Emergency preparedness: Making a zero waste-ish kit

There’s nothing like an inch of ice accumulated over three feet of snow during a freezing rain event to make you think about emergency preparedness — if only because you keep wondering when the power is going to go out and what on earth you’ll do then.

Now, being in Oregon, we hear a lot about the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and how we’re all supposed to have a three day to two week food supply laid in, not to mention various items to make life livable, like matches and battery-operated radios and blankets. I have some supplies “just in case” … but with the threat vaguely being “sometime in the next 50 years,” it’s hard to get worked up about it.

I finally organized the pantry to see what sort of items we have on hand. I’ve been putting it off for 9 months and it took literally 10 minutes.

However, with weather events getting more common here — ice and snow in the winter, days on end of 90º-plus degrees in the summer — our emergency services manager has changed her game. We get emails constantly reminding us of all the pitfalls that could befall us, how to plan, ways to stay safe.

So it makes me feel a little stupid that I haven’t done more to prepare. I think some of it is that my minimalism gets in the way. I don’t like to store stuff. Add to that my zero waste leanings and … it seems impossible to come up with a workable kit.

So I just cross my fingers and hope for the best.

But I’ve had some time to ponder this whole ordeal recently (thanks, Mother Nature!), and have started a list in my journal regarding what sorts of supplies The Walker Four would need to get us through an emergency, be it a prolonged power outage or a 9.0 earthquake.

(Disclaimer: I’m just putting this together. I’m no expert. Please do your own research!)

What I discovered is that I’m doing better than I thought, but I still have some work to do.

I sorted through the various state preparedness websites, and found that foods recommended are mostly processed … but some of that could be zero or low waste: Ready to eat canned meats (gag. Oh, wait, tuna), fruits and vegetables (not a fan; we’ll have to rely on home canned fruit); protein or fruit bars (packaging is landfill); dry cereal or granola (recyclable box and liner); peanut butter (recyclable container); dried fruits and nuts (finally! Bulk items!); crackers (recyclable box and liner?); canned juices (gross); pasta (expensive here in bulk; some plastic on otherwise recyclable boxes); canned soup (recyclable container); bottled water (not a fan); powdered milk (also not a fan); salt, pepper and sugar (weird); food for infants (not in this house, but noted); pet food (yes!); vitamins (interesting); and comfort/stress foods (word up). I found an additional list that recommended fresh fruits and vegetables like apples, citrus, potatoes and winter squash — things that can last a few months.

A couple shelves in the freezer. Not shown: About 80 gallons of blueberries from the garden.

Somewhere in all of this, I read that it’s best to start with the foods you already have and your family eats anyway. Looking at what we have in the pantry and freezer (assuming we don’t lose power in this scenario — maybe we just eat that stuff first), I see a few holes: We have lots of fruits and vegetables in various forms (home canned, frozen, dried, fresh), plenty of soups or ingredients to make soup, protein in the form of tuna and beans, cereal (Abby’s bye item), even a couple of boxes of organic mac and cheese (to make life easier for Johanna). I usually have extra baking supplies on hand anyway. And we’ve got the cats covered with canned food. What we’re lacking: A jar of peanut butter, crackers, coffee and beer (Eric and I have needs), pasta and nuts. Chocolate. Some of that I can get in bulk; some I will have to be content to get packaged, but can choose recyclable or reusable over landfill.

Oh, and water. We could use whatever is in the hot water heater for as long as that held out (another idea I read somewhere), but then what? I suggested filling empty milk jugs with water and then storing that in the freezer, but Eric pointed out that would take up a LOT of room. Although if it’s snowing, we could melt that, he said. Or boil irrigation water.

That did not make me feel better.


Food seems like the hardest part, just in that you have to constantly rotate it out so it doesn’t expire and then remember to replace what you use. The rest of the stuff listed seems easy by comparison — blankets, towels and washcloths, medical supplies, personal hygiene products, flashlights, candles, matches … I’m not sure about a battery-powered radio, though. (Use the car radio as needed?) And what would happen if cell service and/or internet went out? It would be the end of the world, basically.

I probably should consider a more updated first aid kit, but I feel good about everything else. We’re also lucky in that we live in the same town as both of our parents and Eric’s brother and sister-in-law. We’ve got a generator to share, but more than that, we wouldn’t be alone — Eric’s brother and parents live within walking distance. That would make a huge difference.


The other part of preparing for an emergency (according to my sources) is to plan for the types of disasters that are likely in your area. For us, that means earthquakes and weather events; we’re up too high to flood (although others in our area could), and we don’t have tornados or hurricanes in Oregon. We’ve had some bad forest fires recently.

Mostly I’m worried about getting to the house if an emergency strikes while we’re at school and work.


I’m open to additional suggestions and ideas. Do you have an emergency kit in your house and / or vehicle? What sorts of items are on your list? If you’ve been through an emergency before, what advice can you give the rest of us?

Additional reading:

Oregon Office of Emergency Management Preparedness Information HERE

Public Health (Oregon.gov) HERE

Build a Kit: The City of Portland, Oregon HERE

Next up: Menu planning is going remarkably well.

18 Responses to Emergency preparedness: Making a zero waste-ish kit

  1. We have a some (maybe four?) of those large, Sparkletts-type bottles full of water, out in a shed. (We never freeze here.) If you got the vintage carboys that people use for beer making, it would be glass, not plastic. I figure I’ll deal with the taste if the time comes, but the water’s in reusable plastic in the meantime. As for the other stuff, not really very organized.

  2. “I suggested filling empty milk jugs with water” – they don’t recommend this. It’s too hard to get the milk cleaned out well enough.

    One water suggestion I’ve read that might work for you is to fill all of your empty canning jars. That way it doesn’t take up more room since the jars are already there,and if you end up using a jar you can just use to water in the jar for the canning process (boil it, obviously) instead of dumping it.

    The two things I always struggle with/try to keep in mind – 1.) bottles that work for easy handling. We get a lot of boil water warnings. It’s not until your water is unusable that you realize that washing your hands by pouring from a gallon jug is ridiculous. You need either a dispenser or smaller jars to decant into. 2.) water filtering. If we were ever truly desperate, I’m sure we could find water around our house. The question is making it drinkable if boiling is out of the picture.

    As far as a “getting home” kit. I’m so behind on this! My suggestion is good shoes, something to eat that’s portable, and some way to carry water. Maybe use your kit that you already have? Just fill the jar with water. If you have to dump it to get some coffee or something, no biggie. If you need to walk home, you’d at least have a jar of water with you.

    • Good point on the milk jugs and on the container with a spout … that makes sense. I just got a comment on my link on Facebook about glass jars in an earthquake, which I hadn’t considered.

      • Hi Trisha, I’ll have to show you my crazy dooms day prep sometime. One thing I invested in was canned water. It’s a little ridiculous given the mark-up, but it’s got a 30 year shelf life! and cans are far less likely to break. I do have a chest freezer and stashed some containers of water as emergency backup. Also, have you seen H2OHogs? I tried to use equipment I already had, but I also invested in camping food and MREs, neither of which are low waste. Oh, and sanitation. Hoo boy, two bucket system, yay! They’re saying when Cascadia rips, we won’t be able to flush our toilets for at least a year. A.YEAR. ew.

        • I would love that! Word on the street is that we’re going to be very isolated here — what with landslides on I-84 and bridges collapsing, etc. I hadn’t thought about toilets. Crap. (HA HA HA.)

  3. I have this radio that I got as a gift that has both a wind up lever and a solar panel on it, it also has a flashlight (not batteries!) and can charge something w/ a USB cable. It also has the weather bands on the radio portion. I leave it on my bathroom window sill.

  4. I am well acquainted with power outages – on my little island off Canada’s east coast we have a constant supply of tropical storms, hurricanes, nor’easters and blizzards that batter us and keep us well versed in surviving without electricity.

    We heat and cook with a woodstove so heat, hot water and hot meals aren’t an issue. Islanders always keep about a 6 month supply of food on hand (I think it’s in our genes) but still, whenever a storm is coming, the grocery stores are a frenzy of panic buying. Comical, really, but then again all contact with the mainland is cut off until the storm is over and roads plowed which can take several days so trucks can’t bring in supplies.

    A loaded freezer will keep food frozen for at least 72 hours if the door isn’t opened and several heavy quilts or blankets are placed over it. Perishables from the fridge go outside in coolers.

    We always keep a “just in case” supply of bottled water for drinking but fill the bathtub beforehand for washing and flushing. (We live in the country so are on a well that requires electricity to pump).

    We have a radio that will take batteries, a wind-up flashlight and several LED flashlights including some that strap around your head leaving hands free. We also have on hand an old phone that will plug directly into a jack and doesn’t require electricity. Also a phone charger that runs off the car battery. Charge up your phone beforehand and only use when necessary (a hard one for me).

    Fill gas tank of car and keep some cash – ATM’s won’t work.

    Boredom is the biggest challenge, especially once darkness sets in and, since the daylight hours are sparse in winter, there are a lot of hours to fill. My eldest child was a “blizzard of ’78 baby”: there is always a bumper crop of babies born 9 months after a major power outage!

    These suggestions are for winter events: I have some different suggestions for summer but this is already too long. We have a storm coming mid-week so I shall be implementing all the above in a couple of days.

    Go around and see what essentials in your home require electricity (can opener? clocks? appliances? etc.) and either have a non-electric one to replace it or figure out in advance what you will use instead. As I said, losing power is a regular event here (and the novelty of it wore off aeons ago) so I guess I don’t even give it a second thought except when I want to read at 9 PM or go online for non-essential browsing.

    Oh, and very important, check on your neighbours, especially the frail or elderly.

    • Diane! Lots and lots of great advice. I really appreciate the detailed comment! I hadn’t even thought of most of this …

  5. Having lived through the 7.8 earthquake in Nepal, there are a few things that I would recommend for your earthquake kit. 1. If your family camps, keep that stuff near your earthquake kit – there can be a lot of overlap. We keep our tent, sleeping bags, and cooking gear with our earthquake kit. 2. A water filter (like you’d take camping, we use and love our Sawyer water filter on a daily basis, since we live in a country that lacks clean water). You can boil, but may end up with a limited amount of access to cooking fuel 3. A camp stove or alternately a gas grill if you already have one (depending on your situation, if you have gas and it comes via lines, you need to assume that the lines have been compromised until it’s proven otherwise, and if you have electricity, it may or may not work). 4. A deck of cards or an equivalent (life is really boring as you sit through hundreds of aftershocks). 5. It’s also a good idea to assemble a change of clothes to keep with your supplies, with big aftershocks happening frequently, you want to have the option to enter your house as few times as possible. 6. I’d also recommend some really easy to cook things like canned soup. If the earthquake is bad enough that you have to use the kit, your brain will have experienced trauma, which will make normally easy tasks difficult.

    • Thank you, Heather! What amazingly useful information from someone who really knows. I live in Oregon so Cascadia is always in the back of my mind. Especially since I work on the other side of the river! I keep most of my supplies in my garage, which made of cinder block, will come down. However, there is no other place to keep it. I was advised to have an ax and a pry bar handy to access my supplies if needed. Again, thank you for your advice!

      • We have a pry bar as well. An axe wouldn’t work for us, because everything is made from brick here, but if I were prepping for an earthquake in the States, I would definitely have one. I forgot to mention things like that.

    • OMG Heather, this is fantastic. We have earthquake clips on our house, so I think we’d be able to stay inside … but honestly, I’d never thought about what would happen if we couldn’t. Great, great advice! We have a tent trailer, which wouldn’t be great in the winter, but we do have a bunch of stuff in that thing that we could utilize. Hadn’t even occurred to me before reading your comment …

  6. Oh wow — this is all fantastic! I don’t have time to respond like I want to … but I will soon. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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