On Making Zero Waste Requests

Bagels in a cloth bag

That right there is a cloth bag full of a weekend's worth of bagels for a road trip I took with a few friends this past weekend. Three years ago, I used to live right around the corner from the place where I purchased these, and almost every weekend you could find me there with a friend or a few, in line for some of the best bagels in Chicago. (NYC folks, don't smirk).

Back then, I'd get my bagel wrapped up in the standard brown paper bag they used for all customers. I'd save the bag to reuse again later (for what exactly, I can't quite remember). I was working toward zero waste, but I didn't think to ask for my bagel in my own container. Or maybe the thought crossed my mind, but asking felt impossible.

I now live farther away from said bagelry, and it's probably for the best that bagels are no longer quite so central to my weekend habits. But when I ventured there on Friday, I proffered my cloth bag to the cashier with a smile and asked if she could use it instead. If I'd known how easily she'd say yes, and how truly it was a non-issue for them, I might have done it sooner.

Sometimes, in the early days of zero waste, I couldn't quite figure out what to say to clerks and salespeople, how to phrase my request so that it would be honored without too many sidelong glances. Over the years, I've gotten more comfortable and have developed some standard phrases that I use, so that making these requests has become so much easier to do.

On the off chance that you find yourself in the same boat, here are a few ways to broach the subject - some I use myself, and some phrases I've gathered from friends who do it particularly well:

-On asking for your bagels or pastries in a cloth bag: "Would you be able to put those in this bag instead? Thanks so much!"

-On asking for your coffee in a reusable mug: "I'll have a coffee, please, and would you mind putting it in my thermos? It's 16 ounces."

-On calling a venue to check if they're flexible enough to host a zero waste event with composting and non-disposable dishes: "Hi! I'm calling today with a few questions that may seem slightly odd, but I hope that maybe you can help me answer them."

-On checking if a company offers recycling for the packaging from their products, when you're not sure that your home recycling bin would accept it: "If I left this packaging here, would your company be able to recycle it?"

So, in case you need a little encouragement to ask a zero waste question of a store or restaurant near you: I hope this helps a little bit! Not every interaction will go so smoothly, but mine usually do - a friendly tone of voice and a smile and a simple request delivered with the confidence that it will be honored, like the ones above, go so far.

If you have other tricky situations or standard lines for approaching them, please leave a comment and we'll tackle it together!