Welcome to our series of posts on the A-Z of zero waste!
An overview of everything that has been shared so far can be found here.
Today will be talking about the concept of "Bringing your own..." which I'm pretty sure doesn't need explaining, but just in case I'm mistaken, it's the concept of bringing something with you to avoid the potential waste of using a disposable version of the same product. The scope of this concept is almost endless and as such there will definitely be examples of reusable items I won't mention in this article, but it doesn't mean that they are not important if they help you personally avoid waste.
So why "bring your own"? Well if you look at a lot of the single use items we generate as waste you can see that a lot of them are designed for convenience. For example the take-away disposable coffee cup. The design of this product means that you don't need to wash up a cup after you use it, you can just throw it away, but also that you don't need to bring your own mug from home. Bringing your own items counteracts that convenience culture we have found ourselves in, and can dramatically cut waste.
The UK uses 13 billion plastic water bottles every year.
Landfill and incineration of plastic bottles produces approximately 233,000 tonnes of CO2e emissions a year. (1)
2.5 billion coffee cups are used every year in the UK. Most cannot be recycled. 500,000 are littered every day. (2)
These could all be avoided if we were to bring our own.
If you look at any waste you generate, it is likely that there is something you can use instead to avoid it. If you remember that we haven't always had plastic as a material to use, any plastic waste you come into contact with has replaced something that was previously there, it just may not be obvious what, or it was something we were able to make do without 100 years ago. It's not just plastic however, anything that is designed to be disposable, even a paper bag, is creating waste when instead you could just bring with you a reusable bag.
Below I have a list of as many "bring your own" items as I can think of. There are certainly more and I would love if you could share them with me! This does not however mean you should go out and purchase all these items. Sometimes purchasing a new-to-you item can help you reduce waste but not always. Often in the excitement of reducing waste we forget about things we already own in favour of a more obvious choice. But buying new items, even second hand, is not more sustainable that using items you already own. Unfortunately the culture we live in, that still impacts our actions, tells us that we must shop our way out of a problem. For example, you do not need Pinterest-worthy kilner jars to avoid waste. You can reuse any jars you already have, or if you really need to buy some as you need a particular size, charity shops are often overflowing with jars.
Bring your own...
- Skip the new plastic bag, and bring a bag from home - even if that means reusing a plastic bag you already have or an old tote bag from a conference.
- Pass on the disposable coffee cup and if the coffee shop doesn't have it's own mugs, bring your own. This can be an old thermos, a travel mug, an actual ceramic mug or even something like a jar will work fine. Some places don't have reusable cups even if you drink in so this is an important one. Many places now also offer a discount if you being a reusable so it's financially sensible to do so!
- If you live somewhere where you have access to clean water then you really should carry around a bottle and refill it. This can be an old plastic one if needed or a reusable one that will last forever. If you have a glass bottle at home for sauces or nice drinks, think about reusing that before recycling. Also please bear in mind that not liking the taste of the water is different to not having access to safe drinking water. It is a privilege and not a reason to continue buying plastic bottles - if its really bad add a slice of lemon or invest in a water filter. Also the more you drink it the more used to the taste you become.
- Straws - in general most people have a mouth that will do an adequate job of drinking, but if you need a straw for health reasons, think about investing in a reusable straw if it works for your condition - or just reuse the straw you were given previously and rinse when done. If your health reasons mean that nothing else works, totally fine. But it you don't have health reasons, pass on these.
- If your work only has plastic cutlery, bring your own. You don't need anything new, just your usual cutlery from home. Plastic cutlery is notoriously terrible anyway. Leave it at work to avoid forgetting it.
- Building on from cutlery, bring your own crockery if you're going somewhere like a picnic where they may only be disposable options. Even the new "compostable" plates and cups are not as sustainable as the items you already own and can be reused multiple times.
- Bring your own napkin. So paper napkins don't seem like a terrible waste but trees were still cut down to make them, and they still don't break down well in landfill even if they are biodegradable due to the lack of oxygen. So just bring your own napkin, or even a tea towel to avoid using them. This then can also serve a double purpose and be used to dry your hands or mop up any spills.
- Lunch! Okay, so not an item in the classical sense but the majority of food you buy comes in packaging, so avoiding the over-packaged lunch deals by bringing food in your own lunchbox avoids waste.
- In the same way, snacks are often heavily packaged so bringing your own snack can help avoid waste. Generally home made snacks generate less waste but even if you still buy snacks in plastic, decanting from a larger packet can reduce waste. Like crisps, very hard to find plastic free but even buying in a large pack and dividing into smaller portions to take out will save rubbish. Could you made a big tin of something like flapjacks at the weekend which could keep you going all week?
- If you eat out for a meal, bring a Tupperware with you in case there is food left over. This stops you contributing to food waste which is actually a huge problem that we will tackle later, but also helps you avoid the packaging of a doggy bag - which is usually single use.
- If your place of work only uses coffee machines with disposable pods think about bringing in a cafetiere as the majority of these pods despite being made of metal foil cannot be recycled so go straight to landfill. The great thing about work place swaps is often you only need to bring them once and then you can keep them there!
- Did you know tea bags contain plastic? The plastic is used to heat seal the bags closed, but means that they don't properly biodegrade. Bring your own loose leaf tea and a filter to work to avoid the wasted tea bags.
- Bring produce bags to the supermarket for buying loose fruit and vegetables. You might be able to weigh a squash loose but its a bit more tricky when buying things like mushrooms that roll about, and by bringing your own bag you can avoid using those flimsy plastic bags.
- For those of you who eat meat, fish or cheese, think about bringing your own container to the butcher/fishmonger/deli counter to get your produce without the packaging. Some times they even do a discount!
- The same goes for anyone who has access to any food or products in bulk - bring your own containers! This can be jars, old Tupperware, old zip-seal bags or cloth bags.
- Take your containers if you order a takeaway and ask them to put the food straight into them. You might get some funny looks at first but it might perhaps encourage more people to do the same and the takeaway to evaluate their packaging.
- Menstrual products - now this is more if you're using reusable items, of which there are many options to suit people, but if you are, remember to bring them with you or they will be next to no use!
- I'm getting more niche, but if you're going on holiday remember all the reusables above - including bathroom items. Planes/trains are bad for disposable items so bringing your own can be a huge help. If you're going on a planet think about bringing your own eye mask and ear plugs if you already have them so you don't need to open the plastic packs, and try to bring your own headphones and blanket too. Hotels often provide a lot of toiletries for you but they're usually heavily packaged so bringing your own saves waste.
The possibilities of things you can bring with you are endless. But not all of them will apply to you, and if you carry all of the above around with you every day I think you might hurt your back. So think about your normal routine and focus on the items you can bring regularly to reduce waste. If a lot of waste is generated at work, could you leave some items there so you don't need to carry them back and forth every day? If you only go the shops on a weekend then you are unlikely to need all your shopping supplies, so maybe they live all together in one bag by the door so you don't need to remember them individually.
There are so many ways to reduce waste by "bringing your own". Do you have any I haven't mentioned?
- House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee - Plastic bottles: Turning Back the Plastic Tide
House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee - Disposable Packaging: Coffee Cups