In my first week of trying to fit my trash into a little jar for our #EverydayActivismChallenge at work, I quickly realized that the number one strategy for minimizing waste is preparedness. While I am a planner, I’m also a busy full-time employee and graduate student and often let my personal life take third or fourth place in my list of priorities (snaps if you feel me). Even getting ready to commit to this challenge took almost a year of slow preparation – researching zero waste and following all the Instagram-famous bloggers, buying sustainable replacements for old things or new things to make less sustainable options obsolete, and reflecting on my habits to see what would need to change in order to make less trash in my daily life. The key has been to know what to staples to carry with me to avoid situations that would require me to throw things out – so here they are:
In my bag, clockwise from left to right:
- “Comfort Sloth” was a gift through a donation to the WWF – I don’t really carry him around, but he lives on my desk at work bringing joy and cuteness in politically dark times.
- Bamboo comb and a plastic-free lint brush to keep me from looking like a constant mess. I have two cats and wear black pants pretty much exclusively, which means a lint brush is an absolute necessity for me, and I love this one because it will last much longer than the plastic-and-sticky-paper rolls while creating less trash and being better for the environment.
- Bamboo utensils by To Go Ware, a stainless steel straw, and an “un” paper towel.
- Hand sanitizer – not zero waste, but slightly more environmentally friendly than most sanitizers and necessary for me in New York City. Plus, it smells amazing!
- Lip balm from LUSH in a reusable tin.
- My iPhone with its Pela Case made of “flaxstic,” which will eventually break down in a composting facility, unlike plastic cases that will never biodegrade. They also ship their products in 100% recyclable packaging.
- Keepcup for coffee and smoothie stops! I’ve gotten more compliments (and weird looks) on this than almost anything else I carry.
- My mason jar is currently filled with my trash for the sake of the challenge, but it’s also good for carrying home food scraps, on-the-go coffee or bulk food runs, water, and basically everything you might need a container for.
- A Klean Kanteen for water. I also have an insulated one with a “cafe cap” for when I bring my own coffee to work in the winter.
- Cotton bags from The Fillery & Simple Ecology. I use these to carry snacks with me and for buying groceries in bulk. The tare weight is right on the outside of the bags, which is also really helpful for quick stops!
Truthfully, I carry much more than this most days and use a backpack from Timbuk2 (who has a lifetime warranty and recycles their bags) that allows me to further enable myself as a chronic over-packer. But these ten items, along with a tiffin or other container to bring lunches to work, have helped me avoid my biggest trash vices: to-go coffee cups, napkins, plastic utensils and straws, throwing compostable food waste in the trash out of convenience, and plastic bags and food packaging at the grocery store. Once you figure out what your own trash challenges are, it’s much easier to decide how to prepare yourself to avoid them – and once you’re prepared, it only becomes easier and more convenient to do so.