Zero-waste basics: Mess kits will help save the world

Zero-waste basics: Mess kits will help save the world
Want to go zero-waste but don't know how? Start by building your own mess kit!

We all know that plastic pollution has been a fast-rising problem worldwide. In fact, the Philippines is 3rd biggest source of plastic leaking into the ocean.

A lot of us believe that disposing of our trash properly makes us responsible citizens but the truth is, 74% of the trash that garbage collectors pick up still end up in the sea because most of our landfills are near open sources of water, since the Philippines consists of a bunch of islands.

Unfortunately, throwing our waste in the bin just isn’t enough.

GLOBAL PROBLEM. Plastic pollution has been a rising problem all over the world. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

The most common waste we produce happens to be from food and drinks. The easiest and simplest solution happens to be a Mess Kit: a set of everything you need to eat – utensils, a tumbler and a food container.

But how exactly are mess kits going to save the world? Let’s do the math!

Assuming you eat out on weekdays for breakfast, lunch and dinner, that’s an average of:

2 straws + 3 sets of plastic utensils + 2 coffee cups and lids + 1 bottled water + 3 plates = 16 pcs of plastic per day x 5 days = 80 pcs of plastic per week x 56 weeks (1 year) = 4,480 pcs of plastic saved per mess kit.

SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE. Switching out single-use plastics for reusable items makes a big difference. Photo courtesy of Zero Waste hub

So, what do we start with?

Bring your own tumbler. Plastic bottles, coffee cups with lids, juice and smoothie glasses, plastic lids and plastic straws are items that we encounter every day.

These are also the easiest and most common items we can replace with one single reusable tumbler. Even taho vendors don’t mind filling up your container for you.

ZERO-WASTE TREAT. You can enjoy anything, even taho, without having to resort to single-use plastics. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

Most cafes will gladly fill your tumbler for you (except Tim Hortons because they use their single use cup for measuring coffee), while a few establishments like Starbucks offer a P5 discount if you bring your own tumbler.

You can also use your tumblers at convenience stores and most fast food chains for juice, soda or iced tea, which is a great thing because most paper cups are also lined with plastic, making it impossible to recycle.

You can also refill your tumblers with water at cafes and restaurants. Just don’t forget to leave a tip!

REFILL-READY. You can fill up your tumbler anywhere – even at convenience stores. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

DINE IN. If you forget your tumbler or container, you can ask establishments to put your order in a glass – like the author did at Wendy's for her ice cream. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

Tip: Klean Kanteen and Hydroflask have lifetime warranties. A big part of going zero-waste is investing in products so you won’t have to keep replacing it. Even better, just use whatever you already have. Sometimes, I use an old glass iced tea container and cover it with a sock that’s missing a pair.

Refuse the straw and lid. Even if you bring your own tumbler, a lot of beverage kiosks still throw away the cup you didn’t use for inventory purposes, and sometimes, we just forget to bring our tumbler.

So, what’s the next best thing? Just tell them not to put a lid and straw in it. Even for dine-ins, you’ll need to tell them “No straw please!” because most establishments automatically stick a plastic straw in.

METAL STRAW. Refusing plastic straws is a helpful step towards reducing plastic waste. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

Tip: If you don’t have a metal straw yet, you can use your metal spoon to fish out pearls and pudding from your milk tea.

Bring your own spoon and fork. Nobody likes flimsy plastic utensils anway, so just bring your own. Even better, make a whole utensil set! Include a straw and cleaner, a pair of chopsticks, and just place it inside an old pencil case!

CHOPSTICKS. Reusable chopsticks are easy to store and bring around. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

Tip: No need to buy utensils and a pouch! Just use what you already have!

Bring your own food container. Did you know that you can request for your food to be put into your container at fast food chains if you want to order take-out? You can even give it to them when you drive through!

TAKE OUT. You can enjoy your fast food favorites all the better in reusable containers. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

REFUSE SINGLE USE. You can even use your reusables when you drive through. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

Tip: Best to use leak proof containers to avoid spills.

Bring your own eco bag. Foldable bags barely take up any space and you never know when you’ll need it. Whether it’s an impulse buy or a sudden grocery purchase, or just somewhere to place your food container and tumbler to free your hands, it never hurts to have an extra bag lying around.

Extra tip: Find an old mint tin and cut up a piece of your soap from home. You can wash items from your mess kit anytime there’s a bathroom available.

AFFORDABLE. Going zero-waste doesn't have to be expensive. Photo courtesy of Joni Galeste

If you still aren’t convinced that something this simple isn’t making a big impact, let’s do the math again, but let’s bring it up a notch. Assuming you get to convince 10 friends to do the same thing, you’ve prevented 44,800 pcs of plastic from ending up in the landfill or sea with ONE. SINGLE. MESS. KIT.

Imagine all the happy sea creatures!

If you want to learn about other things you can do, join Buhay Zero Waste on Facebook for tips and tricks on waste reduction, eco brick making, proper trash disposal, and a long list of stores and establishments that support the plastic free lifestyle. –

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