Overall, I have saved money by reducing my waste. I buy less stuff, I buy in bulk, I eat all the food I buy rather than wasting any and so on. But some items do cost more—loose apples versus a plastic bag filled with them or milk sold in a returnable glass bottle rather than in a plastic jug.
Fortunately, some aspects of the zero-waste lifestyle don’t have to cost anything at all, such as your zero-waste kit—the “equipment” you’ll need when you head out into the real world, bombarded by well-intentioned people offering you lattes in disposable cups, plastic cutlery for the catered office lunch, bottled water... It’s a minefield out there!
This kit does require some rudimentary sewing skills. For me, one of the many joys of the zero-waste lifestyle comes from learning to do things for myself.
You likely have many of the items below sitting around in your home.
1. Water bottle
You don’t need an expensive metal water bottle. Yes, they look very nice and work very well. But you could reuse a glass bottle from a store-bought drink. “But glass breaks!” you may say. People don’t seem to worry about glass bottles breaking when they buy kombucha, iced tea, sparkling water and many other beverages packaged in glass.
Similar to the water bottle above, you can get by without an expensive insulated stainless steel travel mug. Packing my own ceramic mug or mason jar has prevented so many plastic mishaps over the years. Those paper take-away cups at your favorite café? They're lined with plastic. Some cafés will provide ceramic cups but many others don’t. Simply bring your own.
3. A small food container
When I can’t finish my meal in a restaurant, I put the leftovers in a jar. I have lunch packed and ready to take to the office the next day. By taking a container to restaurants, I avoid a common zero-waste dilemma—to waste the food or waste the disposable container my server really wants to hand me.
Peanut butter works really well for removing some labels from jars. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.
4. Metal cutlery
If you would prefer to take inexpensive utensils on the go, buy some at a thrift shop. Get at least two knives, two forks and two spoons. I see piles of these at my thrift shop and have bought quite a few to use in my cooking workshops. Look for chopsticks too.
5. Cloth napkins
If you don’t have any cloth napkins, sew some. If you have no fabric, go buy an old sheet at a thrift shop. If you have no sewing machine, check your library. Several libraries in my area now have banks of sewing machines available to use on the premises.
6. A bag to put everything in
Most people own reusable shopping bags. If you don’t, you can transform an old t-shirt into one. A few years ago, a fellow blogger, Christina of Little Sprouts Learning, sent me a shopping bag made from an old tank top. Below is a closeup of the inside bottom serged together, with a bit trimmed off the sides and serged to make a flat bottom. Very smart! You’ll need one bag for your kit and several bags for shopping.
Flat bottom of a homemade tank top bag. Photo (above and below) by Anne Marie Bonneau.
7. Cloth produce bags
I use these for buying fruits and vegetables and for larger items at the bulk bins, such as oats, beans and rice. I support plastic bag bans but they don’t address the massive amounts of plastic going into the bags. I make my produce bags the same size and shape as standard issue plastic ones. When they get dirty, I toss them into the washing machine. You don’t really need a pattern for these, but you’ll find mine here.
8. More jars
Jars need not be matchy-matchy—or cost a dime. I scored most of the jars in the pic below from recycling bins or restaurants. I use my glass jars at the bulk bins (and for many other purposes). If your store allows you to bring your own containers, ask customer service to mark the weight on them before you fill them. The cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from the total weight of food-filled jar. This way you pay for the weight of the food only.
Various repurposed jars. Photo by Anne Marie Bonneau.