All the Instagram and Pinterest pictures suggest to us that we need to have fancy bamboo cutlery or a custom made travel spork to be zero waste or low impact, but we don’t. Just use your regular cutlery.
This is what I use:
You shouldn’t have to buy things to be zero waste!
I own “fancy” cutlery because I inherited some silver plate cutlery, which isn’t really fancy or worth anything. But, it is pretty. Tarnished because I’m too lazy to polish it, but pretty. I take whatever cutlery I need with me, straight from my cutlery drawer. This is usually just a spoon because I eat soup at work pretty much every day. I toss my cutlery in the bottom of my lunch bag. Some days, I may wrap them in a napkin or put them in a reusable snack bag, but I don’t own one of those custom cutlery wraps.
I don’t use chop sticks. Yeah, they’re cool and all, but I fail at using them with any degree of grace and feel no need master them.
I do have a couple stainless steel straws (a gift), but haven’t used them. I honestly can’t think of when I might use them. I never use straws and I’m not against drinking smoothies without a straw. I’m told that makes me weird, but I’m OK with that.
I also have one of these Cuppow drinking lids (found at a local eco store) that turns a wide mouth mason jars into a sippy mug style container. I use it when I make iced tea because I can safely make the drink in a mason jar (they can handle temperature changes from hot to cold) and it means that I can drink it without ice cubes freezing my upper lip. It’s a bit of a luxury item for me and you don’t need it to enjoy iced tea!
I own this spork-like thingie because, several months ago, I got sucked into the “buy to be zero waste” nonsense. The spork goes with a napkin designed to wrap up into a tiny travel kit. It was an impulse purchase that I haven’t used yet, but I think it could be useful for travel because then I don’t have to worry about losing my day-to-day cutlery. Instead of a fancy spork, you could just pick up a few extra pieces of cutlery from a thrift store or a yard sale.
I used to own a bamboo cutlery set, but I quickly realized that they were redundant. I gave the bamboo to an acquaintance who wanted some lightweight cutlery for camping.
I own linen napkins because I grew up using them and I love how useful they are. I found these dark blue ones at 10,000 Villages a year or two ago and bought them because my old linen napkins were falling apart. Again, use what you have or make your own. [Side note: in this case, I will recommend looking for linen and not that polyester or mixed fibre nonsense you usually see in kitchen/decor stores. Linen softens over time and it’s more absorbent. You can often find linen napkins at thrift stores. But, regular cotton fabric is fine (though it doesn’t absorb much), flannel works, and even an old shirt cut and stitched into squares will work. I opt for dark colours because I’m too lazy to deal with stains.]
I don’t have a Swell brand water bottle or whatever is on trend these days. Heck, I still use a plastic water bottle. At home, I have some re-purposed juice bottles (glass) that I use for water. But, plastic water bottles are super convenient for travelling or hiking. Plus, I already owned it.
I also have two insulated hot beverage mugs. I keep one at work to use as my water glass and tea mug. The second one is typically only use for hikes, travelling or days when I want to keep some hot tea insulated at home.
I also have a bunch of stainless steel food containers. I mostly use glass jars (mason jars, washed out condiment jars, etc.), but I decided that it would be nice to have a few light weight containers for lunches. I bought these because I needed to replace some old plastic lunch containers, not because Instagram told me they were cool. Though, they are pretty awesome because I saved up for some leak proof containers from Life Without Plastic.
I still have plastic containers, too. I will use these until they are no longer usable, then I’ll save up for some light weight metal containers because the idea of taking glass to the market makes me nervous.
The point of all this is to show that you don’t have to buy stuff to be zero waste or low-impact. You can buy things, but unless you’re replacing something that you need and use, it’s better to go without. It’s also better to keep using what you already have, even if it’s plastic, to get the full life out of the items before sending them to the landfill (bonus points if you can find a secondary use for the items, like using old plastic containers to separate things in drawers). When they need to be replaced, either buy second hand (even if it’s plastic) or look for eco-friendly options.
I made the mistake of buying a few things that I didn’t need, but now I’m more thoughtful about what I buy and more creative about finding alternatives, like washed out jars. When I go grocery shopping, I often think about packaging and how I can re-use it later. For me, buying a slightly more expensive bottle of mustard is worth it if it comes in a glass jar that I can easily re-use. The only issue I’ve had is with some spicy or strong flavoured things, like tomato sauce, which permeate into the lids. But, I try to use those bottles either for similar types of food (ex: left over pasta) or non-food items (ex: to hold rubber bands).