{minimal} Zero Waste bag and car necessities

I love living light. I’ve moved more times than I care to count in the past years, typically bringing just a suitcase or two of clothes and belongings, so it’s been necessary to keep things minimal. I have intermittently lived without a car, and when I moved again about three weeks ago, I became car-free once again.

We’re not here to discuss the impact of driving a car right now; it’s simply an unavoidable part of life in certain parts of the world, and leaving your home to buy food, work, or go to school aren’t wrong just because you live in a rural area and can’t get public transit or walk/cycle. Having recently lived zero waste with a car and now living zero waste car-free again, there are some differences in what is feasible to normally carry and what you can keep accessible if it’s necessary for you to take a car.

So for zero waste bag & car necessities, keep it light with these suggestions:


BAG

Straw

Remember when people got really upset about the straw thing a year ago? Yikes. Can we please call it Strawmageddon?

 It was a good conversation to have, and skipping the straw is still something to add to your zero waste skillset if you don’t need one, although there are certainly more impactful things to do. If you want to avoid disposable straws because you haven’t yet figured out how to drink from restaurant glasses without all the chipped ice falling into your face (why do they give us so much ice in the USA?) or for any reason you have for wanting to drink from a straw without real need for something made from disposable plastic, toss a reusable straw in your bag. Tip: rinse it out immediately after use. You won’t regret it ;)

Alternatively, if you want to keep things very minimal or don’t use a straw, skip the reusable as well.

Cloth

I’m not a fan of the overprepared and mercilessly heavy zero waste bag I used to carry, but a hankie or a napkin are light additions that I use often. I recommend a napkin because it’s sturdier for more uses than a hankie. Of the hankies I’ve carried, more of them have gone to friends having bad days than to surprise runny noses, and more of the napkins I’ve carried have gone to tenderly wrapping up French fries I couldn’t finish at the restaurant than cleaning my hands.Of course, they’re great for the intended purposes of cleaning our mouths and noses, but if you keep the cloth clean, it can double for carrying leftovers or purchasing package free goodies.

Cutlery

In the spirit of keeping things minimalist, I’ll first say you don’t need to carry cutlery with you most of the time. When it’s likely you’ll need it, just grab some with you for the day. If you’re not one to remember and want to be a little more prepared, I recommend you just carry a spoon in your bag and don’t waste the money on an unnecessary spork or knork (knife + fork). If you must carry cutlery, a spoon is the best choice because it is a.) the superior cutlery and b.) you can’t eat soup with a fork.

Produce bag

Minimalism is about not having more than you personally need, and I personally need (want) a produce bag with me when I go out. That way, if I come across a bulk store by surprise or stop unexpectedly at the store, I have something to use. Since produce bags fold up very small and are made of lightweight fabrics, it’s worth it for me to carry.

Reusable shopping bag

If you’re a very prepared person, you don’t need to carry an extra reusable shopping bag with you. If you’re like me, you absolutely do; my reusable shopping bag was lost at a friend’s house for two weeks, and I carried a lot of things in my hands during those two weeks. Since I make use of it so frequently, it’s a necessary item in my bag and it’s made of a lightweight, mostly likely plastic, fabric that can fold very small.

If you are a big bag kind of person, you can probably skip the reusable shopping bag. Assuming your big bag isn’t already totally full (bold, I know) you can put incidental purchases in the bag you’re already carrying.

Cup

I don’t leave without a water bottle, unless I’m going somewhere that will give me something else to drink. If you’re a water drinker, a bottle is perfect. If you’re someone who likes to get coffee or other drinks out, I suggest you bring your water in a container appropriate for that instead; you may feel weird drinking water from a reusable coffee mug, but you are most certainly going to have a hard time convincing a barista to put a latte in your narrow-mouthed stainless steel water bottle.

CAR

Every bag you own

I’m here to free your kitchen from the stashes of reusable bags you have tucked here and there. Keep all of your shopping bags in your car, large bags and bulk bags for loose produce or bulk purchases as well. I always kept my bags and shopping containers in the largest shopping bag and tucked it in my trunk. That way, things stayed clean (protected by the big bag) and I could shop any time I was out with my car. To keep things minimal, don’t have more bags than you really need. You won’t need as many bags if you aren’t constantly splitting them between your home and shopping trips.

Being prepared for shopping is what made the difference for me to actually buy more package free food because I didn’t have to wait to visit the store for a day when I remembered my bags and containers.

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Reusable plastic containers

Have you heard the news? Zero waste isn’t all about avoiding plastic and you can regularly use plastic in a totally zero waste way. Up until a few weeks ago, anything I bought loose (in bulk) was not purchased in tared containers because the store I shopped at didn’t tare containers; lightweight plastic is perfect for this, and there’s no need to go buy anything special. I used containers from food, like lunch meat that my family ate.

If you have a car, you can stash some reusable containers in the trunk (is it too bold of me to assume your car isn’t full of old sweatshirts and miscellaneous?). In the spirit of keeping things minimal, anything you purchase food in should be food safe, so those containers for bulk purchases can serve dual purpose. I like to use them for leftovers when I eat at restaurants as well, and since they are in the car, it’s no big deal if I forget to bring leftover containers or eat out unplanned.

Cup

Let’s consider the following: How often do you get coffee to-go or take-away? How often do you get other drinks to-go or take-away? How many reusable tumblers or cups do you have? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

If you’re big on buying coffee or other drinks out and have the spare cup, leaving one in your car will cut out your need to remember to grab one out the door. How minimalist this is depends on how necessary it really is for your life and it’s only realistic if you’re not so minimalistic normally that you can spare a reusable cup to cycle through and keep in the car.

Wee containers

Apart from larger Tupperware for leftovers and bulk shopping, I recommend keeping one or two tiny containers with your shopping supplies for odds and end kind of purchases. I often ended up at the store with nothing I could put tea or spices in, so having a spare small jar or two made it easier to buy these things with less forethought. To keep things minimal, use these containers for the storage of small quantity goods like tea and spices as well.


As much as we like to pretend living car free is easy breezy, it’s simply not possible in some places. If it’s a necessary tool for you, make the best of it by keeping some zero waste tools tucked away easy access. For when you’re out and about otherwise, there’s not much you really need to avoid unnecessary disposables from cups, to bags, to Styrofoam containers. I hope this lightened your load, and happy zero wasting!

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