A lot of answers to the question of how to reduce waste in your day-to-day life come down to finding a non-disposable alternative to a commonly disposed-of item. When I’m at home, that’s mostly manageable. Rags and cloth napkins replace paper options; glass and stainless steel containers keep leftovers and veggies fresh and easily replace disposable alternatives; we used cloth diapers instead of disposable and a broom and a dust pan instead of a Swiffer, and the list goes on. After just a few habit shifts there’s a whole pile of potential trash that disappears without producing very much in the way of extra work.
It’s when I’m out and about that things get a little trickier. There tends to be a fair bit of lugging to be done in the quest for less waste: there are cloth bags, and reusable water bottles, and empty containers for filling with hummus or pickles or whatever else is on the grocery list. As someone who’s on foot around the city most days (not to mention as someone who lives on the top floor of a walk-up building), sometimes all of the toting can get exhausting. Refilling my peanut butter jar is easy in theory, but it means needing to lug my empty glass jar down the stairs, over to the store, and back home again. Repeat that for laundry detergent, maple syrup, tofu, takeout, etc. and add a toddler onto my hip and let’s just say there’s not much need for a dedicated weight-lifting regimen around here. I’m not complaining, really, just acknowledging that sometimes simple things get complicated (and heavy).
Still, there are little things that I can carry with me that take up almost no room but that also reduce small amounts of daily trash when I’m on the move. I’ve written about my daily habit of stashing of a water bottle and a reusable grocery tote in my work bag, but I’ve just committed to adding two other things to the list: a cloth napkin and a stainless steel straw.
Yes. I am now the woman sitting in the café sipping her lemonade with a stainless steel straw and dabbing at the corner of her mouth with a cloth napkin. Weirdos unite! One could argue I could simply abstain, of course, but napkins and straws are things that I tend to use when offered to me (who doesn’t like slurping listlessly through a straw?), and so I decided to bring my own instead. Like anything else, once I started to pay attention, it was surprising to see how much I was throwing away without thinking about it. On a given morning at work in café there might be the napkin under my coffee cup, another one used to sop up the splash of cold brew I landed on the counter, another under my muffin, a fourth in my lap. Five icy drinks in a week and I’d thrown away at least five plastic straws. Small potatoes, maybe, but it sure feels good not to throw away of them away.
A few details:
BYO Napkin. Any cloth napkin will do and thrift stores and grandmothers’ linen closets tend to have them in bulk. I’ve been using this one lately. I like that it’s small (just 7″ x 7″) and fits discreetly into my work bag. Keeping it around means that I can halt the impulse to grab a stack of paper napkins to keep my glass iced coffee cup from condensing all over the table next to my computer. Also, cute.
BYO Straw. Yes, it’s nerdy to pull out your own metal straw in lieu of scrunching down the paper wrapper on a plastic one, but my nerdiness apparently knows no bounds. I’m fairly new to stainless steel straws—we had two glass straws for years—but I love that I don’t have to worry about breaking a glass one (and Faye is v. into them, too). You can find them locally in lots of cooking stores or food co-op-type places, or online right here. (Update: We got a set of smaller cocktail straws for the kids to use at home more easily!)
What about you guys? Any zero-waste progress to report?