Just as I try to be more environmentally conscious in my daily life, I try to maintain that habit while travelling. This is difficult because often, my destination country will have a different system to dispose trash than the one I’m used to at home.
But not being zero waste doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to minimize your waste while travelling. Here are some tips from me on how to reduce plastic waste during your travels.
A lot of us grew up with “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. But reducing implies that you still use said products, just less of it. What if you completely didn’t need it? Do you need a plastic straw? Or a plastic bag? Or that plastic water bottle handed to you on a bus tour? No, so then refuse it.
Stop Buying Bottled Water!
Instead, switch to a refillable bottle. And if you’re travelling to a country where you’re not sure water is safe to drink from the tap, buy one with a filter. I use this 650mL one from LifeStraw (fun fact: they are also doing great things and having an amazing social impact). All you have to do is fill up the bottle in the morning before you leave your hotel for a day of exploration. Throughout the day, you can also fill it up at restaurants or stores that you visit.
Opt For Glass or Cans
Craving some Nestea or a bottle of Coke? Look for one that’s in a glass bottle. Glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly. You can also opt for aluminum cans which are also 100% recyclable.
But in a lot of developing countries, there’s no waste sorting system, organic and inorganic trash are all garbage. So what’s the point of using glass or cans instead of plastic? Three reasons:
- There is still an informal waste sorting “system” in these countries. The gap and inefficiency in the system created jobs for the extremely poor and lowly skilled part of the population who have taken up waste picking because they couldn’t find other employment. In Vietnam, for example, these people are called “đồng nát” or “ve chai”. They buy recycled materials (cardboard, metal scraps, glass) and would resell it to middlemen or recycling facilities.
- Plastic is not 100% recyclable. Recycled plastic is never again used to package food items because of loss of quality through the recycling process. And after you’ve exhausted the number of times plastic can be recycled, it will end up in landfills.
- You can reuse it later. Often, street vendors selling freshly squeezed juice would serve it in a single-use styrofoam cup with a straw. Ask them to fill it in your glass bottle and refuse the straw. You might just get a weird look but that’s ok because reducing plastic waste is more important.
Carry Reusable Utensil And Collapsible Containers
Not enough space for that glass bottle in your daypack? And in all honesty, glass can be heavy too, especially if you have to carry it around all day. If you really enjoy trying specialty drinks on the street, try a reusable collapsible cup and reusable metal or bamboo straw.
For street food, refuse that styrofoam box from the vendor and use a collapsible bowl instead. This is what I do whenever I need to take leftovers with me.
Toiletries In Solid Form
If you haven’t switched to shampoo bars in your daily life yet, these are a few reasons for you to switch during your travels:
- No liquid spilling in your toiletry bag
- No need to worry about liquid limits for a carry-on bag when you go through airport security
- It lasts longer so no worries about running out of shampoo halfway through your trip
- Most important reason: you’re reducing your plastic waste by saying no to those travel-sized toiletries in hotels!
And since you’ve swapped from liquid to solid shampoo, why not do the same for other products? Substitute shower gel for a bar of body soap, change to a facial cleansing bar and use toothpaste tablets.
Refillable Silicone Travel Tubes
What about toiletries in cream/gel form like body lotion, face cream, hand sanitizer and sunscreen? Well, instead of buying those products in travel-size plastic containers, why not pour some of what you already have in a refillable travel tube? There are plenty of options online, with the biggest one being 89mL in capacity.
Bamboo Toothbrush, Compostable Floss, Reusable Ear Cleaner
Bring your own toothbrush, don’t take a new one from the hotel where you’re staying. And if you haven’t yet, think about switching to bamboo toothbrushes since they are biodegradable.
For floss, think about biodegradable alternatives like silk floss. Your problem with this might be that some destinations you visit won’t have composting programs in their city. If you’re committed to disposing it properly, wrap the used floss up and bring it home where you can compost. If not, at least the silk floss isn’t as damaging as the plastic floss. For packing, find a toothbrush that also comes with a bamboo case and silk floss that come with their glass or metal container.
Ladies, have you ever gotten your period unexpectedly in the middle of your vacation? Many of us have been there before and had to run to a quick convenience store and get some tampons or sanitary pads. A more sustainable way of avoiding this tricky situation is to be prepared with a sustainable alternative. Pack a menstrual cup in your suitcase and you won’t be taken by surprise the next time.
Travelling is not zero waste, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to minimize your footprint.
Any other tips I missed? Share your thoughts below.