My Guide to the World's Most Useful Bag

Peek inside the bag of an environmentalist, and you may be surprised about what you find. For a frequent traveler like myself, explaining the foldable spork and camping gear-esque tiffin in my purse to TSA has become the norm. Whether you are trying to produce less waste, minimal-ize your life, be more prepared when leaving the house, spend your money more efficiently, or use products that are better for your skin/health, these few tips are meant for you.

I am referencing what goes into my purse, but these items can be easily carried in a backpack, tote bag, or anything else that you carry with you!

Here’s a quick tour of 10 things I always carry in my bag. I absolutely never, ever accept plastic bags when I am shopping, and instead use one of the many reusable bags I have obtained over the past years. When I don't have an extra reusable bag with me, my purse often comes back home filled with veggies, leftover food, and miscellaneous shopping, as well as these key items.


1. Reusable metal or glass water bottle (sometimes filled with tea, but usually with water). This is the one swap I recommend to anyone and everyone. Everyone drinks water, and there is a simple alternative to spending high costs for the less sustainable and hazardous option of plastic bottles.

I recently jumped on the S'well bandwagon. My justification for owning a $30 water bottle was 1) I had gone a decade without using a disposable plastic one (so I was more deserving that the girls in my yoga class who splurged on one just to match their yoga mats, right?) and 2) my best friend gifted it to me (a few months later, my aunt got me one too! I guess my wish lists are very predictable).

If you're not ready to make the investment, almost every retail store has S'well dupes. Glass bottles with silicone covers are another great option.

Why should you carry your own bottle?

It's cheaper. Plastic water bottles cost 3,785 times the price of tap water.   Plastic bottles cost money, tap water is almost free. (My next blog will also share how activated charcoal can be used as a natural and easy filter for tap water.)

It's safer. Water sold in plastic bottles made with BPA and phthalates have been shown to be contaminated with these substances. The chemicals in the plastic can end up in your water. The consequences include estrogenic effects, due to BPA's ability to act as a faux estrogen and potentially higher incidences of certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.

It's greener. 24 billion plastic bottles are used and disposed of in the US every year! The manufacturing of these bottles is a petroleum-intensive process, as well as transporting them from factories to consumers, and recycling them. The bottles that aren't recycled end up in landfills and in our water systems. There will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, and plastic bottles are a major contribution to this prediction.

2. Reusable metal or bamboo utensils

Bambu and Life Without Plastic have great options, but you can also keep a regular metal spoon in a cloth bag like this one.

Great for eating out, especially fast food. This little companion has provided me with much more benefit than I could have expected. I absolutely never have to use plastic cutlery, which limits my exposure to BPA and phthalates, (as I mentioned above), and makes it easy for me to eat snacks on the go without any guilt of producing waste in the process.

3. Stainless Steel Tiffin or Glass Tupperware

Now this one really throws folks off. TSA regularly double passes this item through the x-ray, and most restaurants just don’t get it. It’s easy to get away with when packing leftovers, but sharing this with restaurants for pick-up orders can be tedious. I have had restaurant owns fill this up with my food, and then place it in a plastic bag. Sigh.

I love having my own reusable container for leftovers. Disposable containers are usually made of styrofoam, which is very difficult to recycle (it costs upto 5x the cost of the original material to recycle it), paper, which is still often lined with polyethylene, or plastic. My reusable container is also much sturdier than anything disposable and can stay put in my bag even through a busy day.


A glass jar (you never know what you will want to fill in this!).

I have used mine for free samples at Teavana (NOTE: ask permission before doing this or you look like shamelessly cheap), compost scraps (that don’t end up in the tiffin), leftovers. You do not have to spend money for a trendy mason jar - many of mine are jars with pasta sauce, jams, or even candles.

4. Reusable cloth/handkerchief

I suffer from a chronic runny nose and I always sneeze in the worst situations. (Actually, I sneeze in every situation). Spilling food is also another one of my specialties. These habits combined make this item essential for any occasion.

For the last few years, I have used a bright red bandana that is easy to find, no matter how deep in my purse. It's easy to wash, and can last for years. Each year, 255 billion disposable facial tissues are used in America, and 254 million tons of paper towels are used globally, and carrying your own handkerchief can offset the waste from manufacturing, transporting, and disposing these tissues and paper towels. 

5. Coconut oil (in a small upcycled glass jar)

Chapstick, hair de-frizzer, moisturizer, and a subtle fragrance— all in one. Enough said. One quick disclaimer: coconut oil is comodogenic, which means it can block your pores. It has also been known to make coarser hair more dry and brittle. I can use it in moderation without experiencing any breakouts, and it work well in my hair, but make sure coconut oil is safe for you.


My DIY Serum A blend of jojoba oil and essential oils customized to my skincare needs to moisturize throughout the day. Jojoba oil locks in skin moisture, controls sebum production, and has anti-inflammatory/anti-bacterial effects. I currently am using a plastic spray bottle that I have had for years, but once I recycle this one, I plan to get a glass bottle to replace it.

6. Liquid Castille Soap

This takes getting used to, due to the strength of the soap (just a few drops are equivalent to a pump of most liquid soaps), but better to use this in public bathrooms than whatever questionable soap is available. I try to get mine in bulk, then store in small glass bottles. Here is an excerpt from summarizing some of the many reasons to avoid using palm-oil based castile soap.

“The biggest palm oil producing countries are Malaysia and Indonesia, which are responsible for supplying 85% of the world’s palm oil. To increase production, palm oil producers, most of them multinational corporations, have burned and cleared rainforests, and drained and converted peatlands, to make room for oil palm plantations. This rapid deforestation and peatland conversion have led to increased emission of greenhouse gases and contributed to climate changes.

The destruction of rainforests and peatlands has also resulted in the loss of habitat for many animals, including rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and tigers. Palm oil production has pushed these animals to the edge of extinction. In some cases, indigenous people who have lived in these areas are deprived of their land and livelihoods, and have reduced access to clean water and fertile soil. The most troubling effect of palm oil production expansion is that widespread human rights abuses, including forced labor, child labor, work without compensation, and dangerous, abusive work conditions, have been reported in oil palm plantations.”

7. Meta-reusable bag (a bag inside my bag)

This is usually a thin, fold- (or crumple-)able at the bottom of my purse. It comes home with impulsive purchases, warm layers (that only end up in my bag on an unusually warm Boston day), or recyclables I come across and cannot resist to take home to my recycling bin.

8. Cardigan or jacket

As Jimmy Carter once said, “Save energy, wear a sweater!”. I hate being cold, but love snuggling up in a sweater or blanket in anything-less-than-70-degree weather.

Patagonia is a great brand if you're looking to splurge. Otherwise, shop second-hand or local.



9. Baseball cap I use a cap almost year-round, and prefer it to sunglasses because it protects my entire face. I also use my own sunscreen, made with a coconut oil base and zinc oxide powder, before I leave the house.

10. A cloth hair-tie or scrunchie I received this hand-dyed, artisanal scrunchie in my GlobeIn subscription. I love my GlobeIn subscription because it connects me with crafts made by artisans in remote areas around the worlds and allows me to support their business while receiving unique, fair-trade items for my daily use.

Scrunchies work best for me because they don't pull my hair or leave me with kinks!

Things you won’t find in my bag:

Makeup If I do wear makeup, I put on a little when going on and leave that on for the day! Why waste more?

Chewing gum So much packaging and just for a useless habit

Hand sanitizer Castile soap, water, and cloth is much more efficient

Sticky notes The adhesiveness of these convenient notes makes them difficult to recycle. My notes end up in my phone. Side note: if you love the ancient art of handwriting, avoid virgin paper (or virgin toilet paper). Buy recycled.

Chapstick Can I just say those Burt’s Bee’s twisty applicators ALWAYS leave wasted product in the bottom?! Coconut oil or DIY.

Granola bars or snack-sized foods A piece of fruit or snacks purchased in bulk (nuts, granola, etc) in  silicone wrap or a cloth/beeswax bag does the trick! And doesn’t have the mystery ingredients of the typical grocery store snack.

This list also double as a great zero-waste starter kit. What’s in your bag? Comment below!