The holiday travel madness is here. Millions of us will be hopping a plane, boarding a train, or hitting the road this season. Traveling takes us out of our comfort zones and breaks routines. You may live a healthy or eco-life at home, but when on the go, grabbing a packaged meal here, a disposable bag there, or a plastic bottle along the way seems unavoidable. Those single-use throwaway items add up—to an average of 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day, according to the EPA. Reusing and recycling is good, but far better is to reduce consumption and usage of those goods in the first place. How to do this? Be prepared!
A few accouterments make it easy to live sustainably and waste-free while traveling—and they can help with your daily life too. Allow me to break down a zero-waste starter kit.
Food and Food Containers
Growing up, my mom would always pack food the night before travel, a tradition I continue today. She would prepare sandwiches in reusable cloths, pasta salads in metal tiffins, and fruit or nuts in natural fiber baggies. On the plane or train, everyone would 'ooh' and 'ahh' over our fresh food; a stark contrast to packaged, processed, heat-and-serve airplane meals. All it takes is a little forethought! And yes, homemade or store-bought food is allowed through security.
You can reuse those containers at markets and cafés on the journey too. If food is made fresh, just ask the staff to put it in your own tiffin or bag to avoid takeout packaging. Airport options are improving (case in point: SFO’s Terminal 2 with The Plant Café Organic and Napa Farms Market), though nearly all of the food is heavily packaged in Saran Wrap, plastic containers, and Styrofoam clam-shells with plastic utensils, napkins and bags headed straight for landfill. It is also quite pricey, so bringing your own food is an eco-friendly, healthier, and economical option.
I have come to the conclusion that disposable plastic forks, knives, spoons, and chopsticks are wholly unnecessary. A simple bamboo set in a convenient carry sleeve (made from recycled plastic bottles) is the answer: reusable, durable, and convenient. These light weight, long-lasting utensils are made from a rapidly-renewing, non-petroleum resource that does not absorb flavors or stains.
Bottles and Cups
Plastic bottles or paper cups need not be a part of your life when water fountains are commonplace and any café will happily fill your own container. I can get by with just one container while on the go if it meets four criteria: wide-mouthed, insulated, stainless steel, and has a lid. Why?
- A wide-mouth makes it is easier to fill, whether at a hydration station, by the person whipping up a smoothie at the snack bar, or by the flight attendant with a water pitcher.
- Insulation is imperative for piping hot coffee and tea on long winter travel days. You want the drink to remain hot for hours without burning your hands.
- Stainless steel is indestructible, which is vital when tossing or dropping bags in various places.
- Lids are a must to avoid spills in your bag and pothole or turbulence-induced disasters.
Reusable bags are affordable, convenient alternatives to plastic or paper bags while at the market or store and for your own items. We all seem to accumulate “stuff” while traveling—be it new purchases, gifts, or simply not packing as compactly as the trip goes on!
Soap and Box
To avoid having to use mini toiletries in hotel rooms or to stay healthy on the road, bring your own bar of natural soap in a reusable metal box. That way, you don’t use just a few drops of a plastic container before wasting the rest, and you can control what ingredients you are using on your skin.
Less waste, more happiness; that’s the goal!
Erin Schrode is a green girl and ecopreneur. As the “face of the new green generation,” the co-founder of Turning Green promotes global sustainability, youth leadership, environmental education, and conscious lifestyle choices. An award-winning orator and media personality, Erin has contributed to Fusion, speaks internationally, and consults with corporations and organizations on millennials, sustainability, and social good.