One of the huge hurdles about trying to be plastic-free is that you really have to plan. When planning, it's helpful to know what to expect in your day to day consumption at the grocery, coffee shop, restaurant. When you're traveling you have a lot more unknowns to deal with (it's not your regular grocery, coffee shop, restaurant) and you're often not making food at home. Just the thought of it gives me anxiety and sounds like some Mission: Impossible BS and gives me visions of a Fvjallraven full of glass containers, sporks, tiffins, you name it. Like if Inspector Gadget and Life Without Plastic had a baby. (I don't even own a Fvjallraven, by the way.)
Chicago has been my home-away-from home for the last week and knowing I'd be living out of a hotel room and eating out, this is what I brought with me:
cloth napkin, spork and elastic
small leak-proof tiffin
(not shown) metal condiment/spice rack size container
my trusty REI travel mug
(today the barista told me "it looks like it's been through a lot")
(today the barista told me "it looks like it's been through a lot")
It helped that I discovered that the one vegan chain, Native Foods, near our hotel served their dine-in food on ceramic plates with metal flatware with the only disposable being a napkin. (For the most part. I did order a dessert they tried to put in a plastic cup but I saw it happening and was able to put it into one of the wraps I had instead.) This meant that I became a Native Foods groupie for a week straight -- sometimes I ate there twice a day. I've eaten half their menu, legit fan-girl style. It was just so easy because not only were they 100% vegan but they also didn't hand me disposables the way a lot of fast food places would. We used the tin and wraps for Native Foods leftovers quite a few times. Once I ordered my food to stay just so I could put it in my own to-go containers vs receiving it in their plastic ones.
Do-Rite Donuts was also pretty easy -- a paper bag and a sheet of waxed paper was not so bad. Sometimes it was just waxed paper, no bag.
And we managed to get some loose produce from the farmers' market -- kirbies and peaches:
Yeah, that's our ice bucket and hotel room side table. The kirbies had a green cardboard container and I just put the peaches in my tote bag.
Other places were a little trickier. I asked Le Pain Quotidian to put my baked goods right into my wrap mat. Intelligentsia coffee shop #1 gave me my soy milk for my cold brew in a ceramic creamer pot the first few times and then the last time they just let me pour it in right from the box. Intelligentsia #2 handed me my soy milk in a paper cup. (Why do coffee shops do this?! Why?!) I favored Intelligentsia #1 for obvious reasons. Chicago Diner gave us ceramic dishes (though we used a wrap mat for our sandwich leftovers - so prepared!), as did Kitchen 17 (also packed up leftovers into the tin - again, prepared!). We took the L to and from those places, so no cars involved.
I bunged up a few times on my own though. I got low blood sugar near a CVS and couldn't find something package-free while I walked around with my glass bottle of kombucha (sans travel mug). Nuts in a cardboard canister? Everything was too big or not vegan. All the other nuts were in plastic. Cracker boxes? All had a bag inside. Bars (Fig Bars, Aunt Betty's, That's It, etc) -- all had plastic wrappers. I ended up with a box of rice cakes with plastic packaging inside, which made no sense but my brain wasn't working at that point so I just made my failure purchase and GTFO.
I also managed to forget my travel mug when I went to the rate-the-fall-season-samples Mata Traders event and took a plastic cup from them for my lemonade. (It was a 20 min train ride and a 20 min walk so I was thirsty!) Feck. That cup went in the trash cans available there. I did manage to take the L and walk to their location instead of calling a car so I was proud of myself about that.
I was also running low on bar soap and uh, eyeliner. I usually travel with my own bar soap because hotel soap usually isn't vegan and often involves some kind of plastic packaging anyway. My e.l.f. eyeliner (cruelty free and vegan) just happened to run out this week and since there was a Target nearby and I knew I could get both e.l.f. and soap there, I headed there to look through their offerings.
In addition to the e.l.f. eyeliner (vegan, cruelty-free but sadly in a plastic blister pack, unlike some of their other products which are only in cardboard), I found a new-to-me vegan brand called Hand-to-Hand. Palm oil-free and made in the USA also. They are one of those one-for-one social impact companies as well if that's your thing. But importantly, the bars were wrapped in paper only. No plastic shrink wrap! (Looking at you, Yes to Carrots and 70% of the other brands out there.)
Target also had some super cute plastic-free note cards. Usually they are sold in those stupid plastic-front boxes but there were quite a few sold in cardboard packs -- both this green brand and the Target house brand as well. I have a glut of note cards so I didn't need them but if you do, take note! (Sorry not sorry. Also how is "notecard" not a real compound word according to my spellcheck?) I know this has nothing to do with what I went in there for but I suffer from the illness that makes me to look at every aisle in drugstores and Targets and so forth. It's relaxing to me and therefore, I bring you plastic-free note cards.
Speaking of having to look at everything -- I stopped in Urban Outfitters across the street because a) they were having a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale on those black jeans I wear constantly for work and b) because I like to look at their Urban Renewal stuff, though this season it seems to be mostly butchered Levi's. (I still look at UO even though I know they are design-stealing provocateurs whose leadership supports gag-inducing political candidates. I know.) Anyway, now I feel stupid for even bringing up UO and what I'm about to post next but here I go. Look at this little ceramic mushroom bowl with a leak-proof (albeit plastic) lid!
I knew I shouldn't have been as excited about this as I was. (God knows where and how it was made. Plastic lid. Heavy for travel because it's ceramic.) But I couldn't talk myself down from the ledge on this one. Why? First of all -- it's ceramic and feels nice. The lid is pretty secure. It looks like a normal bowl! Also it's in Urban Outfitters housewares. The kids should be encouraged by fashionable mushroom-themed home goods. Inspired to bring their lunch (or breakfast!) (or brunch!) to work! Or school, I guess - wherever the kids go. Go kids, go!
I mean, I didn't get it. I just liked that it would put the idea in someone's head that they could use a reusable container and bring their own food...somewhere, skipping takeout plastic.
This trip has been more successful avoiding plastic than pretty much any other trip in my life. I skipped the Terra chips on the plane, even! I can thank #plasticfreejuly for that inspiration. Thanks, dudes. Hopefully I can continue without the crutch of a hashtag on social media.