7 tips for reducing waste outside your home

When we think about Zero Waste and how to reduce waste, the first things that always come to mind is a) reducing food waste, and b) reducing household waste. While both are definitely very important, we do also create quite a lot of waste outside our homes.

But these straight-forward tips will help to reduce a lot of trash you would otherwise generate! You just need a couple of helper items, as I like to call them 😉.

First of all, we are all creatures of habit! Yes, even the most spontaneous ones among us! You know, I used to think I was super dooper spontaneous. When I was still in college I used to leave my dorm room, often not returning until a couple of days later, dressed in clothes that weren’t mine.

Years later I finally realized that my super dooper spontaneous actions did always have a pattern! After partying I would crave for junk food. Not exactly something unknown, right? Even on morning after a night I wasn’t partying, I was ALWAYS late in the morning and would grab a coffee to go on the way to class. Not very surprising considering the fact that I have NEVER EVER been a morning person!

Soooo, this is where I want to start with the tip # 1!

1 Know your habits!

If you’re anything like me, then chances are that you are grumpy and not very bright in the morning, which leads to taking the convenient way out. And you know what? That’s OK! Go for your coffee to go on your way to work or class – just make sure to make it a habit to grab your tumbler before you leave the house!

Meine Hand- und Umhängetaschen habe ich alle verschenkt :P. Inzwischen trage ich persönlich am liebsten einen Rucksack, praktisch, lässig, gut für den Rücken und da passen auch mal spontane Einkäufe rein.

Ever since I quit my 9-5 almost two years ago, I have gotten rid of all of my purses. I have never been a girly kind of girl, so I’m completely fine with just owning a single bag, which is my backpack. We live zero waste, but don’t plan our meals, and most of the time we buy our produce when we are on our way back and remembering things like: “Oh, I think we are low on veggies!” So even without a tote or cloth bag I am always ready for some grocery shopping.

We used to buy a pastry and a coffee to go before a train ride (there are just too many bakeries in German train stations so we always get tempted 😝), so now when we just grab a cloth bag and a tumbler before we storm out of the house.

Collecting your trash for a couple of days or even a week will help you identify your trash-generating habits. You don’t even have to collect your trash in a bag, which could be a bit inconvenient (and might look weird) when you are on the road, right? Just take a picture of it with your smartphone. While analyzing your trash, focus on what triggered this particular buy. Write it down, and you will be able to take action!

2 Have some basic zero waste helpers on you 😊

Now that you know all about your habits and what triggers your trash-generating consumption, it’s time to pick your weapon of choice 💪.

Das sind meine Basics, die ich immer dabei habe, nicht alle sind für euch nötig: Kleiner Katzenbeutel für Stofftaschentücher, ein klein zusammenfaltbarer Einkaufsbeutel, eine Wasserflasche, Besteck (eigentlich unnötig, hab ich mir nur irgendwann angewöhnt), ein sauberer Jutebeutel, der auch als Brot- oder Einkaufsbeutel einsetzbar ist.

Those are the helper items I usually have in my bag. What you will want to have on you might differ though!

What I always keep in my bag:

  • The cutest hanky purse ever (yes, it’s a cat, and I’m supposedly an adult, but I don’t care 😜)
  • A foldable shopping bag
  • A clean multi-purpose tote bag (for groceries, bread, rice…)

What I sometimes add to my bag:

  • My plastic-free all stainless steel refillable water bottle
  • A pair of chopsticks and a spoon
Das klingt erst mal viel, aber zusammengefaltet ist es eigentlich alles ganz handlich :)

This might sound like a lot, but it really isn’t.

Zero Waste Basics für unterwegs

These are zero waste basics that I find very helpful. Choose what you need! We never have all of it on us by the way. We just grab what we think we might need.

  1. Foldable (and very sturdy) shopping bag
  2. Dish towel – can be used to wrap food like sandwiches, wraps, fruit…
  3. Tumbler for coffee, also keeps it warm (or you can just use a mason or WECK jar (9) instead)
  4. Hanky purse – I’m a big fan of handkerchiefs! They are so much softer on your nose, and I also use them to dry my hands
  5. A clean cloth bag – it’s multi-purpose: groceries, bread, pastry, a snack on the go…
  6. Laundry bag or just a mesh bag for produce – we usually just put everything onto the conveyer belt without any bags, and so far, no cashier has ever scolded us 😉
  7. Silverware – very often Asian restaurants only provide single-use chopsticks, and food stalls or food trucks only have plastic cutlery, if any at all
  8. Food container – it is perfect for take aways, or as a lunchbox. We also use them as doggie bags, and so far the restaurants have never complained, but have offered to put it into our containers for us
  9. 500 ml  (2 cups) jar – I love this size! It’s perfect for soup, or to get some french fries, fried noodles, or even a coffee to go! We use WECK jars instead of mason jars for two simple reasons: 1. We live in Germany and WECK jars are a local product, 2. Mason jars are super expensive over here!
    Both WECK and mason jars are very sturdy by the way.
  10. Refillable water bottle – most refillable water bottles are made from plastics, and most of the metal ones are made from aluminium. Because aluminium is a health risk, these bottles are coated. However, once you drop your precious water bottle, the coating will chip, and you will be able to tell it has, because the water will instantly get this metally taste. When we started our zero waste journey, I bought an aluminium bottle, and it only took me only two months to drop it! So no, I wouldn’t recommend these. There are sturdy ones made from glas (e.g. Soul Bottle) or if you are as clumsy as I am, you can go for a plastic-free stainless steel bottle from e.g. Kleen Kantine, Mizu, Miir. There are other brands though, these are just the ones I know of.

3 Have a shopping list

I did say that we do go grocery shopping on a whim. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a shopping list!

Wir bevorzugen digitale Einkaufslisten

My husband and I like to go digital. So we use the app Wunderlist (there are plenty of suitable apps out there though), where we have a shopping list we both share. So whenever we run low on something, one of us would add it to our shopping list, and the item will instantly show on the other persons smartphone. If one of us is out shopping, the other can add items to the list, and the one doing the shopping will go “Urgh, this way I’ll never be done” 😂.

4 Take a breather!

Coffee to go? Take away? If you forgot your tumbler or your food container, just sit down, relax, and maybe even turn off your phone for a while! Our lives are so hectic, we forget to take a breather sometimes.

Kaffee vor Ort trinken

And let’s be honest – coffee to go doesn’t taste very well, does it? It tastes like cardboard, and it gets cold in no time. Nah…!

5 “One soda, no straw please!”

There are a lot of trash-generaters that are never on the menu: napkins, straws, these little bags with sugar, cream pots, cocktail umbrellas…


© CC-Non Commercial 4.0 (2015 Merlijn Hoek)

Telling the waiter you don’t want a straw in your soda, or that you don’t need the napkin is easy and straight-forward, but at the same time really difficult, because it draws attention to us. Just try saying it as if it were the most natural thing in the world: “One soda, no straw please!”, “Oh, thanks for the napkin, but I don’t need it.”

6 Buy your tickets online

More and more places now offer online tickets, where you just show them a QR code on your smartphone.


The German raileway company now offers mobile tickets, and it works fine. However, you should remember to charge your phone and to have a screenshot or PDF backup in case you need internet connection but there is none available.

As far as I know, some movie theaters, stadiums, and other places now also offer mobile tickets. Even when you have to print the ticket, it can still be the more sustainable option, since regular paper can be recycled, whereas glossy tickets often cannot.

7 Avoid window shopping

We often think: “Oh, it’s only window shopping, I won’t buy anything,” but drooling over things will make us WANT to buy them. And there it is: The inner fight with temptation!

Shopping in der Innenstadt

Let’s be real for a moment. When it comes to these small cheap items, our threshold is set pretty low. We think: “Oh, come on, it’s only a buck or two,” and bam, it’s in our home, never to be used again.

Remember: Everything we hoard in our home that we do not even use, is a waste of resources and money! And when it comes to the cheap buys, we never stop to think about why these things can be sold at such a low low price. Because if we did, we would know that it is because we are not paying the real price. The real price is paid by exploited workers, slaughtered animals, and the polluted environment along the production process.

Anyway, there is only so much time. Our lifespan is limited, and I for one prefer to spend my time with my husband or working on one of thousands of projects I have on my bucket list 😁❤️!

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Filed under Beginner's Guide


  1. These are really good tips and ideas! My sister and are are recently trying to control our waste and we are making it even if we are traveling too. Your hints seem to work great for us, and I’m definitely showing this post to my sis. Thank you for sharing all this useful information!

    • Oh yeah, it is always a bit more difficult when travelling. My husband and I are in London right now, and even though we keep telling them we don’t want things in a plastic bag they say yes and put in in one anyway! Same when I wanted to buy fresh orange juice in a “Oh, we’re so health-conscious” smoothie booth in Brussels! The girl working the stall said yes, I can have it in my tumbler, and I asked her to pour it into the tumbler directly, not in a plastic cup first. She said sure, asked how much would fit into my tumbler. “300 ml” – “OK, our portion size is 300 ml”. So I thought it was perfect. Then suddenly she took a plastic cup and poured it into the plastic cup! I was shocked! Why would she do that when she just confirmed it was OK??? “I still have to measure it.” When I told her that the point was to avoid generating trash, she suddenly said: “I don’t understand English, and I have things to do.”, and poured the juice back and threw the plastic cup away! Uh, super rude!
      Um, anyway, my point is that it’s easier when you know which shops are open to it and which are not. And when travelling you just don’t know, so you might end up in shops that just say yes to shut you up lol. We have generated more than what we usually would, but overall I think we’re doing OK here. As usual, people have been curious when they see us buying our bread in a cloth bag or asking them to put the pastries in our own tins, but it’s usually very positive :).

  2. Marvelous ideas! As a person in the waste business i have discussed the issue of plastic containers many times and how detrimental they are to the environment. The use of cloth bags and a tumbler will help to reduce plastic waste environment. Thank you for sharing !

    • Wow, you are in the waste business :)! I actually find that a lot of ppl in that business are actually very green <3! We visited our local waste management facility back in January, and it was soooo fascinating! Shocking, too though lol. I have never actually stood in front of so much trash before XD! Keep up the good work, it sounds great!

  3. Love this list of suggestions! Another great way to cut down on waste is to ‘share the wealth.

    How much produce goes unpurchased simply because it’s slightly bruised or a little misshapen? And then it starts going bad and tonnes and tonnes are thrown out. And at restaurants and fast food franchises – every day at closing time, I see my local donut store carrying out racks and racks of donuts, muffins and pastries because they’re no longer “fresh.” I’d like to see grocery stores and restaurants take that food to homeless shelters and places where that food will gladly be eaten.

    • I couldn’t agree more!! Here in Germany, many bakeries and supermarkets already do <3! There is a NPO called foodsharing that has local groups in pretty much every city. They collect and re-distribute the food to shelters, but they also keep fridges in public areas so everybody can help themselves, because they say that you shouldn't be forced to go to a shelter or to otherwise "prove" you are less fortunate to be able to get the food :).

  4. Sharon Elleen

    Nice to read. So useful and informative tips. Many thanks for sharing them all.

  5. It’s a really good idea to collect your trash for a week to understand what kind of waste there is and where it’s coming from. My garbage can is always overflowing by the end of the week, and I want to figure out how to reduce that. By knowing what things I’m throwing away, I can put a stop to it and maybe hire a waste management service to take care of the rest.

    • Exactly :)! And it is also important to remember that it is not about all-or-nothing, at least that is what I think. There is always room for improvement, but it doesn’t mean we have to try to tackle everything at once! I know I couldn’t lol
      Let me know how it goes for you!

  6. Larry Weaver

    I enjoyed the tip to use a digital shopping list via an app like Wunderlist. My wife and I have been looking to improve our shopping habits and a digital shopping list would be a perfect solution to help us organize what we buy and help reduce how much stuff we are currently getting that eventually goes to waste. With how much stuff we have now, it might be time to look at waste companies to help us reduce our clutter as well.

    • Hey Larry,
      Wunderlist is a great app. It is actually a pretty powerful to-do list, but we only use it as a shopping list.
      Before you turn to waste companies, you should definitely consider other options! I have written an article on “How to Declutter Responsibly” that you might want to check out :).

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