6 Ways to Reduce Waste While Traveling

Learn about six simple zero-ish waste ways we can reduce our impact on the environment while we travel.

For many of us, the mere idea of zero waste travel feels completely unattainable. But is it? How close can we really get? I was curious about what simple swaps I could make to reduce my impact on the environment. It turns out, it was a lot less complicated than I thought.

There’s no doubt that we, as a nation, need to recycle more, but that’s only one piece to the complex puzzle of battling global warming. Recycling alone isn’t enough. I wanted to go beyond just tossing my empty aluminum can into the recycling bin. Bea Johnson, author of the best-selling book Zero Waste Home, who whole-heartedly practices what she preaches, writes on her blog about rules she lives by.

  1. Refuse
  2. Reduce
  3. Reuse
  4. Recycle
  5. Rot

And, yes, only in that order. She says you should first refuse what you do not need, reduce what you do need, reuse what you consume, recycle what you cannot and rot (a.k.a. compost) the rest.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Here are some additional ways to reduce your impact specifically when traveling is involved.

  1. Choose the best mode of transportation For city adventures, ask yourself if you need to hop in a car for your next trip or if you can take public transportation. A quick Google search can help you decide. If flying, consider purchasing carbon offsets to balance out your flight.
  2. Pack Right Drop that reusable water vessel in your carry on (sans liquid to breeze through security) and pack a set of reusable cutlery and a couple of cloth napkins. You can use one for your hands and one for accepting items from carryout places, say if you grab a sandwich at the airport. Dried fruit and popcorn, packed in reusable snack bags or mason jars, will help you fend off little snack bags the airlines pass out. I mean, do you really want that bag of 100 calorie pretzels anyway? They’re pretty flavorless.
  3. Rethink your toiletries Tiny containers that you can refill are great. You can go one step further and bypass TSA rules by bringing soap, shampoo and conditioner bars. Store them in metal tins. Think no leaky mess to worry about.
  4. Refuse it This one is the most basic of all, but it takes a mindset change to put it into action. When I thought about how this affected my travel plans, it became clear to me how much stuff I accept just because someone handed it to me. That tiny snack bag on the airplane, the disposable coffee cup with plastic drink stirrer, the airplane headphone and blankets wrapped in plastic, you get the point. If I brought my own snacks, which were always way better anyway, and just said “no” to other incidental things, I could get by just fine. When those drinks came around on the plane, I started opting for the entire can (without the cup of ice because you can easily recycle the can) or I just ask them to pour the beverage in my reusable metal water bottle.
  5. Go paperless For books and magazines, iPads, Nooks and Kindles will have you all set. No need to print that plane ticket, just use your smartphone. Boom. You’re already winning. See how when you tackle one tiny change, you feel more confident to move onto the next?
  6. Hotel ideas Don’t even bother with the hotel toiletry samples. Just leave those plastic bottles with low-quality liquids for the next person. Most hotels have an option to skip daily towel and bed laundering. Take them up on it. If you can book an Airbnb or VRBO, even better. That’ll allow you to eat in, which can save on food waste and keep a few extra dollars in your wallet.
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Start small. Try something new on your next trip. You might be surprised by how easy it is. Travel is about experiencing things, not about collecting souvenirs or trinkets. Go out and see something new, just be mindful along the way of your environmental impact. If we all just do a little, we might help get this planet back on track.

A freelance writer and editor who likes to stay curious about life. www.emilytellsstories.com

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