Building an Eco Toolkit

A couple years ago I started on a mission to make less trash. It all began when I read this article about a young woman, younger than me, who had made so little trash in two years that she could fit it all in a mason jar. If I had never read Lauren Singer's story, I never would have believed it could be done. After my jealousy of her amazing feat had faded, I became inspired and determined - maybe too determined.

It's easy for me to have an All or Nothing attitude towards new endeavors. I want to do it right and perfect or I don't want to do it at all. The problem is it's impossible to make ZERO trash or to have no impact on the earth if we are to live in society today. There is a linear economy at work around us where almost every product that is designed and manufactured is destined for the landfill at some point (including items marked recyclable or biodegradable).

   And yet,

it is possible (and beneficial) to make less trash. It's even possible to make so little trash that you can fit it into a mason jar.

In the end, the goal is not to avoid trash at all costs, but to vote with our money, lead by example and hopefully inspire others to want to make less trash too. 

So two years ago, with wavering strictness, I set these goals for myself: 

  • To favor sustainable materials like glass, metal, wood and silicone over plastics
  • To favor used products over new products
  • To avoid single-use disposables such as to-go cups, cutlery, napkins, and straws
  • And to grocery shop in primarily the produce and bulk sections of the store using reusable containers

While it may seem a daunting task to avoid disposable items entirely throughout your day, it's fairly easy to avoid a few key items if you're prepared. Preparedness is key!

Below I share five items which make up what I call your Eco Toolkit. If you carry these things with you everyday in a purse, bag or backpack, you'll cut down on an astounding amount of garbage every year. It's a small step, and I believe it's worth it. 

Five Items for Your Eco Toolkit

1 | Mug


The mug you take with you could almost take any form; you usually don't need to go out and buy a fancy Klean Kanteen or Hydro Flask or Keep Cup - though those are all fantastic options. You could keep an actual ceramic mug handy in your car, backpack or office. Some people bring a regular mason jar with them to use for drinks throughout the day. Anything will do, but believe me, the day you don't bring one because you don't think you'll need it is the day you spontaneously decide to go out for coffee. At many places, you can ask for a For Here mug and they will give you a ceramic cup instead of the non-recyclable paper cup, but not all do and the chances of you (me) forgetting to ask for one is definitely a possibility.

My ceramic to-go mug is from Sarah Welch Pottery in Colorado. It came with a silicone lid that fits perfectly. I've had it for three years and have never gotten so many compliments on something. And it hasn't been dropped yet!


2 | Bags

I bring a few small bulk bags with me each day. Sometimes I bring snacks from home in them (chocolate-covered almonds are my go-to) but it's nice to have a few empty ones for unplanned trips to the store. And they're good for more than just groceries. 

It's also smart to have a reusable grocery bag or two with you. You can keep it in your car, but I like to keep a cloth one in my bag or backpack at all times. I also love these ones that can condense into a tiny ball because they can fit into anything. You'll find you need bags anywhere you shop, not just grocery stores - clothing stores, hardware stores, bookstores, and thrift stores would all be great places to refuse plastic or paper bags. 


3 | Cutlery


I try to keep a set of To-Go Ware  in my bag at all times so I can refuse plastic cutlery when eating out or even in the breakroom at work. The To-Go Ware sets are nice because they are made from sustainable bamboo, come in kids sizes and even contain chopsticks. But you really don't have to buy a fancy set of bambooware - just bring a setting of your silverware from home wrapped up in your napkin (see below). Easy. 


4 | Napkin/Handkerchief


I honestly love cloth napkins. I inherited too many of them from my grandmother, but when I decided to never buy paper napkins again for parties, having too many came in rather handy. Now I have cloth napkins for days, and I always try keep one in my bag. You could also invest in some vintage handkerchiefs - in my mind they're interchangeable. You'll use yours for many purposes. 


5 | Jar


A simple mason jar can be a catch-all for a multitude of things. If I have coffee in my to-go mug, I can use the mason jar for water or it can be used for food leftovers after eating at a restaurant. You can use it in the grocery store for the salad bar, bulk food, produce, baked goods, or at the deli. Be sure to write the jar's weight on it before you fill it up with food that is priced per pound.

My favorite place to buy mason jars are at thrift stores. There'll be droves of them there, and if need be, you can buy rings and lids new - they usually come packaged just in paper.



Please leave any questions or comments below! I'd love to hear from you!


For more inspiration, check out my Pinterest board, Eco Toolkit 


Further Reading

  1. The Guardian: Bulk buy: why zero-waste supermarkets are the new, old way to shop 
  2. Recology San Francisco Recycling Company: Why is Zero Waste Important? 
  3. Going Zero Waste blog: About Zero Waste
  4. EcoCycle.Org: Zero Waste, The Choice For a Sustainable Community

My Favorite Zero Waste Online Shops

  1. Living Without Plastic | shop
  2. MUR Lifestyle | shop 
  3. Package Free | shop
  4. Zero Wasted | shop
  5. Etsy | shop