How To Pack A Zero Waste Lunch

Back when I  had just started my first real, post-graduate job I was commuting about an hour each way to work, and all the restaurants in the area were mainly fast food chains that didn’t appeal to me as someone who loves healthy food, plus, I knew they generated a ton of trash through single-use to-go containers.

The bright side to it all is that I love to cook, so I decided from the get-go that I’d bring my lunch every day to work. To do so, I invested in the ultimate zero waste and plastic-free lunch kit. AKA a super cool lunch box for adults.

It included:

  • One airtight stainless steel lunch container 

    • It is great. Totally spill proof, easy to clean, and it has optional dividers so that I can keep my food separate.
  • A Set of reusable bamboo utensils in a cute carrying case

    • Besides the fact that bamboo utensils look so cool, they come in a handy carrying case. You could keep a set in your desk at work, or just keep them with you at all times in your bag. You could also pick up a fork from the Goodwill or Salvation Army to leave at the office.
  • One reusable napkin 

    • I use Organic cotton napkins at my house, and I’d bring one to the office and leave it there for the week and then bring it home to wash on Friday. So easy.
  • A couple Organic cotton bags for snacks or sandwiches 

    • You can also use them for bulk at the market. I use these to buy rice and pasta at the market, but I also use them to carry granola, nuts, popcorn or even a sandwich to work. They are super lightweight and washable.
  • Mason jar, glass, or water bottle

    • I love bringing my BKR bottle with me wherever I go. I also almost always have a mason jar or reusable coffee cup on me at all times for hot liquids like coffee. You could also bring a glass from home or purchase one at your local thrift shop for under a dollar to keep at your desk. P.S. if you drink iced coffee or tea, you might want to invest in a stainless steel straw. I LOVE mine.

 

Shop all my go-to zero waste lunch accessories and more below:

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How To Make Your Coffee Order Zero Waste

I am absolutely addicted to coffee. I drink multiple cups every single day and while sometimes I make it at home, other times I grab it on the go.

But how do I get to-go coffee without a disposable cup? Easy!

I bring my own. Here are a few of my favorite reusable to-go cups and coffee accessories below.

Check out the video above to see how I buy coffee single use package free. You can do it with a reusable coffee cup or mason jar.

REMEMBER don’t be afraid of looking weird for asking for something in a reusable cup. You are a BADASS doing something that is amazing for the environment (and your wallet because a lot of coffee shops will give discounts for people who bring their own cups). If someone gives you a look for doing something different,  it is not something to be ashamed of. You could be doing something they have never seen before, so think about it in a way that makes you a teacher, showing someone something new, and be proud. You rock!

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My Ultimate Reading List

I am extremely grateful and thankful  to have received a degree in Environmental Studies from NYU. It is where I got a lot of my foundational science education that really helped to shape the way I think about things from a systems perspective. However, most of my knowledge on sustainability came not from school, but from reading.

I am a big believer that school isn’t how we become well versed in something, it is a hunger for learning and a desire to constantly challenge and enrich ourselves. I have included the names of the books that have helped me to grow and expand as well as a link to where you can buy them secondhand on Amazon (I know, they aren’t the best)… so I suggest first getting books at a local library, then purchasing books secondhand or on an e-reader if you have one. If you buy books secondhand online, remember to ask the seller if they can package it plastic free in an envelope as opposed to a plastic mailer. They are typically very accommodating.

The book that started it all for me: 


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson: The book that was published in a series of 3 excerpts in the New Yorker in 1962 that led to the banning of DDT and helped to start the environmental movement.

Animal Agriculture/Food


Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer: After becoming a father, Jonathan Safran Foer looked into why we eat animals and the stories behind them. This book is top 10 for me.


Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollan: Through the question of what to have for dinner, Pollan looks at our food system and how America eats.


In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan: This book looks at the American Paradox- the more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become. He suggest a “new” diet that looks in the direction of making thoughtful food choices.


Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser: A look into the American fast food industry.


Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé: a look into not only how what we eat affects us, but the world.

Sociology/Business/Economics/Other 


Flammable by Javier Auyero and Debora Alejandra Swistun: The impact of a large oil corporation on an Argentine shantytown.


Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E.F. Schumacher: A statement against “bigger is better” industrialism.


Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough: Remaking the Way We Make Things.


Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: Geography shapes the destiny of the world.


Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawkens: how businesses can be both profitable and environmentally responsible.

Collapse by Jared Diamond: How and why societies fail.


The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard: The impact of overconsumption on the environment, economy, and our health.


The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs

Enjoy these books and please let me know if you have any additions that I might have missed!

 

 

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Plastic Water Bottles

SINGLE USE PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES SUCKKKKKKKK. They are one of my least favorite things ever. In the US alone we use over 1,500 plastic water bottles per second…..

Let’s move beyond them, shall we? Here is a Simple Swap solution to help reduce the unnecessary, overpriced, toxic water vessel demons from making their way into landfills, oceans, and beyond.

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Zero Waste Lunches at Work

A lot of people ask me how I am Zero Waste at work.  I usually say that I bring my lunch to work every day which helps A LOT. A few weeks ago I posted my ultimate zero waste lunch kit with a lot of items from Life Without Plastic.

I save a lot of money by not purchasing lunch every day. My Organic, vegetarian meals cost me maybe three dollars each as opposed to buying lunch with non-organic, potentially GMO, conventional, and miscelaneious ingredients which can cost 8 dollars or more.

I try to make it a habit to make my lunch for the next day right when I get home. It takes about 20 minutes and then I am done and can just grab it and walk out the door in the morning. I usually make huge salads or mix pasta, rice, or cous cous with sautéed vegetables.

I keep apple cider vinegar at my office to use as a dressing so I don’t have to worry about lettuce from my salads wilting.

From the top left going clockwise:

  • Mixed green salad with kale, celery, cucumber, carrot, broccoli, green pepper, chia seeds, and beets: apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing
  • Mixed green salad with radish, kale, celery, cucumber, carrot, broccoli, green pepper, chia seeds, and beets: apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing
  • Mixed green salad with  barbecue tofu, chia seeds, kale, celery, cucumber, carrot, broccoli, green pepper, and beet: apple cider vinegar and olive oil dressing
  • Cous cous with radicchio, tomato, green leaf lettuce, and mushrooms
  • Brown rice with kale, tomato, pepper, and avocado
  • Cous cous with mushroom, tomato, squash, and mushroom 

As always, I use:
One airtight stainless steel lunch container 

I got mine from Life Without Plastic. It is great. Totally spill proof, easy to clean, and it has optional dividers so that I can keep my food separate. 

One reusable fork like this one from Life Without Plastic

I also got this from Life Without Plastic. Besides the fact that it is insanely adorable and foldable, it comes in an organic cotton carrying case. I am still deciding whether I should keep it in my bag at all times, or just leave it at work. You could also pick up a fork from the Goodwill or Salvation Army to leave at the office.

One reusable napkin
I use Organic cotton napkins at my house, and I bring one to the office and leave it there for the week and then bring it home to wash it on Friday. So easy. LWP offers a couple options including a book of washable napkins which seem pretty cool although I haven’t tried them.

A couple Organic cotton bags for snacks or sandwiches
(you can also use them for bulk at the market). I use these to buy rice and pasta at the market, but I also use them to carry granola, nuts, popcorn or even a sandwich to work. They are super lightweight and washable.

One mason jar, glass, or stainless steel canteen
I leave a stainless steel water bottle at work and just wash it in the sink. I also leave a mason jar for hot liquids like coffee. You could also bring a glass from home or purchase one at your local thrift shop for under a dollar. P.S. if you drink iced coffee or tea, you might want to invest in a stainless steel straw. I LOVE mine.

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Zero Waste Coffee


I love coffee. I drink it every day and have since I was about 15 years old. It was my saving grace in college and kept me sentient during many a sleepless night. Unfortunately, my addiction love, for coffee used to come with a high price tag, both for me and for the environment.

I used to buy my coffee every day from the cafeteria in my high school. I would buy 1-2 cups every morning and the styrofoam cups and plastic lids that it came in would go straight to landfill. It got a little bit better my freshman year of college when I lived in Paris. I used a french press, very authentic, and would drink my coffee at home before class, only to end up having to buy another once I got through my 9am 3 hour french lesson, can you blame me? Then, my sophomore year of college when I was back in NYC, I purchased a Keurig. I thought it was great. My semi-watery coffee was ready in 20 seconds, I could choose from an infinite list of exotic flavors, and I didn’t have to clean anything. I could just fill up the back of some plastic thing, wait a few seconds, and then toss out another little plastic thing. It was so easy and I had no idea how wasteful I was being. I just knew I was semi-caffeinated and that was enough for me.

Then, one August day my junior year of college, my mom brought me over a pumpkin roast that was pre-ground. It smelled like a mix of every bit of fall nostalgia that I ever had. The problem was that I could not make it in my Keurig, so I unearthed the completely glass and metal french press that I had purchased in Paris. I filled it up with boiling water, coffee and waited a few minutes. Even at first sip I could not believe it. It was so much more flavorful and rich than the single serve coffee that I had been drinking. I had truly forgotten how wonderful coffee could be. A few days later, I sold my Keurig on Craigslist and relied solely on my french press. I haven’t used anything else since.

Now that I am working and have to be up at 7am, coffee is everything. Including expensive. I just graduated, have an entry level job, and get paid a very, very entry level salary. While some people buy coffee every day, I simply can’t afford it, and even if I could, I still wouldn’t buy it out. Why? It is a waste of money, plus, I really think my coffee tastes better and I know exactly where it comes from because I buy Equal Exchange brand in bulk at my local market. My morning cup takes 8 minutes to make (four for the water to boil, and four for it to brew) and I can get ready during 6 of the 8 of them. It is an easy Zero Waste operation and I like it that way.

Now I make my coffee in my french press every day before work, and it pays off. A survey conducted by Accounting Principles showed that 50% of the American workforce spends $1,000 per
year on coffee which is much more than I spend on my multiple cups of organic, fair-trade coffee that I take to work in a mason jar. Here is my coffee breakdown…

-One pound of bulk Organic Fair-Trade coffee every week and a half for $10.00- $347.00/ year
-Organic milk purchased every week and a half for $5- $173.00/ year
-Bulk Organic sugar every three months for $11- $44.00/ year

Total:   $564.00 

The total is $564.00 for coffee and the works for my boyfriend and I every day of the year, so it would be even less for one! Subtract that from $1000.00 and you get $436.00 of savings. That money breaks down to about seven weeks of groceries for me, an obvious reason for me to make my coffee at home.

So there you have it. I get my milk, sugar, and coffee for over four hundred dollars less than 50% of the American workforce and it is waste free because I compost the grounds after!

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