The first thing that pops into my head when I think of “zero waste essentials” is a reusable coffee mug. But I actually don’t own one! Coffee to go is not my thing, because what’s the rush? If I am having coffee I might as well sit down and drink it from a proper mug, and if I don’t have time for that, then I will not give myself a heart attack by drinking coffee while running to catch a train or something. I guess that’s just my preference, but what I’m trying to say is that just because you are avoiding trash, it doesn’t mean you have to drag all sorts of jars and bags with you at all times! Yet some tools I still consider essential and am happy to pack them with me.
My two essential items
The one thing that I always have with me is a water bottle, as I am trying to keep up with 3L of water per day. It has always been my habit to keep a bottle and refill it wherever I am. I can drink at my desk without constantly standing up to get water. When I travel, I refill at public drinking water fountains, toilets, restaurants, cafes, or other people’s places. Even at home, I drink from a bottle, because it means drinking more water and washing fewer glasses. If you live in Berlin, there is a special sticker on all the places that offer a free refill (check the initiative and a map of places here).
My second essential item is a bigger handkerchief. I will use it in case I spill something (happens often), to avoid paper napkins in restaurants, or if I have to grab something on the go, like pastry or apples from Food Sharing (if you live in Germany/Austria/Switzerland check out this anti food waste initiative here). If necessary, a scarf also works in that case. If I have a cold I will pack my collection of small handkerchiefs that I have grown to love more than the disposable ones. I usually don’t buy groceries on my way home because I like to be a little more organized about that. But if I know I have to buy something, I will probably take a cotton bag with me.
As my everyday bag is small I usually only grab a water bottle (this one is 0.5L glass bottle) and a bigger handkerchief that I put in a pouch to keep clean.
On packing lunch
I don’t pack lunch every day because I can have a cheap meal at University’s cafeteria, that includes real plates and cutlery (I just don’t take the paper napkin). But if I don’t have a lunch date with my colleagues that day, if I am coming in late or not staying long, then I will pack a snack. I like to take something simple that doesn’t make a mess or requires utensils, like fruit, nuts or a sandwich. I have a couple of stainless steel containers that I like to use because they are lighter than glass. In the rare case pictured below, I am carrying a smoothie in a glass jar. Often I will put my jars and containers in a small cotton bag, and stick a banana in it too.
This is my work bag that is big enough to carry a snack. As usual, I pack my water bottle (a durable plastic bottle that holds 1L) and a handkerchief in a pouch. I use the stainless steel container for my snack and the glass jar with a lid for my drink. I put them both in a small cotton bag for extra protection.
What I love about zero waste essentials is that you can spot the person in a crowd! At the TED talk I attended, I saw a girl using her own handkerchiefs for the snacks offered there. I immediately knew who to strike a conversation with. 🙂