I grew up in Eastern North Carolina and for my family that meant a lot of natural disaster prep. We’ve been fortunate to not have any damage to our house, family, or friends but we know how to prep for hurricane/tornado/flood season. With climate change increasing the frequency of these storms, preparing for them is only going to become more intense.
There’s something about natural disaster prep that puts everyone in a panic and they do what they’ve always been told to do: buy bread, bottled water, and milk. In college, I experienced the 1,000 year flood in Columbia, SC. For this first time I was forced to prep on my own. I did what was ingrained in me, but I kept thinking to myself – why milk??
This past year when we were prepping for Dorian, I made a note to figure out zero waste swaps so you can prepare without making waste AND hopefully avoid the apocalyptic grocery store. Disclaimer: These are just swaps and are not inclusive of all that goes into prepping for a natural disaster!
1. Keep the canned beans
This is an easy one – no swap to make!*
*The ultimate swap here would be to can your own fruits, vegetables, beans, and soups. Call your grandma or google for the best recipes. Another great resource is your local farmers market – you never know the tips your local farmer has! To truly make this zero waste, use jars you already have or buy secondhand.
2. Fill up your own water jugs
Bottled water is not the answer! Think back on how many times you’ve rushed out to the store to buy a case of water, only for the storm to pass and zero bottles emptied for emergency purposes. Not to say that you shouldn’t have fresh water stockpiled in case of emergency, but you should fill the containers you already have with water from the tap or filter.
At the very least, avoid buying single-use plastic bottles by buying a heavy duty plastic jug that can be refilled hundreds of times. These jugs can be found at thrift stores and are great for all your adventures too!
If you’re still nervous, you can invest in a portable water filter that doesn’t require power to use.
3. PB&Js but responsibly packaged
You can’t go wrong with having PB&Js ready for your storm prep (unless you have allergies!). The key here is to pick the products that are responsibly packaged.
Check out your local bakery or the bakery section of the grocery store for bread wrapped without packaging or in paper.
Marina and I recently bought a loaf of bread at the co-op, composted the paper, and wrapped the bread in Bee’s Wrap. The bread stays soft for two weeks! Another option would be to bring your own drawstring cotton bag to put the bread in straight from the case.
I love Teddie peanut butter with flax seed because it not only tastes so good but is stored in a glass jar that I can reuse. I’ve found Teddie at the chain grocers across the US but just keep an eye out for any brand in a glass jar or DIY peanut butter at stores like Whole Foods. Same goes with jelly – Smuckers has glass jars too! Or make your own jams with seasonal fruit you can get at your local farmers market.
This rant is probably one that singles me out as a weirdo, but I’ve never understood why people buy perishable milk in advance of a storm. My gut tells me that it has to do with the marketing of milk and how it’s ingrained itself in our culture…
Anyways, you don’t need milk to prepare for a storm! But if you must, look into canned milk or powdered milk. Not only do these options allow time for shelf life, but the packaging is also highly recyclable or reusable after use.
You could also consider making your own oat milk. Its shelf life is about as long as fresh milk, but it only takes two ingredients (water and oats). Plus, making it yourself allows you to store it in your own glass jar. We made a half gallon of oat milk the other day for about 50 cents, just the price of the oats.
5. with milk, comes cereal
If you aren’t buying in bulk already, learning how is a great place to start for storm prep! I saved this one for last because I know firsthand how hard it is to buy in bulk down south. No matter the packaging, buying in larger quantities than a single serving is a great first step at reducing your impact.
Assuming you don’t have access to bulk: If you know your family is likely to go through a whole box of Cheerios in a day (my brothers), then buy the giant bag. I know you’re thinking, but the plastic bag! Well, if you continue to buy multiple boxes of cereal, you’re using about the same amount of plastic from the inserts and wasting cardboard.
The biggest takeaways here are to use what you have already and to be mindful of your packaging choices! Don’t buy into the panic of the storm and purchase wasteful items that you aren’t likely to use anyways. Safety first, but be conscious of your impact and be realistic with what you need.