Is Zero Waste Travel Possible?

November 10, 2021 3 min read

an array of earthling co travel items

As much as we love to travel, there’s no denying that it tends to generate a lot of waste and pollution. According to the New York Times, the average airline passenger produces more than three pounds of garbage. And that’s just the plane ride itself! Just think how many travel-sized beauty products, takeout containers, plastic utensils and bottled drinks you probably go through by the time your trip is all said and done. All that plastic takes a long time to decompose and, in many cases, it doesn’t really decompose at all. 

It makes one wonder, is zero waste travel even possible?

Is It Possible to Maintain a Zero Waste Lifestyle While Traveling?

We think the short answer is no, it’s not possible to be completely zero waste while traveling. Everything we do — from the food we buy to the Uber we take to get to the airport — contributes to the waste stream in some form or another. 

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be as low waste as possible during your travels. Whether it’s packing light, using a reusable drink bottle or ditching plastic bottles for solid shampoo bars, there are many conscious decisions you can make during your travels that can significantly lower your personal waste.  

Keep reading for a few easy ways you can reduce your travel waste and be kinder to the planet on your next adventure.

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1. Pack Snacks To-Go

Airline snacks and gas station food are often loaded with unhealthy ingredients and generate tons of unnecessary waste. Why not pack your own healthy, package-free snacks instead? Before your next trip, shop the bulk bins at your local grocery market and pack your favorite snacks in reusable silicone baggies. If you’re going on a road trip, pack the cooler with healthy items (hello, hummus and celery sticks) and restock it by stopping by local farmers markets along the way.

2. Create a Zero Waste Travel Kit 

One of the easiest ways to travel zero waste is to say “no” to disposable items. Try these reusable alternatives instead:

  • Use a shampoo bar and a conditioner bar instead of travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. (Bonus: They’re TSA-friendly!)
  • Swap single-use makeup wipes for reusable cotton rounds and jojoba oil or coconut oil.
  • Ditch bottled water for a refillable stainless steel water bottle.
  • Enjoy on-the-go meals with reusable bamboo utensils instead of disposable cutlery.
  • Avoid using disposable plastic bags by packing reusable grocery bags.

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a pair of earthling co shampoo bars sitting on a soap saver bag

3. Build a Minimalist Travel Wardrobe

Packing with zero waste in mind can be tricky. If you pack too little, you might end up buying clothes while you’re on vacation. Pack too much, and it will reduce your fuel efficiency.

The solution? Pick versatile pieces and stick to a mostly neutral color palette. A pair of black jeans goes with almost any color top and can be dressed up or down. 

4. Skip the Printouts

Boarding passes, maps, entrance tickets and other printouts are a sneaky source of travel waste that can usually be avoided with a little forethought. For example, instead of printing out tickets and boarding passes, download e-tickets on your smartphone. You can also use your smartphone to access digital maps and download apps that make getting around a city or attraction easier.

5. Rethink Your Entertainment

Looking for a way to pass the time on the plane or while you wait around for your next flight? Skip the printed magazines and books at the airport newsstand and read on an e-reader instead. If you love the feel of printed books, consider checking a book out from your local library. You can beat boredom on a flight by downloading podcasts before your trip.

6. Bring Multipurpose Items

You can save time, money and unnecessary waste by packing multipurpose travel gear for your next trip. For example, you can use a reusable wet/dry bag to carry items to your destination and then reuse the bag to hold your dirty laundry. It can also be used as a reusable shopping bag in a pinch.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that zero waste travel may not be feasible, given that everything we do produces waste in some form or another. However, striving to eliminate waste in your travels can still help the environment and may even have cost-saving benefits. To that end, let's all do our part to cut unnecessary travel waste from our adventures and try to leave our beautiful planet better than we found it!


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