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.