Nothing has made me more conscious of my personal trash “footprint” than traveling.
In my home country of the USA, trash is easily swept out of sight and out of mind. My city is generally quite clean and free of litter, and when I throw items away they’re whisked off by a trash service never to be seen again. There aren’t any landfills in view on my normal routes about town so I’m rarely confronted with the reality of my trash-related habits. As it is, I don’t think regularly about the shocking statistics: the average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash daily, and we only recycle under 35% of our trash (source).
When I travel, it’s a bit of a different experience. Many countries have an even poorer system for recycling than the United States, and unless I’m in an extremely “untouched”, rural area, I tend to see a lot of trash. I’ve seen bags of dirty diapers floating along the beach, piles of candy wrappers clogging a storm drain, and Starbucks cups EVERYWHERE. Witnessing these sights got me thinking- when I throw away trash at a restaurant or in my hotel room, does it really make its way to the proper place or will it end up floating in the ocean or littering a sidewalk somewhere?
For the past few years, I’ve attempted to clean up my traveling and packing routine. As a kid, I was taught to “leave no trace” while camping. I decided to try to apply that principle to traveling in general. Though I’m nowhere near perfect or completely zero waste, I’m becoming more conscious each time I travel, and better at being less wasteful. Here are a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way!
REDUCE FOOD WASTE
Buying food while on-the-go is the biggest waste-producer for me when I travel. It seems as though everywhere I go everything is wrapped up in single use plastic! I’ve had great luck with simply bringing my own containers and asking restaurants and food stands to place whatever I order inside. I also bring a utensil roll containing my reusable stainless steel straw and utensils so that I don’t get stuck needing a plastic fork.
Another way to reduce food-related trash while traveling is to bring your own bags and shop frequently for non-packaged snacks like fruit, anything that can be bought in bulk (be creative and look for things like boiled peanuts from roadside vendors that can be scooped right into your own bag). This way, you’ll avoid winding up ravenous and ready to buy the nearest plastic bag of plastic-wrapped chips to satiate your hunger.
STOP BUYING TRAVEL-SIZED ITEMS
I used to be one of those travelers who would head to the nearest Target store before a trip to buy a set of tiny plastic bottles with small portions of shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, and toothpaste. Alternately, I’d just use the tiny bottles of shampoo at hotels so that I wouldn’t have to pack anything.
Now, I travel with a shampoo bar in a metal tin which can be used as soap, shampoo, and conditioner all in one! I bring homemade deodorant and toothpaste in reusable containers, and use a metal safety razor (which, of course, has to be packed in my checked bag). I also bring a tin of my own laundry soap (bought in bulk, but it’s easy to make your own!) in case I need to do a load of laundry while traveling.
If you have travel plans this year, why not choose one or two simple actions to be a greener traveler? You’ll feel great about leaving this beautiful earth a little cleaner every time you explore her.