On Planning Ahead

A Boy Scout's motto is "Be Prepared," and I think it's a darn good one for the rest of us, too. Planning ahead has been a critical daily part of trying to reduce the amount of trash I make. Stores are largely structured around disposable goods that make purchasing as convenient as possible. Plastic or paper shopping bags mean we can shop anytime, anywhere, without bringing a reusable bag of our own. Paper coffee cups allow us to decide to get a takeout coffee on a whim. Prepackaged food items (such as quinoa in a plastic bag) mean that we can duck into the grocery store at any time and walk out with what we need.

While these purchases are amazingly convenient, they aren't sustainable; they all create landfill waste, or at minimum recycling. The best way to get around making that trash is through a little advance planning. Bringing your own bag, your own coffee thermos, or your own jar for bulk foods allows you to still get what you need or want, without using a single-use item.

Trying to plan for every possible situation is, well, impossible. There are times where I've needed to use a plastic fork because I didn't know that I'd have to bring my own, or when I've had to forgo a cup of tea because I didn't bring my thermos, or when I've delayed a trip to the grocery because I left my bag at home. Figuring out what I'll need in any situation to avoid trash can be challenging, because each day brings unexpected activities and errands (and thank goodness it does!).

Maybe all of that planning sounds a little rigid, a little inflexible. As far as character traits go, spontaneity is heralded as fun and outgoing; in contrast, a penchant for being prepared can seem slightly stuffy, maybe boringly sensible. Instead, I like to approach it as an interesting challenge, a game. How can I bring what I might need for the outing, day, or trip without bringing too many things that I won't end up using? What is the fewest number of items I can bring without needing to resort to using disposable goods, and how can I creatively approach situations with a view toward making less trash?

So, over the next few months I thought I'd start a new series to share how I approach planning ahead - for an errand, a day at work, a meal out, a weekend getaway, or a longer vacation. My hope is that we can all swap tips and learn from each other. Are there any particular situations that seem to trip you up that you'd like to hear more about?