with sip straw. We have a bunch of Camelbak Eddy bottles. I don’t use them as much but my boys prefer the sip function. My one suggestion is to buy an extra pack of bite valves because the valves get grungy!
- Glass tumbler with straw. During the summer, my favorite after-lunch treat is Grady’s cold brew coffee with lots of ice and a fair amount of cream. I’m usually in the car and sip my iced coffee in a reusable cup with a built-in straw. For me, it’s time to get a new cup. I’ve just ordered the Ello glass tumbler with straw, which gets high marks. I’ll let you know what I think!
Reusable Coffee Mugs
- Ceramic. My preferred material for coffee mugs. Ceramic may not retain heat as effectively as stainless steel, but I don’t care. I’ll drink that coffee fast. I love the Ello Mesa travel mug which also fits in cup holders.
- Glass. I’ve used KeepCup’s glass cups over the years and like the shape, feel, and taste of coffee from them. Note that they do leak and lose heat faster than stainless steel versions.
- Stainless steel. I’m not wild about the stainless steel/coffee combo, but the easy sip mechanism in Contigo’s Autoseal mug is perfect for the car. And it’s completely leak-proof.
How to Reduce Waste for Your Shopping Trip
A little planning and prep before you leave the house will help reduce the waste you generate when you’re out.
- Shopping list. Take a look at what you already have at home to avoid duplicating food when you’re out.
- Get Help. The National Resources Defense Council’s handy Guest-imator helps estimate the appropriate amount of food you need for a meal.
- Reusable bags (of course!), large and small. Keep a few in your bag and/or car (that goes for produce bags as well).
- Leave stuff loose. Do you really need to bag everything? The photo I took above of the oranges was for aesthetic purposes, as I leave most items loose in the cart. When I get home I simply wash anything that needs it.
- Examples of what to leave loose: apples, oranges, bananas, potatoes, tomatoes, grapes, root vegetables.
- Cloth produce bags. These I use for smaller, fragile produce items like lettuce, herbs, and string beans. They’re also useful for bulk items (nuts, rice, cereals). There are two kinds I like:
- Containers for bulk purchases. Try to reuse containers (yogurt, sour cream, soups) from food products you’ve already used. For more ideas, see Tip #2 of my Spring Green Cleaning post.
- If it’s packaged, look for recyclable packaging.
How to Reduce Waste when Eating Out
If you’re headed to work or school, consider packing a lunch now and then. Even if you don’t pack a lunch and decide to purchase prepared foods, you can still use reusable straws, utensils, and/or containers.
Two additional benefits of a packed meal: 1) It’s cheaper, and 2) since you control the ingredients, most likely those whole foods will be a healthier alternative to fast- or take-out foods.
- Food Containers. A basic plastic container with a seal-top will do, but here are two options that are stylish and practical:
- Wraps. My favorite: Wrap-n-Mat. It’s cloth on one side. The other is covered with plastic to use as a placemat. Dishwasher safe.
- Baggies. Rezip storage bags. They look and feel like zip-top baggies, but they’re made from BPA- and lead-free materials. They’re perfect for snacks and sandwiches.
- Nothing. If possible, pack food items that have natural packaging: bananas, oranges, apples, etc.
- Bamboo. To-Go Ware’s bamboo utensil set includes a fork, knife, spoon, and chopsticks. The pretty case is made from recycled bottles.
- Metal. Teivio’s stainless steel set includes a fork, knife, small and large spoons, chopsticks, and straws with a cleaning brush. The entire set fits snugly in its own carrying case.
I offer a wide variety of different reusable straws to choose from in my recent post on the topic, but for on-the-go purposes, my recommendations are here:
- THE Portable Reusable Straw. Final Straw reusable straws are perfect for your bag, purse, or pocket. The “original reusable collapsible straw”, they pack into their own tiny travel case. Includes a cleaning brush and cord to attach to a key chain. How convenient!
- Silicone. Hiware straws are wonderfully flexible and come in a variety of sizes and bright colors. They come with two cleaning brushes and a travel pouch. Dishwasher safe.
- Stainless Steel. Yihong Life’s assorted pack of antibacterial metal straws contains 10 metal straws, including long, straight, bent, and short versions. It comes with cleaning brushes and a case. Dishwasher safe.
How to Reduce (Emissions) Waste
Now that the weather is getting warmer, dust off that bike and ride to school, town, or work. No bike? Walk!