7 easy ways to reduce your waste while travelling

Walking, photo by @juliane-liebermann from Unsplash

You have probably heard the mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’, and know how to reduce your waste at home – but what about when you travel? It’s easy to fall into the trap of disposable food containers and plastic water bottles when we travel – but it’s just as simple to make new greener habits on our trips. Here are 7 simple ways to reduce your waste while travelling. 

And bear in mind – being an eco-friendly traveller may take a little work, but if it helps protect our treasured destinations for centuries to come, it’s all worth it. 

1. Choose reusable containers 

 Single-use plastics such as bags, bottles, straws, utensils and wrappers are extremely damaging for the environment. They take centuries to break down, and before they do, they release toxic chemicals into the land or end up in the stomachs of animals, causing great harm to many cherished species. 

Plastic is all over too. A recent study even found a plastic bag in the Mariana Trench – the deepest point in the ocean – at a massive 10,975 metres beneath the ocean’s surface. Of all the debris found in the trench, 89 per cent were single-use plastics like water bottles and disposable utensils.  

Travellers add to a big chunk of this plastic waste. The good news is that you can simply take steps to considerably minimise this. One of the best ways to reduce waste is to use reusable containers like canvas or cotton bags, reusable coffee mugs and water bottles, food containers, straws and utensils.  

Get in the practice of always bringing a small reusable bag with you so you never have to accept a plastic bag from a store, and if you’re purchasing souvenirs, try to avoid any plastic wrappers. 

When drinking water, always try to refill your own bottle. If you can’t drink the tap water in your destination, look for water refill stations in hotels, restaurants and airports. Not only will you be diminishing waste, but you’ll also be saving some money with these tips!  

2. Swap out your toiletries for zero waste alternatives 

Do you carry a lot of toiletries when you travel? Shampoo, shower gel, moisturiser, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razors, skin products, makeup and more… it all produces a lot of waste that ends up in landfill or the ocean. 

Many products, like scrubs and toothpaste, are also filled with tiny, toxic microplastics or microbeads that end up in the ocean and are easily absorbed into the food chain, so do yourself – and the environment – a favour by looking for plastic-free and zero waste alternatives for your essentials. 

Handmade Soap
Handmade Soap, photo by @aurelia-dubois from Unsplash

Here are some of the most excellent ways to reduce waste with our toiletries: 

  • Buy some travel-sized bottles and refill them with your liquids like shampoo, shower gel, facewash, sunscreen and skincare products every time you travel. 
  • Better yet, get into bars! You can buy solid soap bars, shampoo bars, deodorant bars, toothpaste tabs and more. They last longer, use natural ingredients, are spill-proof, multifunctional and easy to get through airport security. Plus you can buy them without plastic packaging. 
  • Use biodegradable, non-toxic bamboo toothbrushes instead of plastic ones (you can also use bamboo cutlery). 
  • Use an all-metal, no-plastic safety razor and recycle the stainless steel blades.  
  • Avoid buying disposable products like q-tips, tissues, disposable razors, face wipes and cotton pads. 

3. Choose walking, cycling and public transportation first 

From planes to cars, buses and trains, travelling creates a lot of toxic carbon emissions. The best way to reduce your waste and minimise your carbon footprint is to walk or cycle. It puts out zero emissions and it’s good for you. Plus, you’ll get an extremely immersive travel experience – you never know what mysterious gems you’ll discover upon as you stroll around.  

However, walking or cycling is not always ideal, especially if you’re not able to walk long distances, the weather isn’t great for walking, or you’re visiting an area that isn’t pedestrian-friendly. Sometimes you want to fit as much into your day as possible when travelling and you can’t reasonably walk or cycle everywhere. 

 In this case, the next best option is to take public transport like buses and subways, rather than private taxis. You’ll save money and spare the pollution, plus you’ll still get a more genuine travel experience. You can also join a tour and go by coach – it’s one of the environmentally friendly ways to travel. 

Walking, photo by @juliane-liebermann from Unsplash

4. Be mindful of your consumption 

There are ways to lessen your waste at almost every stage of your trip, from packing your suitcase to spending the night in a hotel – you just have to be mindful of your consumption. 

The simplest ways to decrease waste and save energy are turning off the lights when you’re not using them, turning taps off tightly, having quicker showers, layering up instead of using the AC, when possible. Put up the no housekeeping sign so your linens don’t get washed every day. 

Decrease your need to wash your clothes by packing smart. Aim to bring clothes that are easily washed and dry quickly in the air so you don’t need to use the clothes dryer. You can also buy odor-resistant clothes and fabrics that are compostable once they reach their end. Try to avoid buying synthetic clothing that releases microplastics with every wash, and often end up in the ocean. 

As for your electronics, you can buy solar rechargeable batteries and power banks. That way, you don’t have to use toxic disposable batteries or keep sapping electricity to charge your gadgets. 

5. Seek out zero waste dining 

 Whenever you travel, it’s best to think local. Head to farmer’s markets to find the best seasonal produce and local artisan crafts, cafes for home-brewed beans, microbreweries for local brews, and farm-to-table restaurants for home-grown food. 

One of the best – and most delicious – ways to reduce waste when eating on your travels is simply to sit down at restaurants and eat off reusable plates and silverware. You won’t come across any nasty plastic disposables, plus you’ll be helping locally owned businesses. 

Try to seek out food establishments that use recyclable or compostable food containers, utensils and napkins, so you can support their good work and encourage others to do the same. 

When trying street foods or takeaway food, say no to extra napkins and plastic wrappers and containers. Instead, keep some reusable napkins, straws, cutlery and containers in your bag that you can wash later and use again. No matter what you do, don’t get anything in styrofoam!  

Don’t forget your waste-free tips when you’re in the air! Steer clear of all that plastic waste on airplanes by bringing your own snacks, saying no to single-use napkins, cups and straws, and bringing a reusable water bottle to refill during the flight. Another quick flight tip: Bring your own headphones and blanket so you don’t have to pay for their plastic disposables. 

6. Shop ethically 

If you find yourself yearning for a little retail therapy on your travels, the best way to reduce your waste is to support ethical, sustainable stores. Always avoid fast fashion (which exploits workers and produces tons of waste), and instead turn to local businesses. 

Look out for stores that sell locally made wares, encourage reusable bags and eco-friendly products and reduce their plastic use. Your purchases will not only support the community, but also the planet.  

You can also download the Good On You app, which rates brands based on their ethical procedures including how they impact their workers, the environment and animals. Not only will you see how your preferred brands stack up, but you’ll also discover fantastic new brands to support. 

7. Go paperless 

 Who needs paper waste? If you’ve got a smartphone, there’s no need to print your itineraries or tickets anymore. You can save your travel itinerary to your device and use e-tickets for almost everything including flights, trains, buses, concerts, and theatre shows. 

You can buy an e-book reader and download all your favourite books, or simply read the news online. You’ll save a few trees, plus your suitcase will feel lighter without all those books. As for guidebooks – how often do you really use them after your trip? Instead of lugging around guidebooks and maps, replace them with travel apps on your phone.  

Finally, if you’re ever offered a receipt, always say no! If you do need it, ask if they can email it to you. Every little bit helps! 

Article in partnership with Trafalgar. Trafalgar is the world’s leading and most awarded travel brand, spanning all seven continents of the globe.