In the wake of the United Nations designating 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, it's evident that the world is steadily waking up to the reality of our environmental impact.
Travel, once a luxury, has become a common aspect of many lives.
However, it is also tied to substantial carbon emissions, with airplanes alone contributing an estimated 920 million tons of carbon annually. In response, sustainable travel has taken root, offering solutions that allow us to explore the world while minimizing our environmental footprint.
One such approach is zero waste travel, a practice that's not just a trend but a commitment to preserving the beauty we're keen to experience. In this blog, we'll share essential zero waste travel tips to make your journeys more environmentally friendly.
1. Preparation and Planning
Zero waste travel specifically targets waste reduction. The main idea is to leave no trace, minimizing the amount of trash produced during travel. This encompasses everything from refusing single-use plastics to repurposing items, recycling, and composting. For the zero-waste traveler, the journey involves a lot of preparation:
- Bringing along reusable items.
- Seeking out bulk stores.
- Planning to avoid situations that necessitate disposables.
The ultimate goal? To travel without leaving a trail of waste behind.
Use what you have, borrow, rent, and shop secondhand.
Opting for secondhand travel gear is a bright and sustainable choice that comes with a host of benefits. It can save you money and significantly reduce the environmental impact of producing and disposing of new products.
For instance, purchasing a pre-loved suitcase or backpack prevents the emission of greenhouse gases that would have been released in producing a new one.
Consider the numerous online platforms or thrift stores where you can find quality secondhand travel gear. Websites like eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace often have many items, from camping equipment to suitcases and travel accessories.
You can also consider travel experiences like house swapping, which cuts down on the environmental impact of hospitality services and gives you a unique travel experience.
Remember, buying secondhand doesn't mean compromising on quality. Many of these items need to be used or in excellent condition. By choosing secondhand, you are prolonging the life of these items and reducing demand for new ones, ultimately contributing to a circular economy.
Here are some examples of secondhand travel gear:
- Backpacks and Luggage: Pre-loved travel backpacks, rucksacks, and suitcases. Osprey, North Face, and Samsonite often appear in secondhand shops.
- Camping Equipment: Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and camp stoves are often available at reduced prices when purchased used.
- Travel Clothing: Waterproof jackets, hiking boots, and other specialty travel clothing can be found in secondhand stores or online platforms.
- Travel Gadgets: Used travel adapters, portable chargers, and cameras can be sourced secondhand.
- Travel Guides and Books: Many travelers purchase guides for a single trip and then sell them. You can find almost-new guidebooks for a fraction of the price.
- Travel Accessories: Neck pillows, eye masks, and luggage tags are often found in secondhand shops.
- Sporting Equipment: For those traveling for specific sports or activities, items like snorkeling gear, skis, or surfboards can be found secondhand.
- Bicycles: For bicycle tours, secondhand bikes and their accessories like helmets, panniers, and tools can be a budget-friendly option.
- Climbing Gear: Harnesses, ropes, and carabiners are in specialized secondhand sporting stores.
- Travel Cribs and Kid Carriers: For those traveling with little ones, these can be bulky and expensive to buy new. Many parents opt to sell theirs once they're done using them. You can also rent this type of gear in many places.
Inspecting items for safety and functionality is essential when purchasing secondhand travel gear.
Where are you going to stay?
Ever bunked in a bamboo hut or slept under the stars in an eco-lodge? Well, if you haven't, you're in for a treat! When we think of traveling, it's easy to envision glitzy hotels with sprawling pools and all-you-can-eat buffets.
Choosing accommodations that practice sustainability can be a game-changer for the environment and your travel experience. These places are about more than just using less water or energy (though that's super important, too!). They often offer a more genuine, grounded experience in your destination.
Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine waking up in Costa Rica in a treehouse lodge. The sounds of the rainforest surround you. You step out on your balcony to see hummingbirds flitting around, and breakfast? That's fresh fruits picked from trees around the lodge and organic coffee grown right on the premises.
Not only are you reducing your carbon footprint, but you're also immersed in the local ecosystem.
Or, consider a stay at an eco-resort in the Maldives, where the structures are built with sustainably-sourced materials and solar-powered energy, and the water systems are designed to have minimal impact on the pristine coral reefs below.
After all, if you're there for the breathtaking underwater world, why not stay at a place that actively protects it?
But it's not just about the remote and exotic. Even in bustling cities like London or New York, you can find hotels that prioritize green practices. Look for places that have eco-certifications or boast about their rainwater collection systems, vertical gardens, or initiatives like linen reuse.
When scouting for an eco-hotel, it's not just about the label. Here's what to look out for to ensure your stay is genuinely green:
- Look for Certifications. Several internationally recognized certifications for green hotels, such as EarthCheck, Green Key, and LEED. These badges of honor mean the hotel has met specific sustainability criteria.
- Check if the hotel uses renewable energy sources like solar or wind power. Energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting, and passive solar building design are great signs.
- Look for hotels that employ rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling, and water-efficient fixtures. Some places even have signs encouraging guests to reuse towels and linens.
- A genuine eco-hotel will have a robust waste management system. This includes recycling, composting, and strategies to minimize single-use plastics.
- Those tiny plastic bottles of shampoo? Not very eco-friendly. Check if the hotel offers refillable dispensers, soap bars, or other sustainable toiletry options.
- Does the hotel have an on-site organic garden? Do they source locally? A menu of organic, local, and in-season foods can make your meals delicious and eco-friendly.
- Some eco-hotels offer bicycle rentals, electric car charging stations, or shuttle services to reduce the number of cars on the road.
- Significant in biodiverse areas, many eco-hotels participate in conservation efforts, whether protecting a local turtle population or reforesting the surrounding area.
- The best eco-hotels help guests understand their environmental impact and how to travel more sustainably. This could be through workshops, guided nature walks, or information booklets in each room.
- Look for hotels constructed from sustainable or recycled materials. Traditional and natural construction methods that mesh with the local environment, like bamboo bungalows in tropical areas, can also indicate an eco-focus.
- A truly eco-friendly establishment will work harmoniously with its local community. This can mean hiring local staff, supporting local businesses, or contributing to community projects.
- Some of the best eco-hotels have yearly sustainability reports detailing their water use, energy consumption, and other green metrics. It's a sign they take their eco-credentials seriously.
How are you going to get around?
The mode of transportation you choose while traveling can significantly impact the environment. Every mode, from airplanes to cars, trains, and bicycles, has a different carbon footprint. Your choice, therefore, plays a crucial role in making your travels more sustainable.
While convenient and often necessary for long distances, air travel has the most significant environmental impact, producing an estimated 920 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Consider alternative means of travel for shorter distances. For instance, trains offer a more eco-friendly solution for regional travel and offer the chance to enjoy scenic routes.
If you must fly, choose direct flights whenever possible, as take-offs and landings are the most fuel-intensive parts of any flight. Alternatively, consider carbon offset programs offered by some airlines that invest in renewable energy, reforestation, or other projects to counterbalance the carbon footprint of your flight.
On a smaller scale, opt for public transportation, cycling, or walking over renting a car when exploring your destination. These alternatives are not only eco-friendly but also offer a more immersive experience. For instance, choosing to bike or walk around a city reduces your carbon footprint and provides a more intimate exploration of your surroundings.
Rideshares or carpooling are also great options if public transportation isn't available or practical. They significantly reduce the number of vehicles on the road, leading to less traffic congestion and lower emissions per passenger.
Carbon offsetting is a practice that allows individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world to balance out their carbon footprints.
These projects can range from renewable energy initiatives and tree planting activities to community-based sustainable development programs.
The carbon emissions you produce during your travel are calculated, and you pay an equivalent cost which is then used to fund these projects. Carbon offsetting not only aids in reducing global carbon emissions but also often supports biodiversity, local communities, and sustainable development.
Several credible programs, such as Gold Standard, MyClimate, and Atmosfair, are renowned for their rigorous standards and meaningful contribution to sustainability. However, remember that carbon offsetting is not a 'get out of jail free card' and should be paired with genuine efforts to reduce your carbon emissions in the first place.
The advent of technology has made digital transactions convenient and a significant step toward sustainability. Here's why:
Reduction in Paper Waste: Every year, millions of trees are cut down for paper production, leading to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. By opting for digital transactions, we can significantly reduce the demand for paper.
This includes booking confirmations and event tickets to hotel and restaurant bills. Moreover, this practice eliminates the need for physical storage and reduces clutter.
Instead of printing your boarding pass or event ticket, you can use airline apps or event apps like Eventbrite that allow you to show your ticket on your phone.
Convenience and Efficiency: Digital transactions offer a quick and efficient way to manage and track your spending, especially while traveling. Many apps and online platforms provide real-time updates and reminders and even categorize your expenses, making it easier to stay within your budget.
Using digital wallets or payment apps like PayPal, Venmo, or Apple Pay minimizes physical contact and helps you keep track of your transactions in one place.
Digital Maps: Using paper maps, while nostalgic, contributes to paper waste. Digital maps, on the other hand, are environmentally friendly and provide real-time updates, step-by-step navigation, and the ability to explore locations virtually before you even get there.
Google Maps or Apple Maps offer comprehensive navigation options with real-time traffic updates, public transit information, and even walking or cycling paths. They also allow you to save locations, create personalized travel routes, and share them with others.
2. Packing Essentials
Navigating the exciting terrains of travel shouldn't mean navigating through heaps of unnecessary waste.
Bring Your Snacks and Minimize Food Packaging.
When preparing for travel, it's not just about what you pack in your suitcase but also what you carry in your snack bag. Here's why:
Environmental and Health Benefits: Packaged snacks often come in single-use plastic that contributes significantly to waste and pollution. These snacks often contain preservatives and high amounts of sugar and salt. Making your snacks or buying them in bulk and packing them in reusable containers reduces plastic waste and allows you to control your eating, leading to healthier choices.
Rather than buying individually wrapped granola bars, make a batch of homemade granola bars and pack them in beeswax wraps or reusable silicon bags. You could also opt for fresh fruits, trail mix, or popcorn bought in bulk and reusable containers.
Minimizing Food Packaging Waste: It's not just snacks but meals where you can make a difference. Most takeaway meals come with unnecessary single-use items like cutlery, napkins, and condiments, often in the trash.
If ordering food, specify that you don't need cutlery or extra packets of condiments. Better yet, if you have access to a kitchen where you stay, consider cooking your meals with locally sourced ingredients. Not only will this reduce packaging waste, but it'll also give you a taste of the local produce.
Reusable Coffee Cup and Water Bottle: Single-use coffee cups and plastic water bottles are some of the most significant contributors to waste. Carrying a reusable coffee cup and water bottle can significantly reduce this waste.
Invest in a good quality insulated coffee cup that will keep your drink hot or cold and a reusable water bottle. Many cafes now offer discounts if you bring your cup, and there are plenty of places where you can refill your water bottle for free or for a small fee.
Say no to single-use toiletries.
Single-use toiletries often provided by hotels present a significant waste problem, as they contribute to a large amount of plastic waste entering our oceans each year.
These bars can be just as effective as their liquid counterparts, and they are often more compact, making them perfect for travel. Companies like Ethique offer various products suitable for hair and skin types.
Toothpaste tablets are another excellent zero-waste alternative. They are small, easy to pack, and produce no plastic waste. Brands like Change Toothpaste offer these in refillable glass containers, eliminating plastic tube waste.
Regarding sun protection, many conventional sunscreens come in plastic containers and contain chemicals harmful to marine life. Opt for natural, plastic-free sunscreens in tin containers or solid bars. Raw Elements and Badger produce reef-safe sunscreens in zero-waste packaging.
Finally, don't forget to pack these items in reusable containers. Many options are available, from silicone squeeze bottles to metal tins, which can be refilled and used trip after trip.
Opt for Reusable Textiles: Instead of using disposable paper napkins and towels, switch to reusable cloth alternatives. Pack a set of cloth napkins or small towels that can be washed and reused throughout your trip. They are more sustainable, durable, and often more absorbent than their disposable counterparts. Just wash them when you return to the hotel and hang them to dry.
Prioritize Reusable Dining Essentials: Along with your reusable water bottle, pack a set of reusable cutlery, including a fork, knife, and spoon, to use during meals instead of relying on disposable plastic utensils. You do not have to buy these. Use what you have.
Consider bringing a reusable straw made from stainless steel, bamboo, or silicone to reduce plastic straw usage. I am only saying this because some people need straws, and others think they do.
Finally, get a reusable food container for leftovers or snacks to avoid using single-use plastic bags or packaging.
3. Sustainable Practices During Travel
When we talk about traveling, often the images that come to mind are the breathtaking landscapes, iconic landmarks, and unique experiences a destination offers. But its people and rich cultures, traditions, and crafts are at the heart of every locale. One of the most impactful ways to immerse oneself in a new place is by choosing local.
Think about wandering the bustling markets of Marrakech, where every corner introduces you to a gifted artisan handcrafting intricate leather bags or weaving vibrant Berber carpets. Each purchase from these local craftsmen gets you an authentic souvenir and directly supports your livelihood.
Or consider visiting the rolling vineyards of Tuscany. Instead of buying a commercial brand at the supermarket, why not sample and purchase wine directly from a local vineyard? Doing so gives you a genuine taste of the region and a beautiful story of the family tending to those grapes for generations.
Choosing local isn't just limited to products. For instance, dining at a family-run trattoria in Rome offers a much richer experience than eating at a global fast-food chain.
You'll enjoy a home-cooked Italian meal, interact with locals, understand their traditions, and maybe even get that secret pasta recipe!
Supporting local farmers is another beautiful avenue. Let's say you're in Bali. Instead of getting your morning coffee from a well-known chain, seek out a café that serves coffee made from beans grown in the nearby plantations.
Mind Your Waste
Waste management can be a significant challenge in many popular travel destinations. As travelers, we must do our part to minimize our footprint.
Remember that hike in the Canadian Rockies or the beach day in Bali? While it's tempting to think that an apple core or banana peel is just organic waste, it won't degrade quickly in many environments and can harm local fauna.
So, always pack out what you pack in. And, of course, if you see plastic or other trash, consider picking it up – leaving the place a bit better than you found it.
When staying at a hotel, it's common to have fresh towels and linens provided daily. However, most of the time, it's optional.
Many eco-conscious hotels already have a program where they only change linens upon request or after several days. You can save significant amounts of water by using your towels more than once and skipping the daily linen change.
Just think about it: every towel or sheet washed means water, detergent, and energy. If you stay in an eco-lodge in Costa Rica, they might even have signs encouraging this practice.
Showers are refreshing, especially after a long day exploring a new city or hiking a mountain trail. But it's good to know how long you spend under that showerhead, especially in areas where freshwater is scarce.
For example, if you're vacationing on a Greek island, where water can be in short supply during summer, a quick 5-minute shower can make a significant difference.
When you leave your hotel room, always ensure the taps are tightly turned off. It's surprising how a small drip can add up over time. While enjoying the luxurious hotel bath might be tempting, it's worth considering how much water it uses compared to a shower.
If you're visiting places like Cape Town, which faced a severe water crisis in recent years, opting for a shower over a bath can be a conscientious decision.
Lastly, while many hotels offer swimming pools, it's worth checking if they use sustainable practices, such as water recycling or eco-friendly cleaning. Some cutting-edge hotels have even implemented saltwater pools requiring fewer chemicals and less frequent water changes.
Managing laundry on the road
Managing laundry sustainably while traveling can be an environmentally friendly choice and an opportunity to immerse yourself in local customs. Here's how you can tackle laundry sustainably during your travels:
Pack Smartly: Pack a minimal wardrobe that requires less frequent washing and dries quickly. Materials like merino wool, for instance, are known for resisting odors and can be worn multiple times without needing a wash.
Hand Wash When Possible: Avoid hotel laundry services that often use heavy-duty commercial washers and dryers. Consider hand washing your clothes. It uses less water and energy. You only need a sink or basin, some gentle soap (preferably biodegradable), and some elbow grease.
Use Eco-Friendly Detergents: Travel with small packs of eco-friendly, biodegradable detergent. Not only are they kinder to the environment, but they are also often gentler on your clothes.
Line Dry: Use natural sunlight and air to dry your clothes. It's energy efficient and can leave your clothes smelling fresh. Pack a lightweight, travel-friendly clothesline, or use what's available – a balcony railing, a windowsill, or even the back of a chair.
Group Laundry Together: If you must use a washing machine, wait until you have a full load. This way, you're maximizing the machine's water and energy use. Collaborate with travel buddies if you're with others.
Cold Wash: Cold water is often just as adequate for cleaning clothes as hot water, and it saves energy. Many modern detergents are formulated to work best with cold water.
7. Local Laundromats: In some destinations, local laundromats might be an option. These can be more efficient than hotel services and allow you to interact with locals. Plus, they might use more environmentally friendly methods than commercial hotel operations.
Wear Clothes More Than Once: Consider wearing them more than once unless your clothes are noticeably dirty or smelly. This reduces laundry loads and means less wear and tear on your clothes.
Avoid Dry Cleaning: Dry cleaning often involves chemicals that are harmful to the environment. If you must dry clean, look for green dry cleaners that use water-based methods.
Use Rechargeable Electronics
Traveling often involves using various electronic devices such as smartphones, cameras, and portable speakers. Unfortunately, the widespread use of disposable batteries contributes to environmental degradation due to their harmful chemicals and limited lifespan.
Rechargeable batteries are a sustainable alternative that can be used repeatedly, reducing hazardous waste generated. Choosing reliable brands that prioritize durability and efficiency is essential to make the switch.
The Problem with Disposable Batteries: Disposable batteries contribute to environmental pollution due to their single-use nature and hazardous materials. They end up in landfills where they can leak harmful chemicals into the soil and water, posing risks to ecosystems and human health.
Look for reliable brands that offer rechargeable batteries with long lifespans and high performance. Some popular options include brands like Eneloop, Duracell Rechargeable, and Panasonic. These batteries can be recharged hundreds of times, reducing the need for frequent battery replacements.
Furthermore, consider investing in rechargeable electronic devices such as cameras, smartphones, and tablets. Many electronic manufacturers now offer eco-friendly options with rechargeable batteries built-in, reducing the reliance on disposable batteries altogether.
Respect Natural and Cultural Environments
Every time we set foot in a new destination, it's like being given a book filled with stories of nature, culture, and history. Ensuring we respect this narrative is essential to maintaining its integrity for future generations.
Imagine walking on the pristine beaches of Thailand, where the waters shimmer a brilliant turquoise, or trekking up the Rockies, feeling on top of the world with each step. These places remain unspoiled mainly due to conscientious travelers who understand the value of "Leave No Trace."
It's more than just a mantra; it's a commitment. It means that when we camp in the untouched wilds of Scandinavia or picnic in the serene parks of Kyoto, we ensure not a wrapper or bottle mars that space. Just as we found it, so shall others after us.
Wildlife encounters can be a highlight of any trip. Who isn't thrilled at seeing a dolphin breaking the ocean's surface or a monkey playfully swinging through tropical tree canopies?
Yet, responsible wildlife tourism is pivotal. Remember that tragic story of a dolphin being passed around for selfies on a beach, leading to death? Such incidents underscore the importance of observing without interfering.
Wildlife should be appreciated from a distance, without feeding or trying to touch them. It ensures their safety and yours. Not all animals might be as friendly as they appear.
Every place has its heartbeat, often manifested in local customs, cultures, and environmental challenges. Before visiting the grand temples of Angkor Wat, read about the Khmer Empire's rich history.
Before diving into the Great Barrier Reef, understand the coral bleaching issues this natural wonder faces. Educating ourselves enhances our travel experience and fosters a deeper connection with the place and its people.
For instance, knowing not to point your feet at someone in Thailand or understanding the significance of a Maasai warrior's attire in Kenya can turn simple interactions into rich, meaningful exchanges.
So, as we pack our bags and set our wanderlust free, let's carry a sense of responsibility, ensuring that our memories are not at the cost of the places we cherish.
A final word zero waste travel?
Traveling has always been exciting to experience new cultures, taste new cuisines, and gather stories that last a lifetime. But in the wake of the travel explosion, with international arrivals surging from 527 million in 1995 to a staggering 1.2 billion in 2016, there's a growing awareness of the footprints we leave behind.
The travel industry alone contributed a whopping 10.3% ($7 trillion) to the global GDP in 2019. Amidst this boom, the call for zero waste travel has never been more profound.
Enter regenerative travel, a movement that goes beyond mere sustainability. It's about leaving a destination better than you found it. This means making choices that heal and give back to the environment and community you visit.
A prime way to embark on this is by choosing eco-friendly travel products. Items made with sustainability in mind reduce waste and often come from ethical sources that champion both the environment and the artisan.
But what about those tempting souvenirs? The allure of keyrings, fridge magnets, and vibrant bracelets can be hard to resist. Still, as many seasoned travelers can attest, these often end up discarded or forgotten.
Rather than burdening your luggage and eventually the landfills, why not focus on souvenirs that enrich the palate and memories? Think locally produced foods, sweets, or drinks that offer a taste of the place and its stories. More than items, the experiences and photographs genuinely capture the essence of a journey.
Another way to support local economies without adding to waste? If you're wandering through a market and a seller lets you capture a picturesque moment, consider tipping them for the photo opportunity instead of purchasing items you might not need.
Lastly, as we globe-trot, it's equally essential to be mindful of the homes we leave behind. Before jetting off, make a quick scan of your residence. Unplug devices and appliances - they draw energy even when switched off.
And if you're leaving during the colder months, remember to set the thermostat to around 50 degrees. It conserves energy, prevents pipes from freezing, and even saves on your bill.
In the era of rapid international travel growth, the transition to zero-waste travel isn't just a trend; it's a responsibility.
As explorers, our most incredible souvenirs can positively impact the world. So, let's collect memories, not waste them, and truly journey with purpose.
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