The last thing we want to do when we explore our amazing planet is pollute it, but often when we travel we create more trash. We eat out of takeout containers, buy bottled water, and use plastic spoons or straws. If we plan ahead and pack a few basic items, we can drastically reduce our waste…Every little bit helps! Here are a few of our favourite waste-reducing travel essentials to help you make the switch to zero-waste travel.
Plastic straws have been enemy-number-one lately, with many countries limiting or banning their use. It’s pretty easy to ask for your drinks without straws, but if you still want to sip through a straw there’s an easy fix: Reusable stainless steel straws. The collapsible Zoku Stainless Steel Pocket Straw packs down into a tiny case and comes with a brush to make cleaning on-the-go a breeze.
Ditch Plastic Bags
The plastic shopping bag is another big no-no these days, and there are many cities where retailers won’t give you one with your purchases. Tanzania has even taken the step to outlaw them, and anyone caught in possession of a plastic bag could face a fine or even jail time! There’s a super simple solution: bring your own reusable bag when you travel. My two favourite brands are Baggu and Loqi. Both come in a myriad of colours, patterns, and sizes and zip into their own tiny bag for easy packing.
Cut out Plastic Cutlery
An easy way to reduce your single-use plastic while travelling is to bring your own utensils. To save space in your bag I’d suggest a spork with a blade, like the Light My Fire Spork. It is available in BPA-free plastic or titanium and should allow you to eat most foods without using any disposable cutlery.
Bring Your Own Bottle
Bottled water is almost 2,000 times more energy intensive to produce than tap water and it takes three times the water to make each bottle as it does to fill it. When you’re travelling somewhere with safe tap water, it’s a great idea to bring your own bottle. My favourite brand is Hydro Flask because their bottles keep drinks hot or cold all day and you can buy different lids to make the bottle work for almost any beverage (they can double as a coffee mug). They also come with a lifetime warranty. If you’re looking to invest in a great bottle, I’d recommend the 18oz Wide Mouth Bottle, which comes with a standard screw top but also fits the flip cap lid for hot beverages (sold separately)
Avoid Single-Use Toiletry Containers
It’s so easy to grab a few bottles of travel sized toiletries at the drugstore before each trip or to use the tiny toiletries provided by a hotel, but most of the time those bottles go straight into the trash. A better option is to refill high-quality reusable containers with the products you already own. Humangear makes great containers in a variety of sizes that don’t leak and hold up really well over many trips. I’m still using the same Humangear GoToob containers I purchased almost 20 years ago for my first backpacking trip around Asia. If you want to avoid plastic altogether, there are lots of metal or glass containers on the market. I’ve heard good things about Pitotubes glass containers that use a vacuum pump to ensure you can get every last drop of product.
At home I use an electric toothbrush which is a little too big to lug around on trips. So when I travel, I try to pick a recyclable or compostable toothbrush. There are a ton of options available including the Preserve brushes made from recycled yogurt containers and Brush with Bamboo, made with compostable bamboo.
Choose Reef-Safe Sunscreen
One thing we don’t often think about is the invisible waste we leave behind. Two common chemicals found in many brands of sunscreen, oxybenzone and octinoxate, can be harmful to delicate coral reef systems. With an estimated 6,000 tons of sunscreen washing into coral reefs around the globe each year, we all need to do our part to preserve the health of our ocean. One way we can do that is by choosing sunscreen that doesn’t contain harmful ingredients. Two reef-safe brands my family loves are Sun Bum and Thinksport. They both come in a variety of SPF and water resistance ratings and are gentle enough for even the most sensitive skin.
Making just a few small changes can help reduce your travel footprint…and could even keep you out of a Tanzanian jail!
Do you have any favourite waste-free travel tips? We’d love to hear about them!
Written by: Pam Jensen