Zero Waste travel–is it possible? In our everyday lives, under regular circumstances and in familiar surroundings, reducing waste is not that difficult. But once you’re on the road, or on vacation, your good intentions and habits are in danger of being thrown overboard. Because traveling interferes with normal routines, I’ve compiled a list of easy-to-follow, Zero Waste travel ideas.
Planning is Essential
(This doesn’t only apply to itinerary and accommodation)
Everything is different when you’re traveling; you usually don’t know your location well and your options may be limited. Living Zero Waste means being prepared and having foresight: If you want to avoid garbage while traveling you should plan ahead, but that’s what you’ll be doing for a trip most of the time anyway, right? So it’s just a matter of considering a few more things.
The type of travel you do plays a huge role. If you’re going on a road trip, you change locations often and need to keep adapting to new conditions, as opposed to if you have a set location, like a holiday home or hotel. If you’re going on a short business trip or a day trip, it’s of course easier to take your waste with you and recycle and dispose of it properly once you get home.
Tickets & Boarding Passes
One way to avoid waste prior to departure is to make sure you get a digital ticket for your flight, bus or train. So far I’ve had no problems with train or bus tickets, and for flights, it’s becoming more and more common to have your boarding pass on your smart phone or tablet.
Unfortunately on our recent trip to Iceland, the airline insisted on printing our boarding passes for us for ‘simplicity’ even though we already had e-tickets on hand. Very annoying! But don’t give up or be disappointed—next time it will work.
A reusable water bottle is always a good travel companion. You can refill the bottle on the go, which saves you money on expensive drinks. At the airport it’s usually never a problem to take the empty bottle through the security check and then refill it with water in the bathroom once you’ve reached your terminal. Often there’s also water fountains with drinking water available. Depending on your travel destination you should check whether the tap water is suitable for consumption.
Regarding this, Iceland was extremely forward thinking. Faucets were available everywhere, accompanied by signs encouraging the consumption of tap water.
Containers & Mason Jars
If there’s space in your luggage, a couple of reusable containers or screw-top jars should definitely be with you on your journey; You never know if you find a farmers market or cafe where you can get yourself some package-free treats. This way, spontaneous purchases are not a risk for unnecessary packaging waste. Containers are also great for bringing food and snacks with you, such as a sandwich or a salad, and when you’re done eating, you can use them to carry residue and organic waste until you find a suitable spot to recycle or compost.
If you can’t or don’t want to take containers and jars with you to save space and weight, you can also use reusable bee’s wax wraps.
Food & Snacks
Depending on where you go, the length of your journey and the capacity of your luggage, you should consider taking certain foods with you. Nuts and dried fruits are the perfect Zero Waste travel snacks and some of the easiest to buy packaging free—perhaps even at your travel destination. Quick to prepare and easy to take-away are also home made cereal bars or power balls.
If you plan to cook on your trip, you can also take with you unpackaged dry good, such as rice or noodles, and spreads and pestos in mason jars.
Cutlery & Cloth Napkin
Plastic utensils, straws and napkins are unfortunately often tucked into your hand without warning. I always carry a spork (a combination of spoon and fork) and a cloth napkin with me at all times. Equipped with your own sustainable alternatives, you can have spontaneous snack breaks in places where only disposable tableware is available. A cloth napkin is not only very useful for wiping your mouth, but is also perfect for wrapping snacks and other things in.
Hygiene & Cosmetics
Soap bars are ideal for traveling. Not only does it remove your need to worry about liquid restrictions when flying, they often combine several products—one bar may be used in place of both shower gel and shampoo, or even for cleaning your laundry— saving weight and space in your luggage. I also take my homemade tooth powder with me. A huge advantage when taking your own eco-friendly cosmetics with you is that you don’t have to resort to packaged products containing questionable ingredients.
Reusable (cloth) bags are the ultimate Zero Waste objects. You can use them for practically everything and thus eliminate the need for plastic bags. Apropos: You don’t need to take single use plastic bags for your hand luggage liquids on the airplane—there are reusable, transparent zip pockets available that will do the job just fine. I stumbled across pack cubes, which I love. They can be used again and again, and keep your suitcase tidy.
Often you won’t be able to foresee whether waste can be properly separated and recycled at your destination ahead of time, or whether it’s possible to buy unpacked food where you’re going. If you’re looking to make your next trip as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible, do your research and inform yourself about your destination ahead of time to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
With that, I wish you safe—and waste free travels!
Photos by Susanne Neumer & Ronny Schmidt