In 2014, the first year I really started going zero waste, I bought the following things: three stainless steel metal food storage containers, a bunch of cloth produce bags, a wooden dish brush, and a tiny bamboo travel spork that could fit in the smallest of bags. That year, that was all the gear I had. I eventually added a few other things that I now consider indispensable: a menstrual cup, a reusable coffee mug, Beeswrap.
Largely, even back then I had what I needed. Tote bags, cloth produce bags. Metal containers, glass jars. Cloth napkins, cloth handkerchiefs. When I think back to those first purchases to aid in staying zero waste, what stands out clearly is how little, back then, there was to buy. Diving into the world of zero waste shopping now seems like it might be overwhelming to a newcomer. How do you decide what you really need? How do you choose from the thousands of products now catering to the zero waste market, if you don’t yet know what zero waste will look like for you?
I’m far from being anti-purchase, but I hope to be a resource to help you navigate what you really need versus what other folks say you need. Zero waste doesn’t have to look a certain way, and there’s nothing you absolutely need to own to consider yourself zero waste. (Though without a reusable water bottle, you’re going to be awfully thirsty).
To that end, this week I removed the “Essentials” page where I used to catalog my favorite zero waste products. In its place, I’m working on a new set of resources focusing less on things to buy and more on resourceful ways to get what you need, whether that means buying them from a small business or creatively reimagining what you already own.
So. Consider the fork, as they say. Travel and on-the-go utensils are one area where there must be a hundred different options for sale. I own several of them, both things I bought to use personally and a few that I keep tucked in my tabling kit as examples when I do workshops and public events. They vary from that first petite spork bought years ago, to a beautiful linen utensil wrap from Ambatalia, to a three-piece kit from Bambu.
Thing is, I found I don’t reach for any of those options very often; for some reason each is not quite right for me. The tiny spork takes up no space in my bag, sure, but when not wrapped in something else it’s bound to pick up every piece of lint and detritus that resides down there in the bottom. The multi-piece utensil wraps are wonderful in theory, but I rarely need a fork, spoon, and knife all at once. None of them come with napkins, which is the thing I really (really, really) need on me at all meals.
Instead, my preferred method to bring a utensil with me on the go is to wrap it in a cloth napkin and throw the wrap in my bag. Done. Usually it’s a metal fork pulled from my kitchen drawer, but sometimes it’s a pair or two of chopsticks. I like that this method comes with a built-in napkin, that the fork stays clean in my bag, and that it’s easy to tuck in the dishwasher and washing machine afterward.
You may love your utensil kit to high heaven, and that’s great, too. It’s not necessarily more virtuous to refrain from buying something that you’d really use just to say you refrained from buying it. The goal is to buy what we need and not buy what we don’t, and that’s so much easier said than done. In this case, if you’ve wanted to buy a utensil set but haven’t yet, here’s a method to consider trying first. Maybe for you, like me, it will do the trick.
More notes on going zero waste without buying anything new, here.
(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).