Make the most of your waste

A few months ago, I got lazy and didn’t clean my car for a couple weeks. The amount of single-use items — coffee cups, to-go containers and napkins — piled up shocked me.

Obviously, I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was when it comes to managing my waste.

So I bought myself a few more travel mugs and have only used one disposable coffee cup since.

Carryout containers are harder for me to shake, along with plastic utensils, straws and paper napkins.

Despite my efforts to reuse and find crafts and projects to up-cycle carryout containers, most of mine end up heading to the landfill, where they will stay for more than 500 years.

Of course, I much prefer when restaurants offer biodegradable containers, but the energy used to create those is still a waste. I’m gonna take a wild guess that the material used to make bio containers, often corn, is grown conventionally with lots of chemicals, adding to the pollution of manufacturing and shipping.

It’s better than plastic foam, but it’s still a waste I could easily prevent.

Knowing single-use items also concern my sister, I decided to use her birthday as an opportunity to put an idea into action I was mulling for some time: a zero-waste eating out kit.

The basic item in this package is a stainless steel container for carrying out leftovers, from the Life Without Plastic online store. It has an air-tight, snap-on lid and adjustable dividers for keeping foods from mingling too much.

I added a collapsible stainless steel cup — large enough for a drink of water, but small enough not to make the kit too bulky.

On Etsy I found a set of bamboo fork, knife, spoon, chopsticks, a metal straw and a straw cleaner — all in a cute cloth zippered bag.

From oil cloth (fabric with a waterproof plastic coating) I made pastry wrappers — simple squares sewn on two edges, like the wax paper wrappers you get when buying a pastry at a farmers market or at many cafes.

Finally, I bought cloth napkins on clearance and included the pack of four, figuring two could be left in the car, one with the rest of the kit, and one at home in the wash.

To keep all the pieces of this low-impact eating out set together, I made a small drawstring bag of lightweight fabric. The total weight and size wasn’t overwhelming, and I felt confident it could be thrown into a tote bag or large purse without too much hassle.

Honestly, I loved the result so much that for a minute I considered keeping it for myself. I didn’t; I will make myself a waste free to-go kit, as well. In the interest of thriftiness, I will probably use an assortment of glass jars, old mismatched silverware and napkins, and the result will not be as chic, light-weight or compact.

I read that everyday an estimated 500 million single-use straws are used and discarded in the United States alone. Millions of single-use cups are thrown away with those straws. Add all the plastic and styrofoam carry-out containers, and the amount we waste becomes difficult to even comprehend.

A friend told me not to feel guilty for using single-use items like coffee cups. Everyone does it, she said. But I know I’m responsible for this earth, and being mindful and taking re-usable jar straw or cloth napkin with me when I eat out is a step to tangibly help our worldwide pollution problem.

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