Zero Waste Essentials: The Mess Kit

Going zero waste can be overwhelming. It's hard to know where to start and there is so much conflicting information about sustainable practices.

One thing everyone can agree on is that single-use disposables like plastic water bottles and plastic bags are no good. And it happens to be an easy place to begin.

I’ve found it’s helpful to group a few zero waste alternatives together to get into the habit of bringing them all at once - to do this, you need to assemble a MESS KIT.



Jack Kerouac's backpack contents: mess kit, typewriter, toiletries, & books

Jack Kerouac's backpack contents: mess kit, typewriter, toiletries, & books

Wikipedia says "A mess kit is a collection of silverware and cookware used during camping and backpacking, as well as extended military campaigns."

I guess zero waste is a little like going camping every day - it’s adventurous and you’re literally an eco-trailblazer. This got me to did people fare without modern conveniences like plastic spoons and bags back in the day?

I imagined a jazz pianist pulling a flask from his suit pocket in between sets and cowboys riding across the prairie with enameled cups strapped to their belts. Humans have gotten by quite fine without disposables for a long time - and with style to boot. Going back to those roots felt empowering and badass.

Here’s what you need to assemble your very own zero waste MESS KIT:


  • mason jar / canteen / flask
  • cloth napkin / handkerchief
  • cloth bag (to hold everything and store purchases)
  • spork


  • stainless steel straw
  • tiffin
  • more cloth bags (depending on how many you need for shopping)
  • hot sauce, salt, pepper, etc

Simply throw your items into a cloth bag to carry and you're ready to go!



- Pick stuff you really like, that matches your outfit...whatever you have to do to get psyched about bringing a few extra items with you in your purse/man bag.

- Check out second-hand shops for vintage versions of the above items. I've found so many unique canteens at Goodwill and Salvation Army.

- Have a few options depending on the occasion as well as backups. Some music venues don't like glass jars so on gig nights I bring a canteen or a pop-up stainless steel cup instead.

- Keep your mess kit where you can access it easily, preferably so you can see it before heading out. I hang mine on a hook by the door.

- There are tons of products that are foldable, pop-up, and have other space-saving capabilities if you're not into the mason jar option (I live by the mason jar and don't mind the space it takes up). Though it is greener to buy second hand, bringing a reusable is preferable to not doing anything, so find what works for you.

- Many seasonings come in little paper packets, and there isn't always a zero-waste alternative (I ask the server if she has sugar in a shaker as opposed to a packet). So bring your own! Hot sauce, sugar, salt and pepper and good backups to have if you're sensitive to seasoning.

Though I may not be camping, with my mess kit in tow I am waging a war on plastic and trash. What does your ideal mess kit look like? Share in the comments below and let me know what tips you found useful.