The other day I was talking with a friend about plastic waste and she mentioned it was almost impossible to escape from it especially when she was on the go buying lunch, out running errands or on a day trip. And I think she’s got a point, it is challenging because we live in the era of convenience and single-use products.

Single-use is just a fancy word for disposable items, we use them once for some minutes and then to landfill or recycling in the best case scenario. Disposable items of any kind and any material are wasteful, even if they are not made of plastic because lots of resources go into creating them and they are disposed after a single use.

Today thinking about my friend’s comment, I decided to list some of the key disposable plastic items that are hard to avoid and some tips and alternatives to reduce waste.

Awareness first then be prepared

They key to fight disposable plastic when we are on the go is preparation, but first we need to be aware of our habits and identify the products we are sending to the landfill (or even recycling) every week.

Consider your workplace, I see every single day colleagues buying take away coffee, food, packaged snacks and more. It is “normal” because everyone does it and honestly they are not aware of the amount of waste they generate and the impact on the planet.

Because the first step is awareness, I would suggest for one week you count all the single-use plastic you consumed, be real, don’t change your habits. After that week, which type of products are you using the most? start with that one. We can’t change everything at the same time..

To reduce/avoid these products we need to be prepared and no, it is not that hard. Let’s see 7 common disposable plastic products and some strategies to consider.

1. Cutlery

Think take away, social gatherings, day trips, we love the convenience of disposable cutlery. They are light-weighted, small and the best of all we don’t have to deal with cleaning them after use. However they are so wasteful and most of them are not even recycled, according to ABC:

Plastic forks, spoons and knives cannot go in your recycle bin because the utensils are the wrong shape to be properly separated by the sorting machines. But some councils will accept plastic plates.

Eating in food courts

When you eat in food courts or order take away you know plastic knives, forks and spoons are always present. The solution is very simple: bring your own cutlery.

I personally own this bamboo kit, it weights only 46 grams (my compact face powder weights more than this kit!!!)

Bamboo cutlery

Bamboo cutlery

But you don’t have to buy anything, just pick some cutlery you already own (even more durable plastic), wrapped in a fabric napkin and keep it with you when you are out.

Take away

If you know you are eating at home or the office where you have regular silverware, just say no to any plastic cutlery. Often when you order take away they pack everything in a bag and many times they include plastic cutlery by default. You can tell them in advance or simply check your order before leaving and return any cutlery and items you don’t need.

If at work let’s say I order take away 2 times per week and use plastic cutlery every time (let’s say fork and knife), that’s at least 200 pieces of plastic straight to the landfill every year. Just me, multiply that for millions of people doing exactly the same thing.

Day trip

I often take regular silverware which I wrap in a fabric napkin (which helps me to avoid any mess when they are dirty after use) and when I get home I put it in the dishwasher. It is so simple really, it is just a habit!

Maybe other options like this edible cutlery will be widely available in the future:

2. Cups


Take away coffee cups usually look very eco-friendly because they are made of cardboard but the sad reality is that the majority are coated with polyethylene plastic on the inside and often they can’t be recycled.

If at work I buy take away coffee let’s say 3 times per week and they don’t offer a recycling option for these cups, that’s 156 cups of coffee sent straight to the landfill in 1 year. Again multiply that habit in millions of workplaces around the world every single day.

Best way to enjoy your coffee is to actually seat few minutes and drink it in a proper glass/ceramic cup, but if you are really busy and need to order take away, just bring your own cup.

I personally don’t drink coffee but I own a glass reusable cup which I use for tea and hot drinks. It is not a light option (but I love glass), it weights 219 grams.  I keep it mainly  at work or in the car.

Reusable coffee cup

Reusable coffee cup

If you prefer something less heavy and bulky there are some foldable options available in the market. A colleague shared this version the other day and mentioned worked really well for him:

Foldable cup

Foldable cup – Photos courtesy of Steven Mcintosh

Brands and materials for reusable cups are endless just pick what ever suits your lifestyle.

Did you know you can even save money when you bring your own cup?

These days many coffee places offer discount where you bring your own coffee and that’s great, especially if you order take away every single day. Visit ResposibleCafes and browse the map to locate the places where you can get discount near you.

3. Water

I already wrote a full post about bottled water (click on this link if you haven’t read it) with all the information about this topic, but I wanted to include it in this link because water is one of those things we can’t live without.

When we are on the go and unprepared a plastic water bottle is often handy to resolve that issue, that’s why a reusable water bottle is your best friend and you can simply re-fill it. My preferred material is stainless steel, but if you already own any bottle just start using it.

Stainless steel water bottles

Stainless steel water bottles

If you don’t want to carry a bottle then drink from a fountain. In many cities there are apps and other resources to locate them. Check my previous post for more information.

Also I don’t know if you have noticed, but I often see in clinics, shops (and even cafes) they have water dispenser for customers but they usually have plastic cups or paper cups (lined with plastic).

In my case when I can’t take my water bottle with me I carry this small cup, it weights only 51 grams and it is tiny, it fits even in my ridiculously small purses.

Tiny foldable cup

Tiny foldable cup

4. Straws

This is the simplest item to skip all together because the majority of us don’t need it at all. I wrote a quite detailed post about straws before, if you haven’t read it this is a perfect opportunity to learn more about this small but pollutant plastic item.

If you really need or want a straw, think reusable! Stainless steel, glass, bamboo, several options to choose from. I own a reusable straw, it weights only 22 grams. I don’t tend to go out with it but it is quite light, if you know you are going to a pub or restaurant and you love straws, take it with you.

Reusable straw

Reusable straw

I think the challenge is to remember to refuse it when you order your drink, but as everything repetition is key. I have found that association can also help. If you associate a pub or juice bar with straws, it is very likely you remember to say: no straws please!

5. Drink stirrers

These ones are common in airports, pubs and places where people are on the go. Some are made of wood which is better than plastic but still wasteful, it takes resources to make those objects which are literally used 2 seconds!

If you find yourself often using stirrers just be prepared with a small reusable spoon (for coffee for instance) or if you use if for cocktails and other drinks a reusable straw can be more useful.

6. Bags

We all know they are everywhere, but it is not so hard to avoid them. I wrote some articles about reusable bags and how to develop the habit to remember them, they are full of information and strategies, if you  haven’t read them please check them out.

If you are on the go, maybe using public transport, you need to be prepared with your reusable bags. I own some foldable reusable bags which are very light and convenient and I also carry with me this small pouch with a couple of produce bags in case I need to buy some food. Together they only weight 89 grams and they are quite small.

Reusable bags on the go

Reusable bags on the go

7. Packaged Snacks

Packaged food when we are on the go is the easy choice, but not a good one when it comes to our health and the planet. Even if they say they are healthy most likely they are full of sugar/salt, preservatives, flavours and heaps of ingredient we don’t want in our food.

Nature provides the best packaging, so fruits are a win-win, good for us and the planet too. Bananas, apples, mandarins, whatever is in season.

Consider taking a couple of fruits to work every day, you’ll save some money and eat better. And if you really want to eat some other form of snacks, avoid individually packaged products and simply take small reusable container with that particular food you wish to eat.

Final words

I am not suggesting you leave home with a 500 grams of reusable products in your handbag/backpack. I personally don’t take all these reusable products with me every time, but I pick them based on how I am planning to spend my day. For example:

  • The days I am at work I take my kit: reusable bags, cutlery, small cup and fruits.
  • For a day trip: fruits, water bottle, reusable cutlery (bags and coffee cups are always in the car).
  • If I know I’ll be in the city using public transport and running errands: reusable bags, cutlery, small cup/water bottle and fruits.

Also you don’t have to buy all these reusable items, I have bought all these items above over the years as I have progressed in my green journey. Just use what you already own or pick the disposable plastic item you use the most and get a reusable version, start there. One step at a time!

Plan ahead and pick something that suits your lifestyle.

“There are so many ways in which we are destroying the planet. And once we understand, once we care, then we have to do something”- Dr Jane Goodall

There you have it, some ideas to avoid using disposable plastic products. Do you use many of these disposable items when you are on the go? Have you counted them? Which of these ideas are you planning to implement soon? Please let me know in the comments below.

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Thanks for reading,