Making a Zero Waste Go Bag

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There has been a lot of talk about waste in the news lately. We know we have a problem and landfill is not the answer, but even our efforts towards recycling have been called into question because most of the stuff was sent to China for recycling and they are no longer accepting our waste. It seems to me that while recycling is a good idea, we need to go further up the hierarchy of waste from “recycle” to “reduce and refuse”.

We live a suburban lifestyle, we don’t live in a cave cooking over an open fire, so we do accumulate some waste, particularly when we go out. It might be plastic bags with the shopping, a disposable coffee cup, plastic cutlery with lunch or a plastic water bottle. Over the last few years we have been working to reduce our environmental footprint but it has become time to start focussing on the waste we produce (or is produced in our name) and what we can do about it.

Coincidentally, my daughter has recently started moving towards zero waste in her household and this has given me the motivation to see if we can reduce our waste production even further than it is. One of the ideas which she introduced me to (on day 19 of her 30 day Zero Waste challenge) is the Zero Waste Go Bag.

The idea behind the zero waste go bag is to have with us reusable replacements for all of the disposable rubbish we are likely to be presented with while we are out. That way we can refuse the disposable items and save a least a little bit of rubbish from land fill.

Items in the Go Bag (This is for the two of us so you can halve amounts for one)


Keep Cups – we have two plastic coffee (or hot chocolate) keep cups. I get them from a local retailer. I have tried a couple and found that my first foray into the keep cup world was not really good, it was a double walled ceramic cup with a silicone lid. It was heavy, fragile and I found the “mouth feel” (for want of a better term) of the silicone lid to be objectionable. The current cups we have fill the bill exactly.

Water bottles – We do have a couple of aluminium water bottles but also re-use commercial water bottles as they are light and seem to work pretty well. While the bottles are strictly speaking, part of the kit, we do keep them in the front of the car with us for use when needed and find that that works very well for us.


Chinese Food Containers – several different sizes – These perform a twofold purpose, they can be used to put any extra food in when dining in a restaurant and you order too much, rather than use a disposable doggie bag provided by the restaurant. They are also used to buy meat/cheese etc. from the butcher or deli, rather than accepting them packaged in a plastic wrap, inside a paper wrap, inside a plastic bag as provided by the shop.

The shop server can attach a sticker directly to the top of the container with the price bar code on it, so they do not need to use disposable packaging. There are glass containers which can be used for the same purpose but if they don’t tare the scales correctly you can be paying a lot of money for your own glass containers!

Some people get it, some don’t – and I have had meat placed in the container wrapped in a plastic bag, which kinda defeats the purpose. Shop staff are generally becoming more aware and we are less likely to just meet outraged stares or nervous giggles these days when we present reusable containers for filling.

Fruit and Veg Bags – These are mesh bags or cloth of varying sizes, with or without draw strings, which take the place of those thin clear plastic produce bags provided by fruit and veg shops as well as the produce area of supermarkets. The idea is they are light and you can see through the mesh ones at least, you place the fruit/veg you want in them and they can be weighed up as they are or the produce can be removed prior to weighing if you prefer.

You can make them yourself from muslin cloth if you have the skills, but they are now also starting to appear commercially on line and in shops like Howards Storage World.


When you eat out in the food court, they always give you disposable cutlery (including chopsticks) which then wind up in the bin after the meal. While it is possible to buy special cutlery which nests together to save room or folds up or whatever, we just grabbed stuff straight out of our cutlery drawer. The only specialised bit of kit we had to buy in was two stainless steel straws (to replace plastic ones) and the cleaning brush which came with them.

We have two knives, spoons, forks; four chopsticks and a teaspoon as well as the stainless steel straws, all wrapped up in a folded tea towel. The tea towel is a bit of a pain, the utensils easily fall out of it, but Linda is going to make a utensil roll, similar to the things people used to keep their knitting needles or crochet hooks in, to hold our utensils.

In terms of the straws, we do use them sometimes, but when ordering drinks I just ask for no plastic drink cover and no straw, they are usually pretty good about it. We then drink directly from the cup without using a straw at all. It just depends on your preference.


To replace the usual paper products provided with just about any takeaway meal and for general clean up duties we have included two hand towels, two face washers and two handkerchiefs. The hand towels are used to replace paper napkins to keep food out of the lap as well as seeing duty as hand wipers.


We are still experimenting with the outer bag which holds everything together. It is basically a trade-off between being big enough to hold everything and strong enough to stand up to the repeated use without being too heavy before you even start loading it up. We have settled on a cotton bag from a bookshop which seems to work pretty well so far.

There are also two cotton shopping bags in the go-bag and a couple of re-usable plastic bags which fold up into almost nothing and are very light to carry. They enable us to refuse those single use plastic shopping bags provided almost everywhere you buy stuff. Alternatively we just carry the merchandise if there is not too much.

Within the last week or so we went in towards town on a bit of an expedition by public transport and took the go bag with us. It was pretty much of a success, reducing the amount of disposable plastic we picked up to almost zero. We did not use everything in the bag and so, depending on where you are going and what you are doing, you might not want to have all items in there for very outing. For us it have proved to be well worth the effort of putting it together and bringing it along!


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