The concept of zero waste and what it means for travellers
Zero waste is a set of principles that focus on sending no waste to landfills. While it often provokes images of physical products, it also focuses on coming close to emitting zero waste when it comes to excess energy and water use–especially in areas with water shortages and limited infrastructure.
While it’s not always possible to achieve true zero waste, these are some strategies to get as close as possible while you travel.
Pack reusable items
If you pack a few eco-friendly items in your daypack, you’ll never be caught off guard.
Packable tote bag: A lightweight travel tote bag that folds into itself will keep you from needing to take home any souvenirs or groceries in a plastic bag. As a bonus, the bag can come in handy on laundry day.
LifeStraw water filter and reusable bottle: In countries where the tap water is not drinkable, a portable water filter like LifeStraw helps save you money, trips to the store, and cuts down on the use of plastic bottles. The LifeStraw uses an internal filter that traps and filters out bacteria, parasites, chlorine, pesticides, and other contaminants. Some models can also reduce heavy metals.
Reusable cutlery set: Pack a set of cutlery and a reusable straw with you to enjoy delicious food at the night market with minimal waste. You can also hand back the plastic cutlery that comes with a meal on flights–opting for your own set instead.
Food containers: Never go hungry with your own snacks tucked safely inside a food container. Opt for a plastic one you already own or invest in a metal one–glass is prone to breaking on the road. Pack it chock full with snacks that don’t need to be cooled like nuts, seeds, dried fruits, crisps, and other goodies.
Toiletries: Hotels often throw partially-used shampoo bottles into the rubbish bin rather than refilling them for the next guest. Some cosmetic companies make shampoo and conditioner bars that work just like a soap bar. As a bonus? Your days of worrying about shampoo explosions and liquid carry-on limits are over.
Zero waste food tips
One of the biggest pain-points for those in pursuit of zero waste travel happens during snack and meal times. Everywhere in the world, plastic packaging of food items is becoming more of a norm.
Local markets are a great place to find fresh produce without the plastic. Food markets with ready-made meals often use local, unpackaged ingredients and are a great way to cut down on plastic waste that may come from shopping for the same meal at a supermarket. This is especially true if you arrived armed with your own cutlery and container.
Hotels and hotels with kitchen access can also help cut down on waste as you’re able to cook with ingredients from a bulk store or from a market. While this isn’t always practical, it could be good for those spending more than a night or two in each destination.
Communicate with restaurant staff when ordering. Even at home, restaurant staff may tilt their head and question your decision to opt for ‘no straw’ when ordering a drink. When ordering, tell the staff that you don’t need a straw or napkin and then show them the reusable items in your hand. It could be worth learning how to specify this in the local language in areas where English is not commonly spoken.
Make the most of apps and websites. As the zero waste travel movement grows, there are more resources than ever to help cut down on single use plastics. Refill my Bottle is a popular app in Bali, where you can find shops that have water refill stations for free or for cheaper than purchasing a bottle from a store. There is even a Zero Waste App that connects travellers to refill stations, farmers markets, bulk shops, and second hand stores.
General zero waste principles
When possible, try to make use of what you already have rather than purchasing a new item. This can extend into buying new clothing or equipment that might only be used once or twice for a holiday. If you are heading off on a snorkelling trip and know that your gear will simply collect dust back home, why not ask a friend or neighbour if you can borrow? Borrowing and reusing items rather than buying them helps keep production demands down and saves you money.
Opt for experiences over items. A decent camera and a journal can capture memories better than a trinket or souvenir can. On your next trip, resist the urge to purchase something for the sake of novelty. Chances are, your pictures, stories, and journal entries will be more than enough to keep your memories of the trip alive.
Be mindful of water and energy consumption, especially in environmentally fragile areas. Some tourist hot-spots, like Cape Town and Los Angeles, are susceptible to droughts. Help relieve some of the energy strain by turning off the tap as soon as you’re doing with it and turning off the air conditioning once you leave your hotel room.
Enjoy your trip! Though it can feel overwhelming to start the journey of going fully zero waste, it’s easy to introduce one habit or swap little by little.