Photo by François Tancré
While I don't mind reducing plastic in other areas of life, I think a plastic-free survival kit is unreasonable. Kathryn expressed it perfectly when she said, "There is a time and place for plastic, and emergencies is one of them. Don't endanger yourself in the name of zero-waste. That helps no one." Despite multiple warnings, I never got around to stockpiling food and supplies in case of emergency, but finally did some research and prepared my home. Here's what I'll try to do to minimize environmental impact without compromising safety:
- Choose clothing thoughtfully. When facing fire or smoke, long sleeves, long pants, or a long skirt are best because they shield skin from flames and heat. Clothing made of natural fibers offers good protection, while synthetic materials and leather are not recommended because they often melt or shrink with heat, potentially bonding to skin and causing severe burns. Wool socks and clothing in particular resist flames, cool, and insulate better than other materials. Layers of clothing offer more protection than one big layer, and light colors reflect heat. Try to always have a pair of flat shoes, preferably laced ones, nearby to enhance mobility and protect from cuts and burns.
- Travel light. When on a plane, limit hand luggage as much as possible, because a recurrent hazard for passengers is items falling from bins. On the street, heavy bags or purses can be unnecessarily burdensome, though in a survival situation, I'm guessing most people just leave their stuff behind.
- Assemble a “go bag.” It should be durable, accessible, and easy-to-transport, with copies of important documents in something waterproof (many experts recommend light, steel-reinforced nylon carriers). Officials advise including an extra set of keys, credit cards, cash, large bottles of water, nonperishable food, a map, a flashlight, extra batteries, radio, emergency cell phone, medication, first aid kit, child-care supplies, sturdy shoes, and a rain poncho. We also have a stainless steel lighter. Some prefer melt-resistant military canteens to bottled water. I personally stock gauze, which provides more breathability and protection, instead of Band-aids in our first-aid kit. If I thought of it, I'd probably tuck a cloth bag of lambs' ear inside, for a natural antimicrobial agent.
- Ensure a safe water supply. Of all plastics, polypropylene (#5 plastic) is the safest, though it can still leach chemicals. Military steel jerry cans, fiberglass, or enamel lined containers are also options. Since activated charcoal and other water purification techniques don't remove all contaminants, water purification tablets, such as those used by Navy Seals, are the preferred last resort. Ashley recommends a stainless steel Berkey filter, which purifies rain or ditch water. If confined to a home, it's also possible to drain the hot water tank (as long as it remains upright and the valve from the water main is shut off first).
- Stockpile non-perishable groceries. Apples, potatoes, and other long-lasting fruits and vegetables that can be eaten raw or uncooked are good choices. Citrus fruits last up to three months, provide vitamin C, and can be turned into an emergency candle if necessary (fill the peel with oil before lighting). Dried fruits and nuts in cloth bags are easily transportable, and canned fish, dried cured meats, and beans are good sources of protein (don't forget a small manual can opener). To some extent, there are things people are able to can, dehydrate, and forage, but in case of a flood or earthquake, industrially packed foods are safer and more reasonable.
- Invest in pure wool blankets. Wool is durable, lightweight, flame retardant, and can be soaked in water to use as a shield, block smoke, or put fires out. A wool blanket warms, wicks away moisture, and absorbs odors. Does anybody know if knitted wool blankets are okay for emergency situations? This is probably a stupid question, but I want to know if it matters if the wool is knitted, felted, woven, or whatever.
In cities where apartments and refrigerators are smaller, storing lots of food and emergency supplies isn't always possible. I think that's why our neighbors preferred daily trips to the boulangerie, market, pharmacy or grocery store, buying as needed; otherwise, provisions just took up space and went to waste. Now shops are packed. People I normally see toting one baguette and a bit of cheese have two or three carts full of canned foods. There needs to be a balance, ensuring preparedness for situations when we need to stay inside and help others seeking food and safe shelter. From now on, I'll never let our groceries dwindle to nothing. I'll always have at least a few days' provisions on hand, just in case.