How to Create a Zero Waste Car Kit

Sustainable is stylish. 

In some ways, this is great. People are more likely to be mindful of how their lifestyles affect the planet if doing so is seen as cool and trendy. But the idea that to create less waste, you have to go out and purchase more stuff to do it- albeit sustainable, organic, bamboo stuff- is a bit paradoxical. 

Take these beautiful zero-waste kits for instance:

Each one contains everything you need to have in your car to reduce waste on the go. These are all wonderful, high-quality products from reputable companies. But they're expensive (like $100+). And of course, every time you purchase something new, you're adding to the demand for companies to create more stuff. Which kinda defeats the purpose. 

Because while it's good to buy good stuff, it's best to use what you already have. That's really the whole point of the zero waste movement, it's just gotten lost along the way as the concept has become "in."

Anyway, car kits. I've been wanting to create one of these for a while, but I was holding off until I could afford it. I, too, had begun to believe that I needed to purchase better items to keep in my kit.

So dumb.

This month, inspired by Katy from The Non-Consumer Advocate and Bea Johnson of Zero Waste Home fame, I set out to find things I already had around the house that I could use in such a kit. And what might that be?

  • Portable food container (to use instead of a restaurant to-go box)
  • Portable beverage container 
  • Cloth napkins
  • Reusable straws
  • Fork, knife, and spoon
  • Tote bag to put it all in

Here's what I came up with:

Nope, it's not pretty. But it's actually best because I'm using things that I already own:

  • Pyrex dish 
  • Stainless steel tumbler
  • 2 cloth napkins
  • 1 silicone straw
  • 1 stainless steel straw
  • Fork, spoon, and knife
  • A shopping bag that was getting a little too flimsy for weekly grocery store use

To secure my straws and silverware, I bundled them together, wrapped them in a cloth napkin, and tied with a scrap piece of twine I had saved from a past project.

Not as cute as travel cutlery sets like this, but it was free and it works just as well.

Since I went with a glass Pyrex dish for my food container, I decided to use an old towel to provide a cushioning pad in the bottom of the tote. 

IDK. Seemed a bit safer than putting the glass dish directly in the bottom. 

I assembled everything neatly inside, tied the bag, and placed it conveniently in the passenger seat floorboard of the car. 

Now, with my handy kit always with me, I can refuse plastic straws, plastic cutlery, and paper napkins in the drive-thru. I won't have to request a Styrofoam to-go box when I have leftovers at a restaurant. I don't need to ask for a disposable cup when I need water from a restaurant beverage station. Woo!

Now it's your turn. You probably won't have these exact same things lying around your house, but you probably have similar options. Here are a few ideas to inspire you:

Portable food container 

Pyrex dishes, bamboo or stainless steel lunchboxes, waterproof sandwich bags, Rubbermaid containers, sturdy restaurant to-go boxes that can be reused, anything with a lid. Plastic definitely isn't ideal, especially if you are going to reheat it, but if you already have it, use it until you can afford something safer.   

Portable beverage container 

Thermos, bottle, Mason jar (even a canteen or flask if you're bold enough)

Cloth napkins

Actual cloth napkins, washcloths, hand towels. If you already have paper napkins or paper towels at home (or a varied collection of McDonald's, Chickfila, Taco Bell, and who-knows-where-else napkins stashed in your vehicle's center console), put some in your kit to use them up and don't buy anymore!

Reusable straws

You pretty much do have to purchase these, but you have a few options: stainless steel, silicone, bamboo. If you already have BPA-free plastic straws, keep using them for now. 

Fork, knife, and spoon

If you don't have extra flatware in your kitchen to spare, you can find tons of cheap silverware at thrift stores; just clean with soap and water, then boil for a few minutes on the stovetop to sterilize. Portable cases like this are not necessary; just bundle utensils in a napkin and tie with string. 

Tote bag to put it all in

A large purse you don't use anymore, insulated lunch or grocery bags, plastic Walmart sack, reusable grocery bag, a free company-branded tote you got at a convention seven years ago, a cheapie drawstring backpack. You can even turn a t-shirt or tank top into a bag. You'll probably feel more confident and less weird carrying a pretty bag with you into a restaurant, but cuteness is not a requirement- any bag will do! 

Keeping this kit in your car prepares you to say no to wasteful restaurant offerings that will sit in a landfill for centuries to come. Just make sure that you wash and restock your kit after each use so you can keep doing your part to save the planet. 

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."

- The Non-Consumer Advocate

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