Tiff's Tips #11 - Sustainable Backpack

Sep 15, 2022

NRRI Sustainability Coordinator Tiffany Sprague shares some new tips about how to pack for your day away from home (recipes, too!) to help us live out our best sustainable lives. 

This time last year, I was sitting in my office at NRRI, taking photos of my backpack’s contents and telling you all how to stuff your backpack with fun, sustainable goodies to survive a day at school or work. And since back-to-school season is only rivaled by our household’s love of Halloween, I figured why not revisit and update my backpack’s contents. I’ve learned a lot over the past year (and I hope you have too!). So let's take a look at the evolution of the goodies in my bag.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Yep, I’m still buying sanitizer or alcohol in large volumes, and divvying it up into smaller spritzer bottles. Buying in bulk and reusing travel-sized containers saves plastic from going into the landfill while also saving money. Nothing like a little sanitizer shower in the parking lot after an errand at the Wally World. (Disclaimer: I do not seriously endorse bathing in sanitizer. Please talk with your doctor first before making any changes to your healthcare routine.)

One noticeable difference is a switch to a N95 mask from a reusable cloth mask. While anything single-use makes me cry, figuratively, and sometimes physically (and I hope gets you riled up as well), I have to weigh the pros and cons of my personal wellbeing with the wellbeing of the planet. Not an easy choice to make, and one I hope all of us weigh on occasion, especially as they are so intertwined. I do strive to get a few uses from each N95 mask using the paper bag method before it makes its way to the trash can. 

The Lunchbox

The main difference in the lunchbox arena is an increase in reusing pre-packaged food and take-away containers and no longer buying fancy, marketed travel containers. Tiff’s favorite is Talenti Gelato containers for their screw-top lids and durable plastic -- notably the dairy-free Roman Raspberry Sorbetto – but since you’ve ideally eaten the contents of the container before reusing it, the original flavor of Talenti should matter not. As I’m getting older and more feeble (feel me other late-30s elder millennials?), slugging around heavy glass containers for my pistachios and carrot sticks is simply another burden I cannot bear when the world, and as a result, my emotional state, are on fire (again, figuratively and physically). 

A sleepy Tiff packs lunch for the next day. (Wait... is that a banana phone?)

Greenwashing is real, ya’ll, and we don’t need that added noise right now. Greenwashing is essentially when a company or a product promises to be more environmentally friendly than they truly are. And in today’s world, where it is trendy to have a fancy stainless steel water bottle glued to your hip, with 5 more in your cabinet at home, and a lunch spread of varying containers, whozits and whatzits galore, it is easy to experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when packing your lunch in a sad Cool Whip container. But, the real FOMO will come when our landfills are overflowing into our oceans, and trips to the beach double as trash pick-up field trips. Reclaim the Cool Whip container! Carry it with pride to the work break room. No new shiny containers for this gal.

Moral of the story: Thrift what you have from your home. Find a second, or third, or more, life for plastics entering your life. Don’t feel pressured to buy new stuff made from virgin materials. Question when a new “sustainable” object comes on the market – does it truly solve a problem you have that no other thing you own, or could borrow or thrift, would solve?

The Snacks

No outing that requires the intensity of bringing a backpack would be complete without a snack. If you’ve been following along for a bit now, you may have gathered my low-burning-slash-seething rage towards snacks wrapped in single-use plastic (think string cheese). And after a little over a year of writing these blogs, I feel like you all are ready to make a homemade snack. I can sense it.  

My three categories of easy-ish snacks to make at home include granola bars, chia pudding and date balls. For granola bars, I love these ones that are a take on a PB&J sandwich. I suspect many will have these ingredients already on hand. If you’ve never heard of chia seeds, or are too scared to give them a try, dousing anything in chocolate instantly makes anything 10x better, and this chocolate chia pudding does not disappoint. Essentially you mix chia seeds with milk, the chia seeds get poofy, then you add a dash of seasonings, and wham, delicious pudding. And with pumpkin spice season just around the corner, I’ll leave you with these pumpkin energy bites to impress your friends and family this fall. 

Just remember, your backpack and its contents do not need to be new and trendy to be functional and sustainable. Shop local, thrift when possible, use what you already have at home, and reuse as much as possible. While it may seem cheesy, reduce-reuse-recycle is still a great motto to live by, especially when focusing on the reduce and reuse.

I look forward to hearing how your snack making adventure goes and seeing what you pack in your backpack.

Until next month,