The allure of travel depends partly on choice and partly on chance. You select your destination and plan your activities, but the most memorable moments usually take you by surprise.
To reduce waste, however, you shouldn’t test your luck. Unexpected sources of the trash can and will find you. This is especially true when you’re venturing outside of your comfort zone to a new country.
Travel with some forethought to avoid the flood of individually wrapped goods that awaits you. Here’s how to travel with a zero-waste mindset.
1. Think like a backpacker
“Leave no trace behind” is the ethical code of backpackers who hike in nature. When you travel for leisure, apply the same principle. What if you had to pack your own trash home with you? You’d probably waste a lot less. Having this principle in mind will help you achieve a zero-waste experience.
2. Bring portable containers, supplies, and utensils
In a similar vein, bring your own food containers, water bottle, coffee cup, snacks, utensils, a cloth napkin and probably a handkerchief.
You’ll eliminate the need for take away cups, plastic spoons, and forks, napkins. When you’re done, you can wipe them clean using the water in your bottle and the handkerchief. I suggest bringing a sealed bag for the wiping cloth. Wash it in your sink when you return to your place of lodging.
Your containers can also be used to tote snacks around with you during the day, which will eliminate the unknown variables of street food waste.
3. Pack light
Packing light can actually be a fun challenge. You’ll also feel more spontaneous when you don’t have a lot of luggage to worry about. The benefit of packing light for reducing waste is that you’ll have less laundry and you can avoid checking bags and accumulating packing slips and stickers.
4. Create a minimal toiletry kit
This kit should include the following:
- Reusable TSA bag
- Refillable travel-sized containers
- Ethical or homemade products
- Bamboo toothbrush
- Reef safe sunblock
- Small cloth make-up removing towel
These are my suggestions because if you’re traveling once, you’ll probably travel again. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your bathroom supplies each time you travel. Having a small, curated list of essential items will improve your chances of reducing waste.
5. Choose sit down restaurants and cafes with purpose
Enjoy the luxury of comfortable seating, good conversation and the tableware provided by restaurants and cafes. This way, you can rest assured knowing that your dining experience applies the principle of reuse.
Choosing ethical dining establishments will ensure that your waste footprint becomes even smaller. Many restaurants and cafes are increasingly conscious of their own level of food waste and the sustainability of their supply chain.
6. Reduce your carbon footprint
Beyond single-use containers, you should also consider the immense level of resources that goes into travel. In particular, flights have a huge carbon emissions impact on the atmosphere. Try to apply a few principles to your transportation methods.
If you must fly, offset your carbon
7. Travel for the experiences, not the souvenirs
- Choose low-emissions transportation (electric vehicles or trains)
- Choose shared transportation (public transport, tour buses or group travel)
- Choose to bike or walk
As a seasoned traveler myself, I almost always remember the local interactions I had with people and the unique things I did more than the material objects I lugged home with me. You can capture these memories by taking photographs, traveling with a journal and keeping in touch online.
While souvenirs often look enticing, they may not even be authentic. If you do decide to purchase something, bring it home in your own tote bag and try to purchase things that were made from locals using fair trade principles.
8. Go paperless
Whenever possible use digital receipts, boarding passes, and tickets. In addition, use digital apps for your reading material, maps, planners and travel journals. That said, don’t forget your chargers at home!
9. Take away more waste than you create
Remember that wherever you travel, you’re a guest. You wouldn’t leave behind a lot of trash in the home of a gracious host, would you? In fact, you may even try to leave your host’s home looking even better than when you came by tidying up or doing the dishes. You can do the same when you travel. If you see trash on the street or in a park, consider picking it up and recycling it. If those options aren’t available, then at least dispose of it properly.