Zero Waste: What’s In My Bag?

No water, no life. No blue, no green. -Dr. Sylvia Earle


I recently read in a book that there are garbage patches the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. The book wasn’t even about that, it was just a conversational tidbit in the novel, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the garbage patches. I obsessively searched the internet for images, videos, and any information that I can find about the Pacific trash vortex, and the more I learned the more devastated I felt. I couldn’t believe that the beautiful oceans that I loved to swim in were being trashed to this extent.

Waiting for policy changes to mitigate our environmental impact can be slow (but doesn’t mean we should stop fighting for it!), but the change that starts with the individual can happen today. I found it surprisingly easy to make some swaps in my daily life that can reduce my plastic footprint. I’m not totally there yet in my zero waste journey, but for me this movement isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress.

One area that I’ve always felt guilty about is travel: the carbon footprint of flying is undeniable yet something I can’t really give up if I want to cross the oceans in reasonable time. But something I can change is reducing my trail of litter when I travel. Here is what I packed in my small 10″ by 15″ backpack on my recent trip to New York.



1.  Light reusable shopping bags that can live in your backpack or purse.  I got the blue one as a souvenir on a recent trip to Mexico and I got the llama one in Japan over 14 years ago!

One million plastic bags are used every minute worldwide, with each bag having a “working life” of only 15 minutes on average.*


2.  Reusable bottles: mom and daughter edition.

 America’s plastic bottle demand requires 17M barrels of oil a year, with a recycling rate of only 23%**


3.  Reusable utensils.  This comes in handy for food trucks and fast food restaurants that only have plastic utensils.

4.  Cotton napkins.

5.  Reusable hot beverage mug.  I drink an average of 2 coffees or teas a day and always on the go.  This mug is easily rinsed out in the bathroom in between drinks.

6.  Small towel to dry hands in the restroom.

7.  Snacks in a cotton bags.  Cotton bags are more eco-friendly, but if you have plastic zip-locks you can always keep them and re-use.  We still have old zip-locks at home, and I always wash and reuse them (a family tradition thanks to my mom).

Not pictured: stainless steel straws.


That’s it!  It required almost no effort to make these small changes while I was exploring the city.  Some of these items “live” in my backpack now so I can continue reducing my waste at home.

*Pacific Institute and Fishman, Charles. “Message in a Bottle.” Fast Company Magazine July 2007: 110.
**plasticoceans.org

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