3 Ways to Reduce Waste When You Travel (Plus, How to Pack a Zero-Waste Trip Kit)

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: December 6th, 2019 | Read time: 4 minutes

It’s one thing to reduce, reuse, recycle at home, but it’s a whole other beast when you are on the road. But all bets don’t have to be off when you travel, not when so much depends on what we too willingly throw away. Here are some tips for to reduce waste when you’re away from home: In airports, on car rides, at hotels, at resorts, at campgrounds, and theme parks.

Woman Following Travel Tips on Ways to Reduce Waste Packing Suitcase on Hotel Bed | Vitacost.com/blog

Do you ever wonder, when you pass an overflowing trashcan, how we can sustain the amount of garbage we produce in the simple activities of daily living? According to the National Parks Conservation Association, in 2017, the National Park Service managed nearly 70 million pounds of waste. To help you imagine the enormity, it’s enough to fill the Washington Monument 250 times. If you include waste managed by park concessioners, the number is much higher. And that’s just in our parks—our opportunity to get away from it all, including conspicuous consumption. And it doesn’t all get recycled or stay on land as landfill. The world’s oceans are filled with more than 150 million tons of plastic, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

But what if the straw did not have to break the camel’s back—but in fact could substantially lightened its load? The war on waste can be fought straw by straw. For example, last year Starbucks announced its plans to eliminate all plastic straws from its stores by 2020, which will take roughly 1 billion plastic straws each year out of circulation. They are joined by at least seven other companies, as well as several cities, including Los Angeles, whose aim is restricting plastic straws to cut back on environmental waste.

But there’s no reason to wait till 2020 to reduce your plastic trail. Here are several smart tips for lightening our collective trash burden.

Eco-conscious travel tips

1. Nix single use disposables

Single use disposables, in the guise of plastic bags, straws, bottles, cups, utensils, and napkins are the worst offenders. If you take just one thing with you wherever you go, as in don’t leave home without it, aim for a water bottle. If you want to up your game, reduce plastic waste by packing a a zero-waste kit as part of your travel gear.

2. Pack a zero-waste kit

You can customize your kit however works for you, but here are some things you might want to include.

  • Reusable Utensils: If you are getting takeout, the restaurant does not need to throw in plastic utensils. Many brands make good bamboo utensils that are compact and easy to pack.
  • Reusable Straws: Carry a metal straw with you in case the café or restaurant you go to only provides plastic straws.
  • Water Bottle: Hydration is key wherever you go. To streamline your kit, you can try picking one that can accommodate both hot and cold beverages.
  • Reusable Coffee Mug: A great option if you know you will be making a daily stop for a java fix for on the go.
  • Small Food Container: A handy way to store food leftovers or snacks.
  • Handkerchief or small towel: Use instead of napkins or Kleenex for small spills or runny noses. Pick a dark colored one that does not show stains easily.
  • Reusable bags: At a few ounces and less volume than a travel pack of tissues, a reusable bag is guaranteed to come in useful during the course of a day.

3. Hack your hotel stay

A lot of us let go of our sustainability standards when we are at a hotel, but there’s no good reason to. Use your common sense and keep showers short, shut off the water while brushing your teeth, and turn off the TV, lights and heat or air-conditioning whenever you leave the room. If staying for multiple nights, reuse sheets and towels (many hotels have offer this as an option) instead of having them washed and changed every day.

If you want to get even more radical, eschew the hotel toiletries. Not opening them means they get passed on to the next guest, and it’s one more thing you’ve saved from the landfill. People tend to bring their own toiletries anyways when they travel but think these small gestures of refusal don’t have a significant impact. But less always adds up to more. Refusing plastic is far more effective than reducing. 

Reducing waste while on the go will become more intuitive as it becomes a mindset. Using your phone to go paperless is another key move, as well as taking photos of brochures and information rather than taking hard copies. Each straw, each cup, can be the start of a tipping point. Small tweaks can lead to huge changes in consumer behavior, just by making wastefulness an active choice rather than simply the status quo. Make if you can’t reuse it refuse it your rallying cry and see how things start to shift, just by your example.

Editor’s note: For more tips and tricks for avoiding single-use items and reducing food waste, check out our Zero Hunger, Zero Waste initiative.