Zero Waste Weekly Planners for 2019

Zero waste weekly planners for 2019 | Litterless

Freshman year of college was the last time I was without a yearly planner. Lacking a school-issued version like in middle school and high school, for several months I used a system of post-it notes, lists, and a journal to keep track (or fail to keep track) of to-dos and appointments, until a particularly stressful stretch of weeks sent me scurrying to the local stationery store in search of better overall life organization.

Zero waste weekly planners | Litterless

The planner I purchased at first didn’t suit, but a few tries later I found the type of planner I’ve used ever since, a Moleskine. While the paper inside my Moleskine is recyclable, the covers, elastic tie, ribbon bookmark, back folder, and plastic-wrapped packaging are not. The past few times that I’ve purchased each year’s replacement, these details have weighed on me. I thought I could do better, zero-waste-wise, but some habits are hard to think about changing. This year, I finally have.

Zero waste weekly planners and calendars for 2019 | Litterless

When the women behind Wisdom Supply Co offered to send me a copy of the zero waste planner they designed, I jumped at the chance to finally switch to something fully recyclable (or, hey, compostable). Below, notes on that and other options for keeping track this year.

Zero waste weekly planners for 2019 | Litterless

Note that a few of the links below are affiliate links, if you’d like to support Litterless as you shop.

-Wisdom Supply Co: When they couldn’t find a planner that met their specifications, the women behind this zero waste school and office supply store made their own: all-paper, made from recycled content, nothing metal or plastic that can’t be tossed straight in the recycling bin. I love the large size, and the ruled pages for each week that give plenty of space for (most) to-do lists. They also make a beautiful version geared towards students.

-Going paperless, without going paperless: For those looking to avoid paper altogether, a stone-paper planner from Karst is a beauty, and is recyclable or biodegrades within a year; learn more here.

-Wall calendar: If you’re more of a large-format wall-calendar person, this one is made from recycled paper that’s designed to be reusable as list-paper once the month’s through. Or, better yet, go with one single sheet for the year, like this beautiful version by Egg Press. (Perhaps to be reused as wrapping paper come December?)

-Look for vintage calendars: The years 1991 and 1963 have the exact same parameters (dates, days, and lengths) as 2019. If you’d like to go secondhand, an eBay or Etsy search might turn up an old calendar you can make new again.

-Bullet journaling: The beauty of the bullet journal system, which you can learn for free here, is that you can do it with any notebook, be it lined, unlined, or gridded. Choose one that’s both recycled and recyclable; this and this are good options for sustainable notebooks purchased new. Even better, pick up a secondhand notebook up at your local creative reuse store or dig one out from a stack of office supplies languishing deep in your closet.

Of course, too, there are completely paperless solutions. I have friends who are reliant on Google Calendar or apps like Todoist. I doubt that I’ll ever fully go digital (why even do something if you don’t get to cross it off a list?), but if you have favorite online resources to share, please do.

Other calendars you’ve turned to this year? Questions to ask?

Zero Waste School Supplies

Zero waste school supplies | Litterless

It’s been many years since the chill of fall in the air last meant a return to school to me, but the thrill of new school supplies nonetheless still holds. Growing up, back-to-school shopping was a cherished time to pick out just the right binders and folders, to carefully affix labels to everything, to organize and reorganize pens and markers and backpacks and lockers.

But, alas, the zero waste Grinch comes for everything beloved. I’m joking, of course – for back-to-school, you’ll always need something, but I’ll submit you may not need everything. A strategy for buying school supplies more sustainably looks the same as the strategy for buying anything more sustainably: first, use (and reuse) what you have, then search for a secondhand option, and lastly choose new items carefully, only when the first two categories have been exhausted.

This means a trip to the store may be to pick out folders and pencils to accompany reused binders and pens. Or, maybe, choosing to replace two binders, not five. Regardless of what works for you, some thoughts on zero waste alternatives to traditional school supplies might be helpful as September looms.

Zero waste school supplies | Litterless

Zero waste alternatives:

Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

-Binders: Once the plastic binders already in your home are splitting at the seams (an inevitability, per my recollection), cardboard binders are a replacement that can be taken apart and recycled once past their prime.

-Notebooks and folders: Since these are both primarily paper, low-waste versions are easy to find. Purchase some secondhand, reuse last year's, or dig out those freebie notebooks from ages ago. If you're in the market for something new, Decomposition Books are my favorite. 

-Pencils: Are abundant in the world already, stuffed in kitchen drawers. Dig them out and put them to good use. If possible, choose a high-quality analog sharpener, which won’t become trash at the first sign of a jam. (This one, pictured above, was a gift from Wisdom Supply Co. that I hope to use for the next decade-plus).

-Pens: As for pencils, the most sustainable pens are the ones already clogging your drawers and pencil cups. Once you've run out of those, though, there are low-waste alternatives out there. For older students responsible enough to take on a project, consider a fountain pen; here's a beginners' guide to using them. For everyone else, a refillable rollerball (like this one) minimizes waste while still being easy to use.

-Highlighters: I was thrilled to learn about highlighter pencils, which achieve the same effect as their plastic cousins, but don’t run dry and don’t need to end up in the trash.

-Tape: Paper washi tape replaces plastic tape, and is lovelier and more cheerful to boot. Look for washi tape packaged without a plastic wrapper; this is easier to find on Etsy (for example, this charming set) than in stores. 

-Packing lunches: Reusable silicone Stasher bags can replace Ziplocs, and metal tins are lightweight and unbreakable alternatives to heaver glass containers. Life Without Plastic sells versions of these tins with compartments (like this one, or this one), which are great for kids.

Zero waste school supplies | Litterless


-Creative reuse stores: These stores are wonderful community resources for secondhand art, craft, and school supplies. If you have one near you, it’s likely to be a rich source for secondhand folders, pens, markers, and anything else you might need. If there isn’t one in your local area, general secondhand stores often curate seasonal displays; this time of year, that may mean binders and backpacks and other school supplies are featured front and center.

-Wisdom Supply Co.: The women behind Wisdom Supply Co. rigorously vet the school supplies in their shop to be the most zero-waste-friendly out there. Items are beautiful, durable, and designed to last through many years and many kids. They sent me their pencil tin set, pictured above, and I've been smitten ever since.

-eBay: For graphing calculators, textbooks, and other specific supplies, chances are someone just a few years ahead of your kids has already used it and decided to part with it. In addition to supporting secondhand, you'll save money by going this route, too. 

-Terracycle: For non-recyclable supplies you just can't avoid, Terracycle offers recycling boxes for various items; purchase one, fill it up, and ship it back, then they'll take care of the rest. You could purchase a small one for your household and store it in the mudroom or a closet, or donate one to your school for general use. Of particular interest here, their pens, pencils and markers box and their office supplies box.

If you’re not a school-age family but still want to get into the spirit, consider taking a few moments to support local schools. Many schools and community centers host school-supply drives this time of year, to which your years-old stock of extra supplies might be a welcome donation. Or, you can support a project in your area at DonorsChoose, where teachers solicit needed supplies that their districts are unable to provide.

Other zero waste tips for the school-aged?

More ideas for zero waste schools or offices, here.

Introduction to Fountain Pens

Introduction to using fountain pens for zero waste folks | Litterless

It's safe to say my partner is a fountain pen pro. For him, they're a favored daily tool, at least one always tucked into his pocket (no ink explosions yet!).

Since they're refillable, fountain pens are also a zero waste alternative to the plastic pens that are designed to be disposed of once empty. But they can also be a bit daunting at first (I still sometimes need help with mine!). He kindly offered to share a mini tutorial with us; here's what he has to say. (Note: this post contains a few affiliate links).

With widespread access to smartphones and an overwhelming list of to-do list and note taking apps, it's safe to assume that reliance on pen and paper has decreased. Like many people, though, I still and enjoy writing the old-fashioned way. I'm no Luddite (I use Evernote extensively to supplement pen and paper), but there's something more convenient about grabbing my favorite notepad and scrawling a grocery list before I can unlock my phone and find the appropriate app. Physically crossing things off of my daily to-do list is way more satisfying than tapping a checkbox.

Even before I first became aware of zero waste, I cringed every time I dropped an empty Pilot G2 in the trash. Sometimes, I even wishfully put them in the recycling bin, hoping that magically the plastic would be reused. Eventually, I began purchasing refill cartridges and kept the same pen body.

In many cases, the available or affordable pens are not refillable (e.g., Bic). For some pens, you can recycle the bodies or ship the empty product to a program like Terracycle. This is a reasonably good solution, but recycling requires energy. If possible, it's preferable to avoid introducing new pens into the waste cycle.

Introduction to using fountain pens for zero waste folks | Litterless

My solution is simple: the fountain pen. To some, it may appear archaic. Fountain pens certainly did to me when I first found dried up Parkers in my parents' pen cups. They didn't write smoothly and made a mess of the paper and my hands. What I didn't know then is that the ink had dried in the pens due to years of sitting idle and with some easy reconditioning, they would work well.

As I see it, a fountain pen offers the following advantages for those with an eye toward zero waste:

-Fountain pens are designed to be refilled with ink, which may be purchased "in bulk" in glass containers. This obviates the need for additional plastic refills.
-There are many economical pen options that are made mostly of metal.
-The pens will last for far longer than a typical ballpoint pen if treated correctly.

There are, however, some obstacles to getting started with fountain pens. Fountain pens offer different writing styles based on the width and material of the nib, the ink you choose, the paper you write on, and even the way you hold the pen. You may have to experiment a bit to find what works best for you.

How to use a fountain pen for going zero waste | Litterless

I recommend an affordable and durable metal pen to get started:

-LAMY AL-Star: Time and time again this pen comes up as highly recommended. The nib writes extremely well, the metal pen is well-made and has a minimum amount of plastic, and the body is comfortable to hold. The clip on the cap makes it easy to bring with you. Plus, you can buy replacement nibs, ensuring this pen will last decades.
-Diplomat Traveller (pictured here): This is a nicely weighted metal pen with a quality nib. It is slimmer than the AL-Star and is more at home in a shirt pocket (if that's of interest to you!).
-Pilot Metropolitan: This metal pen comes in a variety of patterns and colors and is the most affordable of the bunch. The ink cartridge system is proprietary, but if you order a converter and refill it with ink from a bottle, this isn't a limitation.

Next, select a good quick-drying ink to make quick notes more accessible. Watery inks will smear if you smudge them (for example, when noting the PLU of an item in the bulk aisle on a piece of plastic-y tape).

-Noodler’s Q-E'ternity: Quick-drying and smear-resistant ink that works well for paper on which fountain pen inks typically bleed.
-Pelikan 4001: This ink comes in several vibrant colors and dries even faster than the above.

A bottle of either of these should last you years - or, you can plan split several bottles with a friend (or even one bottle among several friends!) until you find one you like.

Introduction to using fountain pens for zero waste folks | Litterless

When you purchase a pen and bottle of ink, be sure to purchase a converter, the piece shown above with the red cap. These piston devices replace the small disposable plastic cartridges that typically feed ink to a fountain pen. When your pen is empty, you remove the body, twist the piston such that it is closest to the nib, submerge the nib in the ink bottle, and draw the piston up to fill the converter with ink. (Here's a more in-depth look at how to use it). After a quick wipe down of the nib on a piece of scrap paper, you’re ready to write!

How to use a fountain pen for zero waste writing | Litterless

Fountain pens provide an easy and satisfying avenue for reducing waste at your office and at home. While they may seem a bit tricky to get started with, with a bit of practice, you can replace disposables with a reusable option.

Zero Wasting Your Office, If Only a Tiny Bit

Zero waste workspace

Earlier this week, we chatted about ways to be more zero waste at work. Buuuuut, even if you do all those things yourself, chances are there will still be major sources of waste at your office that might drive you slightly - or majorly - crazy. Turning a blind eye is one way to cope, attempting to coax tiny changes is another. In case you, in the words of my favorite podcast, are someone who isn't "ready to give up or go insane," I've compiled a few ideas for places to start. Of course, not all of these will work in every office - but hopefully some are worth considering for yours. Here goes:

-Request reusables. This can be as small as asking your office manager to stock reusable snack bowls or forks in lieu of disposables, or as big as requesting that a water cooler replace plastic water bottles (or a SPARKLING water cooler replace cans of La Croix - we have one and it's incredible).

-Bring your own. Where reusable plates and utensils aren't a workable solution, a culture of BYOC (Bring Your Own Container) can start with you. Bring your plate, bring your napkin, bring your fork, bring your handkerchief, bring your water bottle, and see where it goes. Many people I know keep a small set of dishes at their desk to use, wash, and stow again. Maybe you'll start a trend, but at the very least you'll be making less trash yourself. (Here's some exciting proof that this can work!).

-Gather recyclables. If your work at a business that makes waste that can't be recycled in the traditional recycling stream but could be set aside for reuse through Terracycle or another program, consider taking responsibility for recycling said objects - or at least a few of them - and setting up a designated spot for your coworkers to corral them for future recycling. For example, my office offers battery recycling. A colleague of mine also works at a restaurant and set up a jar to collect wine corks for recycling. You could also set up a Terracycle pen recycling dropbox, or simply a space for coworkers to deposit failed print jobs for scrap paper.

-Set up composting. 'Nuff said. Definitely not possible for every workplace, but something to explore if you think yours would be open to it. To start finding a compost pick-up service near you, you can check out my list here.

Zero waste home office

-Look for sustainable defaults. If you look for them, there are probably some easy zero waste wins that you can set up once and reap the benefits from for years. For many offices, switching to double-sided printing can be a great default, as can a water cooler in lieu of water bottles or hand dryers instead of paper towels. Bonus: with little maintenance required to keep these going, they'll have an impact on your office even if you change jobs down the line.

-Build a sharing economy. One of the beautiful things about my office is that people are generous about offering up items they no longer need to others. In a building of 300 people, it's pretty likely you'll find a taker for that almost-full bottle of lotion you don't need anymore, the package of lightbulbs you opened before realizing they were the wrong kind, or the cake you baked that you just can't finish yourself. We have a few ways to exchange gently used items and uneaten food - simply leaving it on the kitchen counter with a note that says "free!", sending out an email, or posting the item on a list that lives on an internal website. My coworkers bring in CSA produce that they won't get to, last month someone offered to share their sourdough starter with me (praise!), and I've left stationery, candy, and more in the kitchen for anyone to take.

-Chat up zero waste. I am pretty terrible about following through on this one, despite my night job of founding an org dedicated to helping Chicago move toward zero waste. Something about talking to my coworkers about my efforts to live sustainably can feel daunting. I think I'm wary of sounding judgmental, or maybe just wary of sounding a little weird. Either way, if you can get over the hump and share why you do what you do, it could make such a difference.

-Consider non-zero waste avenues to sustainability. How can your office better support bike or walk commuters? Is there a shower that needs to be de-gunked so that it can get back in rotation, or could you request a bike rack for people to be able to lock their bikes up during the day? Can you support local, sustainability-minded restaurants when you order catering, or make sure any leftovers go home with employees or get donated instead of being thrown away?

-And, a few other ideas: Host a volunteer day like this one, a documentary screening, or a sustainability speaker (if you're in Chicago, we'd love to come talk to your office!). Plan a fun challenge to get people involved in any of the above. Do like my office manager did recently and send out an email gently reminding people what should go in the recycling bin, or make a sign to hang near the trash, recycling, or compost.

Etc., etc. - there are so many ways to tackle sustainability at an office, and I'd love to hear what ideas you've come up with! What have been your biggest challenges or wins? How does your workplace look different than mine does, and what would you love to change about it to make it more zero waste? Let's do it together, folks.

Pictured here is where I work when I work at home, aka my dining room table. Conveniently already zero waste friendly because it's in my home!

Planning Ahead: Zero Waste at the Office

Planning ahead for a zero waste day at the office

On my walk home from work yesterday: clink, clink, clink went the stainless steel container holding my lunch remnants against the glass mason jar holding my compost scraps. With those in tow, plus my usual handkerchief, water bottle, and a cloth produce bag holding the onion bought on my post-work grocery run, I was pretty much toting a full zero waste kit home yesterday. 

Because I walk to work, I try to keep the amount of gear I bring to a minimum - although as the above story attests, I don't always succeed. Below, a peek into the types of things I bring each day or keep stowed at my desk so that I can keep my time at the office mostly zero waste. Though your workday might look different from mine (I work a pretty typical 9 to 5 in front of a computer), hopefully these are a helpful framework for thinking through workplace zero wasting regardless!

-Bring your standard zero waste tools. A handkerchief. Eating utensils, if you'll need to bring your own. A small container for carrying home your compost, like the jar pictured above (I also sometimes use a Stasher bag or even just my empty lunch tin). It goes without saying, probably, but whatever you carry with you on a daily basis as part of your zero waste routine should probably come with you to work, too.

-Stock loose leaf tea. My office, like many, has tea on hand for the taking. But individually-wrapped tea packages aren't recyclable, and I've found that keeping a tea strainer and a jar or two of loose leaf tea at my desk helps me avoid the need to grab a packaged tea bag. Plus, I can empty the tea leaves I've used each day into my compost jar to take them home to compost. If loose leaf tea is hard to come by near you, here are a few other ideas for making your tea habit zero waste.

-Plan ahead for coffee shop dates. Just yesterday I had to turn down a coworker's offer to buy me an iced tea because I didn't have my reusable thermos on me. Noooooo! Don't let that happen to you. Keep a thermos at your desk and never have to go beverage-less. (If you're new to the bring-your-own thermos life, you can find my tips on grabbing zero waste coffee and tea on the go here!)

-Pack a zero waste lunch. Needs nothin' more than a reusable container and maybe a cloth bag to hold a piece of fruit. Though I can attest that packing a lunch isn't always simple (why does it always seem to happen for me at 10:30 at night?), certainly keeping a packed lunch zero waste isn't so challenging. You can find a few more ideas on how to do it, right here. And, if your office serves lunch occasionally (lunch and learns! hot lunch! etc.), don't forget your entry ticket to the Bring Your Plate Club.

-Cut out paper towels. If your office uses paper towels instead of hand dryers in the bathroom, consider carrying a clean handkerchief in your pocket that you can use to dry your hands and open the bathroom door. I'm very much a "shake my hands dry and open the door with the hem of my shirt" kind of girl myself, but the handkerchief method sounds much more dignified.

-Automate it. Can you keep an extra thermos at work for unexpected coffee dates? An extra empty jar in your desk for compost, snacks, a grocery run, or whatever else comes up? A water bottle at work, if you don't have access to a reusable cup? Anything you don't need to remember to bring each day anew is a thing you stand a better chance of actually using on a daily basis. Plus, that means fewer things to carry each day, thank goodness.

What do you do that I missed, above? Other challenges specific to your office we should tackle? Share, please!

PS. More ideas on planning ahead to stay zero waste, here.

Walk Commuting

Walk commute

On June 9th, I entered my fourth (?!) year of commuting to work on foot. What started as the default choice of a new-to-Chicago girl hesitant to figure out the public transportation system (don't worry: it's easy, and I'm a pro now) has turned into one of the most sustaining routines of my workdays.

Almost every weekday, I head the mile and a half to work and then the mile and a half home. In three years, I reckon I've logged about three thousand miles. In other words, I could have walked across the United States - but instead I just burned a hole in the pavements all over Lincoln Park. In all seasons and weathers, using my feet to get where I need to go has proved satisfying and grounding, somehow feeling simpler than the much quicker option of hopping on a bike, bus, or train.

Of course, the walk commute isn't an option for everyone: it sure helps if you're brand new to a city and happen to be able to choose your apartment based on its proximity to your office. It sure helps if you live in a city, period. Later on this summer, I hope to convince my boyfriend to write a little bit about bike commuting - he's devoted to it - and of course there's also run commuting, taking public transportation, and carpooling to make your commute a little more sustainable.

But, in case it's helpful to anyone, I thought I'd share what I've learned over the years of daily walking:

On clothing choices:

-Durability is queen. Not for me are slinky silk blouses in the workplace, sheer gauzy little tops, strappy sandal whatevers, though I love them all. Nope, my clothing's gotta be able to go those daily three miles with me, without letting it show after just a few wears. I gravitate to cotton, linen, denim, and other hard-wearing fabrics. Of course, you can always opt to change clothes at work instead (see below!).

-Walking shoes. Your shoe collection might be taken over by more sneakers than you've ever owned before. If you're lucky, some of them you'll deem cute enough not to need to change out of at work. Or, maybe you'll keep some shoes specifically at work to slip into when you get there. I go for a mix of both. Lastly: Do NOT wear a new pair of shoes for the first time on your walk, no matter how "comfy." I repeat: just probably don't. 

-Be mindful of your pack. I used to carry a backpack each day, hip strap cinched tight to evenly distribute the weight. No more, my friends. I have myriad complaints relating to it, ranging from the hip belt made my clothes pilly where it rubbed, to the cinch wrinkled my clothing, to it encouraged me to carry more than I needed. But really, it was too heavy itself, special ergonomic features aside; carrying it hurt my back and neck. Now, I just carry a lightweight reusable grocery bag filled with whatever I need, which oddly works so much better for me.

-Layer up. If I'm not slightly cool when I first step outside, I've learned I'll probably end up too hot. Even on very cold days, walking quickly for miles is a surefire way to get to me to eventually unzip my coat when the mere idea seemed ridiculous fifteen minutes before. Wearing a few layers lets me dress up or down and is a good stopgap against any temperature fluctuations between my walk in the morning and my walk home in the afternoon.

-Change on hot days. Few things in the summer feel more instantly refreshing than slipping out of my sweaty commuting clothes into a cool, dry outfit change when the temperatures are pushing ninety. Though it's too much of a bother to do everyday, when it's that hot, I try to wear exercise clothes while walking instead of my normal garb.

-Maybe ditch the minimalism thing. Although I'm a firm believer in trying not to own too much more than you need, I will admit that I believe I need my two pairs of rain boots (one short, one tall), two rain jackets (one short, one long), two winter coats (one less warm, one more), and two umbrellas (one large, one small for keeping at work). Oops, does that sound excessive? Does it help if I say that I wear them all and think they all serve different purposes? Also, I lied about the umbrellas. I have three.

On boredom, or lack thereof:

-Vary the route. For the first year of walking to work, I took one of two routes, every day, with no variation. Then, I moved a little farther away, so instead of walking straight south, I now had to walk south and west. And a whole new world of zig zagging through the neighborhood opened up to me. I love striking out in the direction of my office without quite knowing which roads I'll take today. Also: you don't have to take the route Google says is the fastest. You get to take the route you say is the nicest.

-Treasure hunt. On walks to and from the office, I've found redbud branches blown down by a storm, still with the flowers on them, perfect for scooping up and placing in a vase in my apartment. I've found a $20 bill and countless quarters for laundry. I've taken home a stack of small terra cotta pots a neighbor set out for the garbage. I've eaten mulberries off the tree by the high school, pinched lavender between my fingers for the scent, and stopped by the anyone's-welcome community garden to take home a fistful of strong-smelling mint. I've run into coworkers headed my same direction and walked together for awhile. I've been wowed by the perfect combination of white Christmas lights left up to tangle with the Bradford Pear blossoms in front of a nearby bistro in April. You can let yourself be wowed, too.

-Maybe skip your tunes. Surprisingly, I enjoy my walk more without music or podcasts. I found early on that the traffic on a few of the busier streets can drown out the sound from my headphones when a particularly large truck goes by, and being consistently interrupted got on my nerves. So, a month or so in, I ditched the music while walking and have never looked back. Having good, solitary, uninterrupted thinking time helps me unwind from the day. Plus, one of the things that makes my walks so refreshing is that though they bookend an eight-hour workday spent largely on the computer, they're entirely screen free themselves.

On protection:

-Stick to sidewalks. Well, duh.

-Wear a hat or sunscreen. Or both! I usually leave my arms and legs un-sunscreened in a nod to Vitamin D production (although it is Chicago, so from September through May they're covered anyway). But, I'm vigilant about sunscreening my face, topping it off with a hat, and sticking to the shady side of the street - which also helps me arrive at work ever-so-slightly less sweaty.

-Take care of your body. Walking is gentle, but walking five days a week on pavement, not so much. Pay attention to how your body feels. Do yoga when your joints hurt and start slowly in cold weather to give your muscles a chance to warm up. I got a stress fracture in my foot the first year of walk commuting, and the miserable few months of bus riding that healing it entailed mean that I'm careful now about the shoes I wear and the mileage I tackle.

-Vary the route, part two. Another aspect of taking a slightly different way each day means that there's no rhyme or reason to where I am day after day. You couldn't set your clock by my movements, and though my neighborhood is very safe, it feels prudent to make sure that each day's journey is unpredictable.

And that, my friends, is three thousand miles worth of wisdom distilled down for ya. Any fellow walk commuters out there? What would you add? And would you like to see a post with a few bike commuting tips, as well? I'd love to hear.

Planning Ahead: Bring Your Plate

Bringing your own plate for a zero waste meal

Pictured above is my ticket into the Bring Your Plate Club, a members-only club for people who, well, bring their plates with them when they know they might need them to stay zero waste. Yes, it is VERY exclusive - it's only open to people who own plates or other containers or can borrow them in a pinch. Oh, that describes you? Welcome!

I'll start from the beginning: I'm lucky to work for a wonderful company that caters lunch for the whole staff every other week. Catered lunch day is magical - I love not packing my lunch the night before, eating whatever cuisine is on deck that week, and spending time chatting with coworkers and dawdling a bit over the meal. But, the plates on offer are always plastic or styrofoam, so I learned early on to bring my own.

There are a couple of ways to approach Bring Your Plate in the office setting: maybe you can grab a ceramic communal plate from the kitchen before slipping into the buffet line, maybe you'll do what my boyfriend does at his office and keep a plate from home in your desk to use and wash after every hot lunch, or maybe what I do will work best for you, which is bringing a container like the one pictured above (I like it because it's lightweight and I can use it to ferry home anything I might want to compost after the meal, too).

Bringing your plate isn't just for the office, of course. You could bring a stainless steel container to the crepe stand at your farmers' market, carry a cloth napkin for holding hors d'oeuvres at a networking event, or tote a plate of your own to a picnic, potluck, or festival.

My crowning achievement of the Bring Your Plate Club was at the company holiday party this past year, where I knew from prior years' experience that the plates on offer for dinner would be plastic. Yep, that was me in my cocktail attire, slipping my own ceramic plate quietly out of my bag, trying to wave to my friend Elizabeth who was doing the same.

You're probably already a member of the Bring Your Plate Club - or at least its satellite clubs, the Bring Your Napkin, Bring Your Cutlery, and Bring Your Water Bottle clubs. Welcome, welcome. We're glad to have you.

PS. Here's a picture of the club in the wild, taken by my friend and coworker Elizabeth.