Everybody loves a good road trip. And one of my favorite parts — other than making yet another Spotify playlist — is packing snickety snacks. Or more often, buying snacks along the way.
I live in Pittsburgh, and our go-to, top notch gas station is Sheetz. (Wawa folks can just stop reading this post now ;])
But Sheetz, like most gas stations, feels pretty limited on their plastic-free/zero waste options. And honestly, they kind of are. But there are ways to prioritize limiting your plastic while still being able to buy your favorite snacks from a gas station.
I’ve come up with a few low waste options to keep in mind next time you’ve got a hankering for a gas station snickety snack.
Note: not all gas stations have the same food/drink options… but I went to two different gas stations (Speedway and Sheetz) to check out what they’ve got. I tried to use pretty generic food and drink options that you can find at just about any stop.
Another note: obviously, the most zero waste way to snack/eat/drink on a road trip is to pack a cooler beforehand and/or dine in. But that’s not always feasible or what ends up happening. So in cases where you didn’t have additional time to plan ahead, here are some other options for ya.
THE REFRIGERATED SECTION IS YOUR FRIEND
Head to the big refrigerators and basically go to town. Opt for an aluminum can of pop over a bottle if you can. Aluminum is SUPER recyclable. Or go for a glass bottle.
Honestly, I think you can even go for a plastic bottle, too, as long as you recycle it.
Plastic isn’t bad. That’s important to understand. Unnecessary plastic is, but plastic in general — especially in the medical field! — isn’t something to be afraid of.
I do think limiting the amount of plastic we use is excellent! And I do think if you can opt for something that’s not in plastic, you definitely should. But if you’re thirsty and drooling over that thirst quenching Gatorade in the fridge… don’t totally deprive yourself. Buy it! Just be sure to recycle it!
ASK FOR NO LID AND NO STRAW AT THE “MADE-TO-ORDER” WINDOW
Maybe you’re really in the mood for a made-to-order iced latte or smoothie. You can still get your favorite drink, just ask the people making your beverage if they can skip out on the lid and/or straw.
Ask it with confidence and no one will blink an eye. And if they do, maybe it’ll get them to start thinking about why you don’t want to use so much plastic and the importance of limiting their waste. Who knows!
Or if you want to get a fountain drink and forgot your reusable thermos, use a plastic cup they provide, but skip out on the lid and straw.
BRING YOUR THERMOS/REUSABLE CONTAINER WITH YOU
Just ask beforehand! Go to the check out and say, “Hey, I brought my own thermos. It’s 20 ounces, is it OK if I use it to get my coffee (or smoothie or coke)?”
More than likely, they’ll pause curiously and say, “Oh, uh… sure.” And it’s as simple as that. Hey, they might even give you 10% off for bringing in your own container — ya never know!
OPT FOR PLASTIC-FREE FRUIT OR DONUTS
Some gas stations carry fruit like apples, oranges and bananas. They’re naturally zero waste (the peel is compostable/biodegradable) and are super healthy for you.
If you’re feeling something else sweet, a lot of gas stations also carry donuts. Often, they have paper/tissue paper bags to carry your donuts in. That’s an excellent option!
SEARCH FOR ALUMINUM
Lots of nuts come in aluminum containers. Sometimes they have plastic lids, but hey, you’re doing your best! And it’s a better option than the plastic bag of nuts you could buy. Opt for the aluminum container over the plastic bag :]
LOLLIPOPS/SUCKERS CAN BE OK
Some suckers (AKA lollipops) are wrapped in just a small bit of plastic. They’re not too bad! And they last a while when you’re driving. I’m a big fan of a good sucker. Again, not the best option as far as waste goes, but it’s also not the worst either!
MADE-TO-ORDER FOOD ISN’T ALWAYS AS WASTEFUL AS YOU THINK
Most made-to-order food counters wrap your sandwich in a wrapper of some sort (which is often not recyclable because if it has food waste on it, it cannot be recycled) and a paper bag. But that’s actually not too much waste considering other has station options.
Usually wraps and sandwiches come in a paper/aluminum/plastic-y wrap that isn’t really recyclable, but that’s not too much waste for an entire meal. Also, the bag they give it to you in might be recyclable (if it’s a paper bag!). Sheetz gives you your food in a plastic bag. If you’re at Sheetz or another spot with plastic bags, ask them to skip out on the plastic bag. That’s even less waste to worry about! Or, if you forget, use the plastic bag in your car as a mini to-go trash container. Get as many uses out of your plastic as possible!
If you’re going for a salad, most salad containers are somewhat recyclable. As long as their rinsed out properly, to-go salad bins will most likely be able to go in your curbside pick up or at another recycling facility. Try to remember to bring your own cutlery! They’ll give you a plastic fork that is likely wrapped in plastic, too. Do your best to say “no thanks!” to the plastic cutlery before they whip up your salad.
GO FOR CONTAINERS THAT ARE MADE WITH PLASTICS #1+2
Some gas stations carry plastic containers of either freshly made food or trail mix. Flip the container over and look for the triangle that looks like a recycling symbol. A number should be in the middle. If it’s a 1 or 2, you’re good to go! (The number is hard to see in the photo above, but this mixed fruit container is a plastic #1.)
Plastics #1+2 are the most easily recyclable plastics. Most recycling companies will take them — curbside or otherwise — and they’re easy for recycling companies to reuse. Also, those plastics are super common.
It’s obviously not ideal, but if you’re traveling and have a hankering for something in a plastic container, try to opt for one of those plastics. And then RECYCLE it. If you’re interested in learning more about different numbered plastics, check out my post here.
GENERAL RULE OF THUMB: GO BIG OR GO HOME
If you’re going to buy something that comes in plastic, go for the largest option. Get the most for your money and you’ll only have to buy one piece of plastic as opposed to two or three or twelve.
For instance, if you want candy, get a bigger bag of it. Also, try and get a bag that has loose candy inside. If you want starburst, maybe opt for skittles instead. Sometimes you can find resealable bags of starburst and other kinds of candy. Go for those so that you’re only using one piece of plastic as opposed to individually wrapped pieces of candy that are actually coated in a waxy paper that has bits of plastic in it too. Your starburst wrappers are not recyclable.
Again, these are just some guidelines. I understand that it can be tough to find low waste/plastic-free options at the gas station. But it’s not impossible!
Do your best! Don’t beat yourself up if you forget to bring your reusable cutlery or thermos. It happens!
There are ways to use less waste at the gas station as long as you prioritize it. When in doubt, opt for glass or aluminum. When those aren’t available, go for a super recyclable plastic — like those marked #1+2. If you can’t find anything that isn’t covered in plastic, at the very least, when checking out say you don’t want a plastic bag to put your items in. That’s one less plastic item you used! Hooray! You’re killing it! :]
Do what you can and be as mindful as possible. But don’t give yourself a stomach ache or an anxiety attack for using plastic. The plastic wrapping from your granola bar is not going to set the world on fire. Just try to do your best to limit. Remember, zero waste is a mindset. It’s about small sustainable changes. If we all do a little bit, that’s a whole lot of good that’s happening. :]