Reusable Items and Eco-Friendly Products for Eating on the Go
One of the things I hate about travel is how much environmental impact it has. No matter what way you cut it, if you’re driving, flying, or cruising somewhere, you’re having a negative impact on the environment. The way we’ve set up our current society makes it nearly impossible to completely negate our carbon footprint, but we can sure take steps to reduce it.
I’m not perfect. In fact, I’ve only recently started really trying to reduce my environmental impact. I’ve started looking into reusable items and eco-friendly products. My first project is to reduce the amount of plastic and other single-use items I use. It’s difficult. Habits run deep and sometimes I’m using a paper towel rather than a cloth one because it’s muscle memory. And because my parents still buy them so they’re there.
Sometimes I cave out of laziness. But I’m trying to be more aware and do that less often. I’ve started looking for recurring purchases that I can replace with more sustainable options. I’ve just started using a shampoo bar rather than bottled shampoo and am so far really enjoying it.
We often eat on the go. Whether we’re eating out in our own towns or while travelling, on-the-go eating is designed around convenience, not the climate. Although many places are now becoming more aware of their environmental impacts, we can help them out by bringing our own reusable items and eco-friendly products.
Here are some of my favourites, along with some that I’m planning to buy in the near future.
Reusable Travel Mug/Collapsible
Coffee or Tea is a very popular drink choice all over the world. There are endless cafes where you can get coffee to go. Many people do it every day. That means a lot of disposable cups are used.
Getting your own travel mug has quite a few benefits. For one, many chain restaurants/coffee stops offer a slight discount if you bring your own cup. It may not be very much each time, but after a year, it adds up!
There are a number of options for reusable cups. I have a few. Insulated travel mugs are extremely popular if you’re a frequent coffee-on-the-go drinker. They can keep your drink hot for hours, which is really appealing. I have one such travel mug and I adore it.
There are also just regular reusable cups. I picked one up in a Mexican Starbucks when I found I was going there quite regularly to get some work done. I didn’t want to keep using disposable cups so I picked up one of their cheap reusable cups. The only real advantage of this cup is that it’s reusable. It doesn’t keep anything warmer than a disposable cup would and you still need a coffee sleeve because it’s not insulated, so it’s hot to the touch.
Then I bought what is my favourite travel mug to date. It’s not 100% perfect. But it’s what I needed. As a non-frequent coffee buyer (I tend to make my own coffee at home and buy cold coffee drinks when out), I rarely carry a travel mug with me. The truth is, my travel mug and reusable cup are big. They take up space, and the insulated one is a little on the heavy side. So it’s impractical for me to always be carrying one of them around on the off-chance I may decide I want to pick up some coffee that day. Or if my friends decide we should get some while we’re out.
So I bought a silicone coffee mug that’s collapsible! It shrinks down and comes with a clip. It fits in my tiny purse and even in my jacket pocket! You do have to be careful with it as it’s not as leak-proof as my travel mug, and the silicone can make it a little wobbly if you’re not careful, but really you just have to use as much caution as you would with a regular disposable cup. It also can be shaped into three different sizes! It’s microwave and dishwasher safe too. My main problem with it is that being silicone, it holds smell. I’ve tried vinegar soaks. I’ve tried baking soda. Nothing’s worked so far. But because it smells like coffee, it’s not a deal breaker. It’s just a little weird when I use it at fast food restaurants for water or soda. But that’s fineeeeee.
A reusable water bottle saves so many disposable cups or one-use plastic water bottles. And again, you don’t have to get overly fancy with it, unless you want to. You can get plastic reusable water bottles absolutely anywhere. I’ve had countless cheap ones given to me for free over the years. I’ve invested in Nalgenes and Contigos (especially for working at camp). True, I’m trying to stay away from plastic, but if I use one of these for years, I’m still greatly reducing my waste.
One of my all-time favourite water bottles I ever had was a stainless steel one from Walmart. I think it cost me $10. It went with me everywhere. It never leaked. By the time I moved on (and I can’t remember why exactly I did… perhaps I’d used too many Crystal Lite packages that I was unable to properly clean out) it was dented and missing most of its paint. But it was well-loved and well worn.
Just like travel mugs, you can also get water bottles that are insulated. I have one now that is almost perfect. It keeps hot things hot for something like 16 hours, and cold things cold for about 20 hours. It’s from Alaska, and though the adventure-inspiring design is starting to wear off, it still reminds me of being in the mountains. The biggest issue is that it’s a litre. When I bought it, I thought it would be absolutely perfect. I could go forever without having to refill it. What I didn’t think about was how much space it took up and how heavy it was. So now I only take it with me if I know I’m going to use/need it. But I still love it.
I finally got around to buying a set of travel cutlery, and though I’ve really only used the fork so far, I’m loving it. I got it in a funky holographic purple colour, and the only downside is that I’m sure that will wear off one day, and at this moment, it often leaves strange orange fingerprints. I probably should’ve gone without any special paint coating because when it does wear off, I’m sure it won’t be the best for my system to ingest. But hey, I’m sure it won’t kill me either.
The pack I bought is made of stainless steel and comes with a little carrying case. It comes with a fork, knife, and spoon, as well as two straws (one straight, one bent), a straw cleaning brush, and chopsticks! I’ve removed the chopsticks. I don’t remember the last time I used chopsticks. But hey, I have them at home if I need them.
You can get stainless steel, or bamboo is another really popular and great option. You also don’t have to actually go out and buy specific utensils for travel. Buying new things or matching sets is one of my vices at times. So I do it more often than I should (though I’m trying to cut down). You could just as easily keep the next plastic fork, spoon, knife, and straw you get when out and resolve to carry them with you wherever you go and reuse them. Or better yet, create a little travel pack using one of each utensil that you already own at home!
Silicone Ziplock Bags
Ughhhhh Ziplock bags. I love them. They’re so convenient. But they are so terrible for the environment. They just sit in landfills forever. Birds eat them. We use them so so frequently and we go through them so fast.
Lately, I’ve taken to reusing my plastic bags. This works especially well with the heavy-duty ones (you know, the thick ones). Usually, a quick rinse in the sink will do. Sometimes you may have to get a little scrubby. If they’re thick enough and won’t go flying everywhere, you can even put some of the bigger ones through the dishwasher.
Being plastic, you can reuse them several times. But they will start to wear and, though I don’t know about the legitimacy of it, people do make claims about plastic that is meant to be for single-use leaching chemicals if you try to reuse them too many times.
Thankfully, there are more and more reusable snack/sandwich/freezer bags coming out. Most are made of silicone which makes them safe for the microwave, dishwasher, and even putting in boiling water if you cook that way. They’re usually leak-proof and many of them stand up.
The biggest downsides are that being silicone, it may retain odours, and the price. You usually only get about 3 or 4 for about $20. Sure, they will eventually pay themselves off, but for very frequent Ziplock users, you will have to buy quite a few to hold everything. So the upfront cost is big. I know my mom likes to portion out all the grapes she buys into Ziplock bag portions. That would require a good 7 or 8 reusable baggies just for grapes!
In the long haul, they’re worth it. Perhaps I’ll try buying one set every couple of months to build up my collection.
Tupperware is amazing! A reusable way to seal up food to go or for storage. And now, there are so many options aside from plastic Tupperware. (I’m aware as I type this that Tupperware is a brand name… but it’s like Kleenex, you all know what I’m talking about.) You can get stainless steel food storage, glass (which is awesome for reheating in the oven or microwave but less awesome for toting in your lunch bag), bamboo, silicone, hemp plastic, and more! There are endless options for you.
A great idea, if you have a big purse, is to bring along some food storage containers if you’re going to a restaurant. Especially if you’re the type of person who always brings home a “doggy bag”. This way, rather than a plastic, cardboard, or styrofoam container, you can slip your food in a reusable container. Sure it may look a little unclassy, but hey, you’re helping the earth.
Don’t, however, bring it to a big fancy banquet dinner. That’s suuuuper unclassy and we servers will all laugh about it.
If toting Tupperware in your purse seems a bit much, they do have collapsible silicone food storage containers that will fit easier when empty. These are also a great option for packed lunches because they fold up much smaller in your bag on the way home.
Let me say this though: If you already own plastic Tupperware, and it’s not reached the end of its life yet, please don’t go buy a ton of more sustainable food storage containers and toss the plastic ones. They’ll just end up in the dump a lot sooner than they would have. Use them to the end of their lives. Wait until they’re cracked, or melted, or crushed and warped beyond recognition. Then, and only then, should you replace them with a more sustainable option. We’re aiming to be less wasteful, which means not throwing away what you already have when it’s still useful.
Produce Bags/Shopping Bags
I got on the reusable shopping bag train quite a while back. Though I do frequently forget to actually bring them with me to the store. Sometimes I’ll cave and get a plastic one, other times I’ll awkwardly carry juuuuuust a few more objects than fit nicely in my arms in the name of saving a plastic bag.
Also, like the Tupperware, if you already have a growing collection of plastic shopping bags at home, consider bringing these with you to reuse.
What I’ve yet to buy and desperately want to is a reusable produce bag. I get so frustrated with the amount of tiny little plastic bags I’m required to use just to get items from the store to my house, only to throw them away immediately upon getting home. It’s disheartening.
So I’d like to invest in one of them. I’d also like to look into reusable options for buying bulk items like spices, nuts, and seeds. Because obviously I can’t use a netted bag for them, and I don’t want it to weigh too much considering the items are priced by weight.
I’m sure there are options out there, I just haven’t looked them up yet. Maybe it’s as simple as me saving the ones from my next grocery trip and bringing them with me every time I go shopping from here on out.
Like sandwich bags, cling wrap or plastic wrap is so so so useful and so so so wasteful. I’ve been trying to put as much as I can in Tupperware rather than using either of these options, but sometimes, you really just need to be able to keep the air out, which Tupperware doesn’t do because of the space.
Enter beeswax wrap. I have a friend who uses these and though she claims they’re not perfect, she does like them. I could see them not holding well if you couldn’t wrap it completely around something, but even then, I think using an elastic band could do the trick.
The best thing about beeswax wrap is that depending on the kind you get, they can last for up to a year. Simply wash them when you’ve finished using them, and use again. One user said she uses the old ones as a fire starter when it’s no longer useful as food wrap.
I intend to buy some of these quite shortly and am excited to see how well they fair.
Reusable Keurig Cup
Okay, all you coffee lovers out there. The truth is, the Keurig machine and other single-cup brewers are pretty often. No longer are you making a full pot of coffee that you may not finish and trying to keep it warm throughout the day. But these things are also mega-wasteful if you use the disposable pods. Like… horrifically so.
There are plenty of single-cup brewers out there that use a filter and regular coffee grounds. But you can also get a Keurig or other pod-type machines and bypass both the disposable pods and a mini coffee filter. You can buy little reusable k-cups or other coffee pods. Simply pop them open, pour in your favourite coffee grounds, snap them shut and put them in like your usual coffee pod. Then, instead of throwing them out, pop them open again, discard of the coffee grounds and rinse them out.
So much less waste! It’s awesome! My mom and I are frequent users of the reusable pods (when I’m at my parents’ house, I’m not fancy enough for my own Keurig yet…). For whatever reason, my dad has not moved onto that train yet. Maybe one day.
Now I know I said these items were for travel, but this could work for travel too. Hotel lobbies, the office, heck, my parents’ church uses a Keurig machine. Maybe it’s a stretch to say you should pack it with your own coffee in it (if it popped open that would be a huge mess), but perhaps if you know you frequent a place like your office with a Keurig machine, you could come more prepared.
There are a ton of ways for us to reduce our environmental impact when eating on the go. I hope you find a few of these methods useful. Are there any that you already use? Are there any I forgot? Let us know in the comments!
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