You have made the decision to try to lessen your impact. Woo! You have started to use reusable bags at the store and ask for no straws and read about “zero waste” living. But when you are out and about and on-the-go, it can be incredibly hard to live sustainably and create minimal waste. There are thousands of blog posts on how to create less plastic in general (here are a few awesome ones: mindbodygreen, Trash is for Tossers, Green Education Foundation) but very few on how to create less waste while on-the-go, living a normal life.
So here goes my in-depth response to how to be waste free on the go!
Carry a reusable water bottle and create an emotional connection to it
Now, I know this may seem like one you have already done or an easy fix. But it is one that can save so much waste. At parties, kids sporting event concessions stands, or fast food restaurants, most places love the idea of not having to give you a cup! Fill yours up with their machine and save them the overhead.
And buy a water bottle that you love. Personally, I’ve had my Nalgene water bottle for 6 years. I’ve used it every day, sticker coated it with my favorite brands and sayings, traveled with it and have loved it to death. I would honestly be quite upset if I ever lost it. I have an actual emotional connection to it (is that sad?). And this connection has made me never want to lose it, therefore, I always have it with me. This is a great tactic to never forgetting it.
Always have that reusable cutlery with you
Again, a very simple, starter one. But I carry the To Go Ware Children’s Size (to save room) in my purse (Adult Size Here) with an adorable bamboo spork in my wallet just in case I ever just grab my wallet and not my full purse. This will save you at fast food restaurants, while picking up a snack from a grocery store, or spontaneous trips. One of the biggest things we do while out and about is eat…right? Reusable cutlery comes in handy for any unplanned food outings.
That brings me to my next point… dine in! I While our lives are busy and rushed and going from here to there, try to take the second to sit down at the restaurant and not take everything to go.
If you have time for a sit-down restaurant or a fast food chain that washes dishes for you (like Panera or Noodles), try to pick that option instead. But if you are taking it to-go, try asking for no plastic cutlery or extra packaging in the bag. It doesn’t always work but it’s worth a try.
Have your go-to places and orders
Know the best places to go. Like I said above, places that will wash dishes are always a great option for waste-free outings.
If you are looking for healthier or meatless options, my go tos are Panera’s salads, Chipotle’s Bean Burritos, Chik-fil-A’s Superfood Side Salads, McDonald’s Oatmeal, and Taco Bell’s Veggie Tacos with Beans (to just name a few). Chipotle is one of the more sustainably focused fast food chains with lots of organic produce, cage-free eggs, and ethically raised animals- plus they have many ways to make vegan options!
If you have your go-to places and orders, it makes everything so much easier while out and about. If you are traveling, this may be a little trickier. I recommend asking locals, researching the chains, asking the people working and just asking for as little packaging as possible. When I go to a new place, I try to scope out what everyone else has. If it looks package filled I just ask for the fewest plastic packages as possible. If your focus is health, try to ask them for plant-based or vegan options on the menu. A lot of times they have them but they may not be on their main menu.
Bring snacks or meals with you
I try to pack as many healthy, package-free snacks as I can whenever I know I am going to be gone for a long time. This allows me to not have to stop and get fast food. If you want junk food, pack some bulk candy. If you want healthy snacks, pack apples, carrot sticks, hummus and crackers, cashews and almonds, or other fruits and veggies. By bringing food, you can dictate exactly what you eat, how much waste you are making, and when you have food. Use a reusable to-go lunch box, mason jars, glass dishes, etc so you don’t have to use Ziploc Bags. Here is a post about how to avoid Ziploc Bags on-the-go.
Get comfortable asking for no straws or plastic in orders
One of the biggest things I get asked is how do I get over the social awkwardness of asking for things to be special. And my honest answer is, I just really don’t care what the stranger thinks and have never gotten a negative response. It was kind of weird at first, but now, it is so normal. Honestly, I have found that so many people look up to people that are trying to use less plastic that they normally cheer you on when you ask. Plus, the little things I ask for do not make their job any harder. The common things I ask for are:
- “Can I have a water with no straw please”
- “Can I have a chocolate chip cookie but I’ll put it in my own bag”
- “I’ll have a (enter order) to go but with no plastic utensils or straw”
- “I’ll have a green tea but can you put it in this mug please?”
Like I said above, people are normally more than happy to make these exceptions for you. Plus, the more people that do it, the more normal it will become! I have also had people tell me “wow, that is such a good idea. I should do that next time”. You can make a difference with your personal waste and inspire others too! I am not going to lie here, I have gotten some weird looks before but that is the extent of the negative reactions I have gotten.
If you are someone that has social anxiety with asking for some of these things, try to come up with sayings before you go that you feel comfortable with (the examples above are a great starting point). This way you don’t have to think of the wording on the spot, you can feel confident about it, and rock it once you get there. It gets easier with practice.
Bring compostables or recyclables home with you
If you are out and don’t have access to a recycling or compost bin, keep the applicable items with you and put them in the bins when you get home! It is simple and harmless to keep a small pile of paper bags or cardboard throughout the day and put it in the recycling bin. Or put your apple core or scraps in a jar and bring them home at the end of the day. It’s simple and can make a huge difference.
Refuse sample cups, promotional papers, and junk you don’t need
This is an area that we don’t ever really think about but we are handed so much junk in public places and then just throw it away. From food samples in a little plastic container to advertisements and coupons to little knick knacks with logos on it. All of this stuff is always just tossed in the trash immediately when we get home or after use. You may use the coupons, then that’s fine. But try to not except anything that you do not need. It will help you tremendously.
Also, get free coupon apps on your phone. I have used RetailMeNot and Coupon Sherpa in the iTunes App Store. The digital file of all the coupons you get elsewhere are on there and you don’t even have to remember to grab them before you leave the house.
Have a stack of rags in your car
One of the biggest trash items in my car was always napkins and tissues. So I decided to cut up some old fabric and t-shirts I had laying around and I tossed them in my glove box. I can then use these to clean up the food I spill all over me when I’m eating and driving (not condoning this but…), check my oil, blow my runny nose, and so on. I then just keep the dirty rags in the little garbage space in my door and toss them in the wash whenever I think of it. A simple step to make a big difference.
Always have a reusable bag
Just always keep a few tote bags and produce bags in your car. This will make it impossible for spontaneous store trips to accumulate plastic bags. I usually use produce bags or mason jars left in my car to run in and grab a bulk snack (normally chocolate covered pretzels) while out and about. If I just leave stuff in my car, I can never forget it… right?
Don’t be afraid to have a crate of reusables in your car
I saw this idea on Heidi Violet’s (@zerowastechica) on Instagram. She has an actual milk crate in the trunk of her car with
Just always keep a few tote bags, mason jars, produce bags, leftover containers, cutlery, an old coffee mug, and some other awesome stuff. She leaves it in her car just as a back up in case she ever forgets her stuff. It is a great way to always have items with you, keep it all organized, and be the most prepared person EVER.
Know that every little change is making a difference
This process will not be one that is perfect. There will be times you forget bags, get a straw when you asked for none, get a styrofoam cup, and the list goes on. Never beat yourself up over this. For every time that you ask for no straw, use all reusable shopping bags, bring your own coffee mug, pack a lunch, and all of the things I stated above- it all adds up to make a larger difference. Never get caught up on the little things in the process. Know that you are making a difference every day and you rock for it.
Are there any sustainability tips you have found that help you on the go? Comment them below to share them with others. I hope these ideas help you find a few more ways to reduce waste!