The family road trip—or plane trip or boat trip—is a time-honored family tradition. Many of us find ourselves hitting the road at least once a year for a weekend getaway or a longer vacation. And these trips present us with a unique set of zero-waste considerations: traveling to your destination, eating out at restaurants, enjoying the sights and local entertainment, sleeping in hotels or campgrounds, shopping for souvenirs, and packing car snacks.
Whether you are traveling by car or plane, camping, or staying in a five-star resort. Vacations come in many different forms, but no matter where you are traveling, there are some considerations that you must address when vacation planning.
You will have to travel to your destination, of course, so the first section of this blog post addresses the different forms of transportation you take while on your vacation.
You will also need accommodations, a place to relax and sleep after a busy day. Your days will include eating out, sightseeing, shopping, and other forms of entertainment, all of which create some trash. yourself with drinking water after passing through airport security), this post has you covered.
Planning for a vacation can be complicated, with arranging for pet sitting, the mail to be stopped, automatic bill pay, and so on. Planning a zero-waste vacation adds an extra layer of preparation to this already hectic process.
Start planning your zero-waste vacation by thinking about your destination in terms of the waste you are likely to create. Consider where you are headed, how you are getting there, what and where you’ll be eating, where you’ll be sleeping, what you’ll be doing for entertainment, and any obstacles you are likely to encounter.
Your destination determines a lot about the garbage you’ll be concerned with. A shortlist by trip type might look like this:
• Plane travel: Food waste while eating in the airport, beverage containers, snack wrappers while on the plane, throwaway headsets provided for the in-flight movie.
• Road trip: Waste-free car snacks, public restrooms or roadside rest areas.
• Hotel stay: Individually wrapped plastic cups, toiletries garbage (like the wrapper on the complimentary soap), the plastic garbage can liner.
• Amusement park: Ticket stubs or park entry passes, food wrappers, freebies, promo material
• Camping: Food scraps, food packaging (aluminum cans, wrappers, pop cans, oatmeal paper packets, and so on), paper plates, plastic cutlery.
A phone call to your vacation destination before you leave isn’t a bad idea. Asking about green amenities will help you plan your trip and express to the business owners that you care about their environmental practices. Getting There Traveling to your vacation destination is often filled with much excitement and anticipation—and trash. It is often hard to avoid convenience store food packaged in throwaway wrappers whether you are traveling by car or plane. Luckily, with some forethought, you can easily avoid making trash while getting to your vacation spot. Traveling by Car Classic Americana—the much-loved road trip. Setting out on the open highway with or without a destination in mind, stopping at bizarre attractions like the world’s biggest ball of string, and sleeping every night in a different campground—although these may pose their own unwanted challenges are certainly surmountable when calls the road. Public restrooms are the easiest garbage aspect of the road trip to handle. The only garbage typically created in a public restroom is the paper towel used to dry your hands. It is easy enough to forgo the paper towels and let your hands air-dry. You can also use the hand blow-dryer if one is available. Gas stations pose a problem that is just as easy to remedy. Simply filling up the fuel tank creates no trash (though it certainly causes another set of environmental problems. It’s the ancillary gas station activities that need to be addressed. There can be no bell chiming over the swinging convenience store doors, beckoning you into aisle upon
Traveling by Plane
Air travel is getting more and more difficult, with all the security rules now in place. Air travel does not in and of itself create trash, but many of the activities accompanying flying do generate waste. Like with any other aspect of trash-free living, heading into the situation prepared is the best way to create zero waste.
The airline industry discarded nine thousand tons of plastic in 2004 and enough newspapers and magazines to fill a football field to a height of more than 230 feet. Your first obstacle will be the security checkpoint, where no liquids in an amount over three ounces can be carried onto the plane. This sure seems to put a damper on your use of reusable water bottles or coffee cups.
The good news is that you can pass through security with empty to-go cups and water bottles. Once you get through security, using those reusable containers is as easy as locating a water fountain or coffee shop. Airports are filled with restaurants, especially fast-food establishments.
Foods bought on the go often create waste that can easily be avoided with a little advance planning. First, pack snacks to ward off the munchies. When mealtimes roll around, try to pick a sit-down restaurant where food will be served on real plates with silverware. If this is not feasible, you can still make smart choices at a fast-food restaurant. Ultimately purchasing a burger wrapped in paper or a cardboard box is better than buying a sandwich wrapped in cellophane (of course, I’m talking strictly about being better for the planet, not your waistline).
Finally, when you board the plane, you’ll be trying to avoid amenity garbage. Bring your own headphones rather than buying the disposable ones provided by the airline. Refuse the little plastic cups that drinks come in; instead, ask the attendant to let you finish a can of soda. Hang onto little glass liquor bottles to recycle after you get off the plane.
If you are served a meal, well, there’s no way around the fact that this is basically all garbage. It certainly can’t hurt, however, to let the airline know you’d like to see it create less waste.
Other Modes of Travel
Although traveling by air or car are the most common forms of vacation transportation, you might find yourself traveling by train, boat, hot air balloon, or rickshaw. Regardless of the travel situation, you find yourself in, follow the same guidelines as above. Trains and boats are likely to have dining cars or snack stands. Most of the food from these types of places creates trash and should be avoided. Instead, plan ahead and bring trash-free treats with you for your travels.
Also, remember that you can stash some small items for recycling later on. Cardboard coasters are recyclable and paper napkins are compostable. Being conscientious of potential trash will help you avoid any pitfalls.
Zero Waste Accommodation
Once you arrive at your destination, your overnight accommodations will also be a source of potential trash. No matter where you stay, whether it is a hotel, a campground, or a condo, you can avoid creating waste by again anticipating possible problem areas. The only potential garbage you are likely to encounter comes in the form of amenities, which you don’t have to use.
Hotel garbage comes mostly from the individually wrapped amenities. You can easily avoid using these, leaving everything in pristine condition for housekeeping when you leave. We bring our own shampoo and don’t ever have any need for plastic shower caps or lotions. We use our own water bottles when brushing our teeth, instead of the plastic-wrapped plastic cups that hotels always provide.
That thin wrapping paper on the toilet roll? Just recycle it.
If you are on an extended vacation, it may be beneficial to consider getting a room with a kitchenette unit. It’s much easier to control the trash you generate in your own kitchen. It’s an affordable option. If your vacation plans include renting a condo or cabin, living trash free on the road will be just about as easy as it is in your own home.
Because rental homes come equipped with a kitchen, it is easy enough to apply the same meal-prep principles to your vacation.You can save money by bringing food from home. If this is impractical, try to locate a nearby natural foods store or a grocery store with a bulk section and stock up on ingredients for your favorite garbage-free meals.
If there’s room in your suitcase, you can even pack a couple of mesh produce bags or canvas totes specifically for this purpose. And although it might be tempting to save time by using disposable plates, cutlery, and cups—don’t. Make doing the dishes a group task so that you can socialize while cleaning up. You’ll save a lot of unnecessary waste this way.
Staying with Friends or Family
Maintaining the zero-waste lifestyle on the road can be tricky, especially if you are staying with family or friends who are a little more reliant on trash than you are. It is a balancing act to stay true to your zero-waste aspirations while at the same time being a good house guest.
Here are some tips to help you survive:
- Bring your own toiletries.
- Ask about local recycling, and adhere to your host’s system.
- Ask about your host’s composting system, if applicable, and adhere to it.
- Look into community composting programs and take your food waste to a nearby location.
- If necessary, save room in your suitcase to tote recyclables home.
- Explain your zero-waste choices and give tips if your hosts seem interested.
- Don’t let your zero-waste lifestyle get in the way of having a good time with friends.
Zero Waste on Camping
A camping trip in the great outdoors lends itself perfectly to a zero-waste lifestyle. Here are some tips to increase your enjoyment.
Bring a compost bin: I know it sounds crazy, but this makes camp life easier than ever.
Plan your menus ahead of time: Most car-camping prepared foods come in easy-to-recycle containers, such as canned pastas and soups. Fresh foods like fruits and veggies can be easily packed or cut up ahead of time and brought in reusable containers.
Produce may create compost, but it is certainly zero waste. After the produce is eaten, those same reusable containers can be used to hold compost. Cereals and crackers are great, too, as long as you recycle the inner liner with your plastic bags.
Bring snacks: To avoid temptation in a gift shop or gas station, pack healthy, garbage-free snacks in an easily accessible cooler. Bring items from home for fire starters
Make sure you’re burning clean organic material only.
Dining out is a highlight of many vacations. Sitting in a lovely restaurant surrounded by good company and not having to do dishes? Sounds perfect. Eating out does generate a lot of trash, however, and whether you are on vacation or eating at a restaurant in your hometown, most of the same considerations apply. The only difference will be that when you are on vacation, you may not be able to bring home leftovers.
All zero-waste tourists need some strategies in place to manage eating out in a trash-free way that doesn’t put a damper on their fun. Think about garbage before ordering. Look for items on the menu that don’t come with disposables.
When you order a sandwich, if you opt for a side of chips, those chips usually come in a bag. Ask whether you can get unbagged chips on your sandwich plate (that used to be the standard form) or whether there’s an unpackaged alternative, or just pass on the chips.
A glass of water generally comes without a straw. If you’re not sure what garbage to expect, ask! It is important for restaurant owners and staff to understand their customers’ preferences. If you prefer no trash, voice your concern.
Hospitality industry workers are often quite accommodating of special requests. Specifically request no disposables: This includes straws, napkins, paper wrappers around sandwiches. Sometimes the wait staff will forget, but it’s a bonus if they remember.
Bring your own silverware and reusable straw: Again, this depends on your comfort zone, but the more vocal you are about your activism, the more resources you save and the more people you educate about alternatives to disposables.
Sit-down eateries are much more likely to serve with metal cutlery, real dishes, and cloth napkins. Local business owners are more flexible in serving guests with individual needs.
Bring your own container for a doggie bag: Although clearing your plate at a restaurant means no food waste at all, if you do have leftovers, see if restaurant staff would place your food in your container instead of a Styrofoam one. Some will refuse for vague “health code reasons,” but many will be happy to comply. This step is much easier if you plan in advance and keep an extra container with you
Some companies go to great lengths to promote the idea of a zero-waste meal. One such establishment is the chain natural foods store Whole Foods. Eating at a Whole Foods restaurant, which caters to the environmentally conscious and trash-free consumer, is a gratifying experience (and one that’s fairly unusual now, but other natural foods outlets are beginning to offer a similar experience).
Customers have the choice between using an actual dish, which they can pile with food and have weighed at the register (minus the weight of the dish, of course), or selecting a to-go container made from recycled paper. The bioplastic silverware is all compostable. Even the napkins are made from recycled paper. After finishing a meal, customers sort their leftovers at the trash station—and here is where Whole Foods gets my unadulterated praise. There is not just one single trash can here, oh no. There is an entire sorting system: recycling bins for aluminum, glass, and paper; a compost container; and a trash receptacle. What’s really neat is the display that goes with the various containers. and “recycling,” respectively, encase examples of what goes where.
The consumer doesn’t have to understand recycling—the visual aid explains it for them. When you’re through with a meal, take any recyclables with you: All paper products can be recycled or, if contaminated with food, composted. Plastic cutlery can be washed and reused. Even plastic condiment tubs and trays are often recyclable; check with your local facility to see whether you can recycle them in your area.
Knowing your home system and being willing to tote your recyclables back to your bin is one surefire way to make sure the materials are sorted properly.
Whether you’re buying exotic souvenirs or more mundane household items, there are some strategies you can use to ensure you aren’t generating waste with what you buy. Ordering items online is no better than shopping in-store, as mail order items are often over-packaged. How many times have you ordered something small in the mail only to have it show up at your door in a giant box filled with Styrofoam peanuts and plastic film?
The plus side of doing some shopping online is that some businesses, especially those managed by a single person or a family, they are available to meet specific packaging requests. When you place an online order, look for the text box during checkout that says “notes” or “special instructions.” Request only recyclable packaging.
Here are some tips for shopping without waste:
- Buy local handmade items: Look for items made by local artisans. These unique items make great souvenirs because they are one-of-a-kind and they are made by an individual, not a factory.Handmade souvenirs often have a great story that you can tell people too.
- Look for farmers’ markets wherever you’re visiting; these are a treasure-trove of locally made goods created by people who also care about the environment.
- Look at the item’s packaging before buying it: If a store owner isn’t-comfortable with my opening on a box to see the inside packaging, I don’t give him my stuff. Before you buy anything packaged in a (recyclable) box, open it up to make sure the inner contents arent trash.Don’t buy anything that contains Styrofoam because, as mentioned before, it’s still junk food. Always check plastic bags to make sure they are recyclable and avoid buying products with disposable batteries included. Buy nothing wrapped in “suicide” plastic: You know, that stiff plastic you can hardly open without cutting yourself? It’s bad and it’s not recyclable. Don’t buy it unless you absolutely cannot avoid it.
- Buy items made of durable materials, preferably metal or wood, over plastic: Buy products that last a long time and that can be recycled when they wear out.
- Repurpose packaging: Occasionally an item we purchase is wrapped in bubble wrap or packing peanuts. If this happens to you, don’t throw these materials away; save them until you need them to mail a package or transport something breakable. And when you send or gift these materials, ask the new recipient to reuse them if possible.
- Refuse the bag or bring your own: You shouldn’t have to take bags from merchants, because you are remembering to bring your own, right? If you forget, just carry the unwrapped item to your car.
- Presenting gifts: If you are gifting items, wrap them in recycled or recyclable materials like fabric, newspaper, old brown paper bags, and so on. And of course, encourage the recipient of your gift to reuse the wrapping material, too.
Whatever you do for fun on your vacation, trash will probably be a consideration at the back of your mind. If you’re anything like me, your vacations will generate a lot of paper: brochures about local attractions, ticket stubs, and show programs. All of these can be recycled Deal with each piece of vacation trash in the same way you approach the rest of your zero-waste lifestyle—look at packaging before you buy, recycle what you can, and before you take possession, ask yourself whether you really need this thing you want. Try to strike a balance between denying yourself anything enjoyable that generates waste and abandoning your lifestyle choices while on vacation.
Remember, too, to take lots of pictures. These are the best souvenirs, after all—photographs and memories.
Before you head out the door on your vacation, you’ll have to pack. I’ve found that my zero-waste lifestyle lightens the load I choose to pack in my suitcase. My toiletries kit is much smaller, and I’m getting better at reducing the amount I bring, making wardrobe items work in multiple outfits. I always leave a little extra room in my suitcase in case I need to tote home some recyclables. Depending on where you travel, of course, you may or may not be able to haul around recyclables or a compost bin, but it’s worth considering the possibility before you go.
Like any other aspect of your new zero-waste lifestyle, vacationing without trash is entirely possible with a little bit of planning. Now I believe we all deserve a break, and it would be rather miserable to spend an entire vacation obsessing about trash.
Nevertheless, implementing even a few of these easy tips will help you tread lightly on the earth while you’re having the time of your life. In the next chapter, you return from vacation and resume your daily routine.