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5 Ways to Decrease your Waste when On the Go

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5 Ways to Decrease your Waste when On the Go

Modern life can be exhausting and busy! It is no wonder that our lifestyle has shifted towards prioritizing convenience and the higher waste living that comes along with convenience; there are so many things to always do, be, and acquire more of and not enough time in the day to make it happen. This is especially true for when we are out and about, going about those busier days. While we may have a stronger grasp on what and how to shift things to a lower waste model at home, it can be difficult to make it work on the fly. 

Here are a five ways to simplify approaching the low waste lifestyle when you're out and about, and decrease your impact this Earth Month!

1. The Reusable Mug (with a caveat!)

We've seen a significant shift away from plastic water bottle use in the last five years or so as reusables have taken hold. We have also watched infrastructure be put in place to support it with bottle refill stations and several institutions removing plastic single use water bottles for purchase completely. The next step in reducing the amount of single use items we consume for our beverages is with a reusable mug. More and more, businesses are offering this feature and even providing a cost savings or incentive for doing so beyond the health benefits this shift can provide.

There's an excessively high number of disposable cups that are tossed each day. Even if those cups are labelled and certified compostable, they might not ever end up as compost per se. If they end up in the garbage when we are out and about, they are going to take forever to degrade in a landfill (a 40 year old hot dog was found in a dump!). Landfills simply do not create favourable conditions for even degradable items to break down, as everything is compacted and starved for the air, moisture and organisms needed to break them down. This process also doesn't take into account the plastics needed for the lids of the disposable cups, and the processing and resources to generate all of that waste for the short period of time we use them for our drink. On top of all of this, there is some very concerning research being done on just what additional ingredients (microplastics!) you're ingesting once those disposable cups are filled with boiling and hot liquids. Switching to a reusable cup can be a health benefit, too.

Just like a reusable water bottle, this does take a bit of getting used to, but it can be done! I find if I can analyze key places to have a mug in place, I am more successful, as I don't generally carry a purse or a bag that I can stash a mug in. I keep a mug in my car and one at my workplace, and this makes it simple to grab if someone is going out to pick up drinks, if I'm at a drive through, or if an unplanned stop is being made. Getting the mug back in place seemed to be the difficult part, so I got used to washing the mug that stays at work after use and then placing my washed "car mug" in the spot where I keep reusable bags to go back out to my car in order to keep the habit going. 

One caveat of this shift is to ensure that you choose a reusable that works well for you long term, so that it actually ends up being less wasteful. Switching cups for new trends rather than using one cup long term is actually more impactful than sticking with the disposables. There are a number of "previously trendy" and good quality mugs at your local thrift shop; we've thrifted Klean Kanteen and Hydro Flask mugs in excellent condition for our extras in our home. If you're looking for a compact option for stashing, check out the cup brand StoJo.

2. Reusable Cutlery

This next swap is simple and effective! Stashing a set of reusable cutlery in your bag can help you refuse plastic single use cutlery when you're out and about. While you can invest in a pretty canvas utensil roll in our shop, you can also simply just use a set out of your own drawer at home or thrift some to avoid buying new. 

An extra tip for this swap is to wrap that cutlery up in a reusable beeswax wrap. The beeswax wrap can keep your items safe and clean in your bag prior to use, but also be used to wrap up some leftovers in a pinch when you're on the go!

3. The Cloth Wipe/Napkin/Hankie

Bringing along a reusable cloth napkin or handful of cloth wipes (as we call them in our shop, offered by an Ontario small shop/maker) can be very waste reducing as well, especially if you have small children with you. We use these as hankies (excellent for softness on little ones' noses versus disposable paper options), as napkins if we need one, or as a wet wipe to wash our children's hands when we are out and about. To use it as a wet wipe, we spray a bit of the refillery hand sanitizer spray on their hands to wet and then wipe them clean with the cloth. When we are out and about a lot in the spring and summer months, we even bring a small spray bottle of castle soap (also in our refillery) and water and it can be helpful for wiping down a dirty table, washing hands, or even to wipe baby bums when our children were very little. 

To help make this swap work, we choose a specific pattern/colour of the cloth so that we know they are our "to go" cloths and can make it back to our bag when it is run through the laundry. We keep a couple of cloths in a small baggie (it's not much bigger than those disposable tissue packs when full) and this keeps them crumb free and clean until we need them.

4. Refusing

This "R" fits in with the "reduce" portion of the good ol' 3 R's. Refusing is a very simple and absolutely free way to decrease your waste. I've mentioned refusing single use cutlery above, but you can also refuse the napkins and straws (if you're set up with reusables), the excessive packaging we can sometimes receive automatically (like the plastic or paper bag with two subs that might be easy to carry on their own), and freebies/swag that is just usually plastic waste, like McDonald's happy meal toys and plastics with company information added to it that you're really not going to use. Refusing can be a simple "no thanks" or can involve anticipating excess waste that you'll receive and refusing it before it's added to your order, something that will come up with repeat purchases at familiar places, like the meal toys and extra straws, etc. 

One of my favourite spots to eat downtown Kingston is always happy to package my to-go food in a paper baggie instead of a plastic clam shell, I just have to ask. Anytime we refuse extra waste, generally the person on the receiving end is made aware the current system it isn't ideal or an unnecessary expense for their business, and this can potentially help lead to changes for a business over time, as well.

Here we brought our "car mugs" into a hotel and refused the only cup that was in our room: foam with plastic shrink wrap. The drinks definitely tasted better in our reusables, as a bonus!

5. Reuse + Upcycle to Organize your Travel Essentials

So many of us these days have travel and to-go bags for vacation, and these are often filled with lots of single use plastics. As these products get used up, they often aren't packaged in a way that they can be refilled or reused, so create a wild amount of single use plastic waste after just one shower or trip. Shifting to some refillable packaging for these options can be really easy to do and save the costs associated with all of those little packages. As you use up your own products and wash your plastic recycling, keep an eye out for small packaging that would work well to refill that same product for travelling. A small cream cheese container can be perfect for storing shampoo/conditioner/body soap bars (which have the added bonus of being solid, so there are fewer restrictions on them for flying), and cosmetics containers can be great for a refillable container for your larger home-sized toothpaste, shower liquids, deodorant (we refill deodorant in a cream style in the shop by Routine), dry shampoo powder, earrings, etc! This is a reuse of something that is already waste-bound, so it's one of the most sustainable things you can do versus buying new packaging all of the time or even just new packaging to refill. Adding just a bit of your personal care products each time you travel can reduce both your costs and the waste.

Decrease your waste one item at a time!

These five tips can even snowball as you're out and about and others are inspired by your low waste options. Sometimes we just need to see that there can be another way, and receive that permission to go ahead and try things differently. If you're looking for more low waste living tips for the individual, check out the rest of our blog posts or hop on our social media stories for more!

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