How To Travel Zero Waste

by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist

Published in Lifestyle on 27th August, 2018

What The Hell Is Zero-Waste?

Zero-waste is a movement that's growing in momentum - normal everyday people taking steps to drastically reduce their waste, and the impact that they have on the environment. Normally this involves making an effort to stop buying produce and items that are packaged in plastic, as well as trying to reduce carbon emissions by buying ethically produced products, cycling instead of driving and so on.

Why Travel Zero-Waste?

Travelling is probably one of the most difficult scenarios when striving to be zero-waste. The amount of plastic waste that we consume, buy and eventually discard while travelling is insane, and some of it is just unavoidable. It's a lot easier to be zero-waste when you're living at home and you have the comfort of knowing you have everything in stock and where to go if you need something. When we travel, we're hurtling ourselves into a new environment, where we may not even know the language, and practicing a low-impact lifestyle suddenly becomes a lot harder - so why even bother?

zero waste

While, yes - it's more difficult, we should be trying harder than ever to reduce our plastic consumption when travelling. Tourism is a huge industry, and it generates massive amounts of waste every year, which destroys the local environment and makes it less habitable for the locals. As tourists, we need to be more conscious about how we travel and what impact that is having on the locals, because if we don't - we may never get to come back for a second visit.


Food is where a lot of the waste that we produce when travelling comes from, both when we're in transit and while we're at our destination. Oftentimes airports don't sell a lot of food without packaging, and when we're out and about in a foreign country, it's hard to know where to go for non-packaged foods.

The first step is to prepare in advance: take reusable containers, napkins, straws and cutlery with you so you'll never have to be caught out by a plastic fork. Chances are if you're jet-lagged you'll want to go for a coffee, so don't forget a reusable coffee cup that you can stow away in your bag and bring out to avoid having to throw away those plastic coffee cups.

Next, try as much as possible to buy food that doesn't need to come from packaging, and prepare your meals at home. Even if you're staying in a hostel, oftentimes there will be a communal kitchen available for you to use. To find un-packaged food, look for local farmers markets, where you'll likely find plenty of fresh fruits and veggies to stock up on. This is a great option simply because it gives you the chance to explore the culture more, while also avoiding waste and giving back to the local community, as opposed to a supermarket chain.


Always try and bring a reusable water bottle with you when you travel. If you're flying, empty it out before your flight and take it through security, then fill it up afterwards - most airports should have water fountains. Buying bottled water while you're travelling is not only incredibly wasteful, but it's also super expensive, so save the money and the planet and bring the largest water bottle you can find (that'll fit in a bag). When you've arrived at your destination, figure out where you can fill up on water. Some countries / cities don't have public water fountains available, but you may be able to get your bottles filled in local shops. If you're staying in a hotel room and don't have drinking water available - ask at reception whether they can fill your bottles up. If worst comes to worst and you really can't find anywhere to refill your bottles, try buying a large bottle of water to stash in your room and refill your bottles from, to save you from having to buy lot's of little plastic bottles while you're out and about.

why travel zero waste


When travelling zero-waste, try to pack as minimalist as you can, and avoid buying new clothes just for the sake of a vacation. Packing a capsule wardrobe can be very helpful, as you'll be able to pack a lot less, but still get a wide variety of outfits out of it. If you're looking to buy new clothes either while you're there or before your trip because you've realized that you need something, try to buy second-hand from a thrift shop, and anything you want to get rid of: donate. Currently textile waste is a huge problem, but you can combat that by buying second-hand and giving your old clothes to someone else, rather than have them end up in a land-fill.


Hygiene is super important when you travel, the stress, long days and separation from home comforts means we get sweaty and dirty very quickly. Unfortunately, we all too often end up taking all our toiletries in plastic packaging, or having to buy extra when we've arrived. Make sure you've properly prepared and you know exactly what you will need, and then see if you can find zero-waste travel alternatives to those. Instead of taking your shampoo in a little plastic container, you can switch to solid shampoo bars, which means you won't get flagged by security either, and you'll be able to take more with you. Solid deodorants, conditioners, soaps and more are also available and are often also a lot easier and smaller to pack than traditional hygiene products, so you'll be doing yourself a favor.


How are you going to entertain yourself? Rather than opting for buying new books, buy second-hand or get a kindle and download them. When you're out and about travelling, look for places that interest you, but also give back to the local community or are run by locals. Rather than buying unnecessary souvenirs, opt for experiences or learning opportunities!


Go Paperless

On most airlines and in many airports, train stations, ferry ports etc in developed countries, you will have the option to digitally download your tickets, boarding passes etc, rather than have to print them out. This may seem small, but collectively tickets use up a lot of paper, so try to opt for digital if possible.

Transporting Yourself

How on earth do you transport yourself without making an impact on the planet? Realistically, if you're going anywhere beyond cycling distance, you can't - but there is still plenty to be done. Your first step is to see if you can avoid flying. One long-haul flight is equivalent to the entire carbon output of one person, for a year. If you can, opt for a road-trip or even better: travel by train. Sometimes however, flights are unavoidable if you want to get to certain places, but there's still steps you can take to reduce the impact you're having. Carbon off-setting is the practice of counteracting the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that you've produced by taking that same amount out of the atmosphere. There are now companies that will do your carbon off-setting for you for a price. Alternatively, you could volunteer or work for an NGO or charity that is working on reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

While staying at your destination, try as much as possible to avoid cars and opt instead for bikes or public transport. This not only reduces your emissions into the atmosphere, but will probably provide a better way for you to get to know the area.

Final Thoughts

It's up to everyone to reduce their waste and impact on the environment, and sometimes it's completely unavoidable - what's important is that every traveler tries their best. The more people trying and speaking out, the more likely businesses and governments are to start taking meaningful steps towards change.

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