Always Be Prepared

Originally published on Mar. 26, 2018

Someone asked me the other day what the "key" was to going low-impact or zero-waste and sustaining that kind of lifestyle. The best answer I could give was, "Always be prepared."

Borrowing the phrase of the Boy Scouts, "Be prepared," it's a great motto for anyone looking to minimize their environmental impact.

Living a waste conscious life means that there is no being caught off guard. This shouldn't be overwhelming, this should feel exciting because you have the power to change things!

The days of running to grab an iced latte to-go without a reusable cup are over. There's no quick trip to the grocery store after work without my reusable bags, jars, etc.

This hasn't negatively impacted my life, or caused unnecessary frustration. Instead, this preparedness has encouraged thoughtful living, what some would call, "slow living."

I have learned to love a large canvas tote bag as my purse. I asked my mother if she had any straw woven bags in her closet, she had two she was willing to part with. I now use one as my purse.

[caption id="attachment_103" align="alignnone" width="617"] The purse I inherited from my Mother. I love it![/caption]

In my purse, I carry:

  • Utensils: either a set of to-go ware made of bamboo, or a metal fork/knife from my house

  • Napkin: either a black cloth dinner napkin (my friend bought me a set of four so I could stop carrying around dish towels) or a bandana

  • Rolled up canvas bag: if I need to carry something extra, or happen upon a fruit stand

  • Water Bottle: I have a 15 ounce Swell bottle, a 40 ounce Thermoflask and a 17 ounce Swell bottle. One of these goes in my purse.

  • A reusable Straw: either a bamboo straw from Straw free or a metal straw

In my car, I have:

  • 1-2 glass containers (pyrex normally) for leftovers or spontaneous grocery trips

  • 1 hot cup (my glass Joco) if I go to a coffee shop

  • 1 cold cup (my byta) if i go to a coffee shop / smoothie shop

  • A reusable grocery bag

  • A car kit in my trunk

My car kit is packed inside a box with a clamped lid. It remains in my trunk and it includes:

  • 1 reusable bag (an old large Urban Outfitters bag)

  • 1 reusable container (old tupperware)

  • 2 mason (glass) jars w/ lids and tare weights

  • 1 small drawstring canvas bag

  • an old 32oz Camelbak water bottle

  • a fork and a knife

  • an old towel

  • pieces of charcoal for water filtration

If I use my utensils in my purse, I wash them and replace them with a different set. If I use my straw, I wash it and replace it. If I wash my napkin, I replace it as soon as I drop it in the washing machine.

The car kit exists for the day that I leave things at home, or wash stuff but forget to replace it. It's for the day that I need to go to the grocery store but I forgot to replace the reusable bag that sits on my passenger seat, or if I heard about a pop-up farmers market but didn't plan for it.

The reason the items in my car kit are "old" is because the hope is that I rarely use them! Hopefully, I'm thoughtful enough that I don't break into it often, and therefore I wouldn't keep my favorite coffee cup in it. The old towel is for practical unexpected things: like getting caught in a rain storm, or spilling a smoothie in my car. The knife is handy in case of emergency, as is the water bottle and charcoal filter. That's more of an emergency kit item, if my car breaks down in rural US on a road trip and I have to filter rain water.

I also, typically, travel with snacks. I have attended DIY shows late at night with mason jars of chocolate covered raisins in my back pack. One time, at such an event, someone called me a "mom," because I was sharing my snacks and I threatened to fight her. I might not be a mom but you can call me, "snack lady."

I have learned that bringing my own snacks, like plantain chips, cashews, or trail mix keeps me from being tempted to buy a snack out where my package-free options are slim, from buying unnecessary items at grocery stores, or from eating lunch out when I have food at home. I try to keep those snacks in my purse. If I have to, I feel comfortable leaving a glass jar of cashews or something comparative in my car for a day but I live in a hot place, so I have to factor that in.

This may seem overwhelming, but it really isn't. If you're beginning a journey towards a more waste conscious lifestyle, start simple.

Here are 10 easy beginner steps:

  1. Bring a water bottle with you so you don't buy plastic bottles of water.

  2. Put a coffee mug in your car or purse (if you don't have a reusable hot cup) so you don't take a wax-lined paper cup at a coffee shop which typically can't be recycled. If you don't have the expendable income to buy one right now, ask for a reusable hot cup for your next birthday or christmas present!

  3. Use reusable bags instead of plastic bags, or even paper bags, at grocery stores. If you have old Urban Outfitters bags or canvas bags, or even a backpack, that works great! If you want to shell out a few dollars for a reusable bag at Trader Joes, that works too. Though, the most environmentally sustainable reusable bag options are going to be cloth/canvas.

  4. Eat real food instead of food wrapped in plastic! Buy the veggies in their whole, unwrapped form instead of the pre-cut plastic covered option.

  5. Shop more often for less at a time, this will reduce food-waste! Hit your grocery store of choice once or twice a week instead of once a month.

  6. Thrift for stuff more often than you buy it new! Search for your jars, clothes, purses, bags, kitchen items at the second-hand store first instead of on Amazon or at Walmart. This promotes a circular economy.

  7. Avoid K-cups and plastic tea bags! Buy or thrift a French Press where you can make coffee and loose tea without plastic or filters.

  8. Cook! Wish the days of microwaveable meals good-bye, grab a buddy and learn to cook together. The internet is vast and large, you can do it!! My mother always said, "if you can read, you can cook," go forth and prosper.

  9. No more paper towels, use real towels instead!

  10. Make a shopping list and stick to it, meal planning is a great way to reduce food waste! But, if meal planning overwhelms you, just make a grocery list and only buy what's on it!

Emily McCollister