While the focus of zero waste is usually on the home, we of course don't spend all of our time there: equally important are our actions outside of it. While I'll be the first to tout the usefulness of my ever-present thermos, I also think it's important to acknowledge that there are many ways to inch toward zero waste outside of the home without gathering any new gear. Here are a few ideas we've put into practice (and I'd love to hear yours):
-Choose to get your coffee or tea "for here." Thermoses bought new can be expensive, thermoses bought secondhand less so. But still, remembering your thermos - or having the time and money to purchase one in the first place - isn't always doable. Luckily there's an easy way around it: most coffee shops, even Starbucks, do still have ceramic mugs. I find that baristas tend to assume you'd like yours in a paper cup first, but are typically happy to reach down and pull out a ceramic one when asked. As a small bonus, this method also means you'll have to carve out a few moments to sit down and drink your beverage instead of rushing out the door.
-Ask for no napkin or straw. Another simple question, another way to reduce your waste a tiny bit and shift perceptions about whether disposables are, in fact, absolutely necessary. Asked politely and with a smile, this ten-second shift is an easy one. When I remember to ask, I often end up in a conversation with a friendly server or barista who's in on the straw-less life, too.
-Bring a fork and spoon from home. I'll cop to owning a set of reusable bamboo utensils that I try to remember to bring with me, but just as often I find it easier and lighter to wrap a metal fork from my kitchen drawer into a cloth napkin and tuck that roll in my purse. Utensils and a napkin all wrapped into one, nothing new needed.
-Save chopsticks and bring them with you. Wooden chopsticks are lightweight utensils that are easy to keep at the ready, especially if you're loath to risk losing a metal fork from your kitchen. You can buy chopsticks, sure, or just save the disposable pair you're given next time you eat sushi. We bring ours with us (again just rolled up in a cloth napkin) when we're heading out to eat Japanese food, but you could easily leave them in your bag to use in lieu of a plastic fork, no matter the cuisine on offer.
-Take home recycling and compost to dispose of at home. Ball up your paper napkin with an apple core inside, tuck spent tea leaves into a small jar brought from home, repurpose an old plastic snack container into a traveling compost bin. While I'd love to feel like I could rely on the restaurant to recycle and compost for me, in a city like Chicago where recycling is often unreliable and composting often non-existent, I feel more comfortable taking charge of my waste myself.
What are your tips for reducing waste outside your home, without buying anything new?