Refusing and reducing use of disposable plastic is all about being adequately prepared. This means replacing disposable items with longer lasting alternatives. There are endless resources out there on which material is most environmentally friendly when it comes to each of these items (more on this coming). My goal is to have as small a footprint as possible. So this is what I carry in my handbag to make life easier.
- Reusable water bottles.
As you can see, both mine and child’s have lots of plastic in them. I am using a Thermos bottle – steel insides, plastic lid and spout. Child is using a Thermos Funtainer – steel insides, plastic lid, silicon straw. We could discuss the “best” material for a bottle till the cows come home, keeping in mind there are two intersecting agendas here – health and environment. Neither of these bottles would be considered ideal but going by currently available information, they appear to be reasonable choices.
Our “pocha”. Paper napkins seem innocuous, and the concern over paper often fades in comparison to plastic. However, the manufacturing, transportation, use and disposal of paper napkins are resource intensive processes, heavy on greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and chemical pollution. That is not to say a cotton napkin is free of these impacts. Cotton has a massive footprint. ALL napkins have a footprint. However, this is one of the easiest disposable replacements to make because, let’s face it, we all have ‘kerchiefs stashed away somewhere, even if from a bygone era. If not, we are all sure to have used fabrics that can up-cycled into pochas. This one is a square, cotton face cloth from Ikea.
My usual one is a steel container with a plastic locking lid but I will basically use anything I have in my kitchen. This is an integral item for us if we are eating out because we always have leftovers that need to be doggy-bagged and the default option is invariably polystyrene. Polystyrene is one of the worst pollutants around. It is derived from petroleum, has grave health concerns associated with it, involves toxic, organic pollutants in the manufacturing process, and is not routinely recycled from the curbside.
The fancy sets are a recent addition. They are bamboo sets from To-Go Ware and the holder is made out of recycled plastic bottles. I will be honest, they did not come cheap and I decided to invest in them because we have a lot of travelling on the cards this year. Prior to these sets, I carried plastic cutlery that we had used at some point (taken back home, washed and re-used) and small steel ones for the child. Steel got heavy and clanky at one point but, well, make do.
- Steel straws
These may have been purchased in over zealousness before I realised I don’t need straws at all…
- Reusable coffee cup
Ceramic with a silicon lid. It isn’t ideal by any means. Gets too cold too quickly in our winter here, for one. Isn’t spill proof, two. But it is what I had at home so it is what I will be using for a bit. I am slowly working my way towards a reusable, steel cup but there are literally NONE out there that are plastic-free. If you know of any, drop a line, pretty please!
These little things are, by far, the most heavily used items in my bag. Most cafes have the small plastic stirrer thing that (I think?) doubles up as a straw. Some have wooden chips but they can easily be wiped, popped in bag, washed at home and housed in bag again.
These are leftovers collected from a while ago that have been useful while travelling. Probably not making a huge difference here but the sight of handfuls of these sachets being left behind in food trays in food courts and hotels is exhausting. So. Much. Waste.
- Cloth bag
These are also heavily used for incidental supermarket stops. Prior to procuring these, I used to carry a plastic bag acquired elsewhere (re-use) and reusable supermarket grocery bags, in that chronological order. I still carry a plastic bag (memories of projectile vomit and soiled clothes that I haven’t been able to shake off), that’s the small white triagle.
- Tea and strainer
Personal indulgence item! Shh.
I know what you are thinking… This seems like a lot of things. BUT! Other than the bottles (which we have always carried) the rest fit in one snug corner of my handbag (which isn’t huge). They were not collected in one go. It has been a slow process of reading and learning, adding and subtracting. So start wherever you can and before you know it, you will be there.
My biggest lesson has been this – be reasonable. I don’t worry too much about the plastic I’ve got in there because throwing the plastic I have in the landfill and purchasing more stuff does not help the environment. If sustainability is the goal and you do not want to spend, you don’t have to throw out a perfectly working, BPA-free, reusable plastic water bottle in favour of an all steel or glass bottle because, well, that defeats the purpose. But bear in mind that durability of a product (for example, steel versus plastic) has to be factored into its reusability score. Similarly, I am not going to throw out good quality, solidly built Tupperware so I can buy a fancy, stainless steel Bento box for the same function (takeaway food). Sure, I may not store wet foods in it or heat it in the microwave if I can help it, but for this purpose, it suffices.
Lastly, I cannot recall the number of times I have been caught out missing one of these items, having forgotten to replace them in bag after pulling them out for a clean. Part of the learning curve – do not procrastinate, replace items promptly!
What do you carry in your hand-bag to help you reduce your footprint? What am I missing?