One way to cut down on the waste you produce is to start refusing single-use items. These include plastic straws, plastic cutlery, paper napkins, paper plates, paper towels, and other similar items. There are a lot of posts out on the interwebs about "zero waste kits" and "what's in the purse of a zero waste human." You don't need me to tell you this because there is plenty out there. Instead, I'll give you recommendations for my favorite brands and tell you a little about my journey in learning to refuse these sneaky types of waste.
I started off by purchasing a reusable thermos that I could take with me easily and would be multipurpose enough to match my love of all types of beverages. I decided to buy a Klean Kanteen Insulated Wide in navy and I have never regretted it. I bought a cafe lid for it a little while later and now this is with me almost all the time. I use it for coffee (hot or cold), water, and tea. I brought it with on our trip to Europe this winter and used it in the airports, airbnbs, and on the streets of Paris and Prague. It's a little dented after three years of me taking it everywhere (and from my daughter throwing it around) but works as well as ever. Part of what made me choose my Klean Kanteen was the values of the company. Here's a little excerpt from their website about their "strong as steel guarantee." "Our goal is to reduce single-use, plain and simple. So we make products guaranteed to hold up to whatever life throws at them. If you are not satisfied with one of our products at the time you receive it, or if it doesn’t perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought it from or contact Klean Kanteen for repair parts, a replacement, or a refund." They are also a certified B Corp which means they meet high standards of social and environmental transparency, accountability and performance. Check out this page for what they do to qualify for the B Corp certification.
After purchasing my Klean Kanteen, I bought a set of bamboo cutlery with a travel case, a set of stainless steel straws, and some cloth napkins. I keep these in my purse or backpack almost all the time. The commitment that I made to myself when I started trying to develop the habit of refusing single-use items was that I wouldn't allow myself to buy a coffee if it involved single-use items. I would either have to drink my coffee in the shop or wait until I had my Klean Kanteen with me. Since I don't eat out much at all, taking coffee to-go was my biggest area of single-use waste. I still don't always stick with that commitment, but it helped cement in my mind the importance of thoughtful consumption. I now have a voice in my head every time I drink Starbucks from a plastic cups that reminds me I just made a decision that isn't in line with my stated values. I don't feel endlessly guilty because my identity isn't rooted in how little waste I produce. But I do feel motivated by the reminder that drinking coffee out of a single use cup doesn't match up with my values around environmental stewardship. I also found it really helpful to keep a set of the above-mentioned items in my car and that has proved useful on so many occasions (also great for when you're meeting up with a friend).
My best tips for cutting out single use items is to set yourself up for success by having reusable alternatives near as often as you can, but also to choose to refuse even if it means changing your plans. There have been several times where I've planned to grab a coffee to go and then run some errands, but end up skipping the coffee or having it at the shop because I forgot my thermos. While these changes can be annoying, time-consuming, or feel insignificant, there is something really sweet about making decisions that you know make sense with what you value. How much waste would you cut out of your life if you refused single use items?