Travel Tips

11 Zero Waste Travel Hacks

By Anna Franklyn
24th Feb 2019

zero waste travel hacks

The term zero waste has been on the upward trend for a while now, but it’s one that we hope will stick around for the long haul.

When you consider that one million plastic bottles are purchased around the world each minute and that 91% of plastic is never recycled, well it’s enough to make your head hurt.

Most people are aware by now of what you need to do to reduce your waste at home, and it’s not all that different when you’re travelling, but we’re going to break it down for you so there are no excuses.

Here are 11 zero waste travel hacks to try next time you jet off.

#1 Refuse

The golden rule of going zero waste at home is the 5 Rs: refuse, reduce, re-use or repair, recycle and rot (in that order), and it’s just the same when you travel. The more you travel, the more you’ll realise that refusing what you don’t absolutely need is crucial to reducing your waste. 

Whenever you order a drink, tell them you don’t need a straw, refuse bags when you’re shopping, don’t take the small plastic water bottles they give you at your accommodation just because they are free. The more you can refuse, the closer you’ll be to zero waste travel.

#2 Take Your Own Water Bottle And Purifier

This is a no brainer and hopefully everyone is taking their own reusable water bottle with them just about everywhere they go by now. Yes, you’ll need to drink it dry before going through security if you’re flying, but there are free refill stations in just about every airport these days so go for gold on these and get nice and hydrated before even stepping on to the plane. 

If you’re headed to a developing country where you can’t drink the tap water then you can up the ante with a water bottle that has an in-built purifying system. We like the Lifesaver Liberty as you can fill it up and then purify the water as you need it, but the Lifestraw is also a solid option. If you’re going away for more than a week or two, this is a solid investment for the planet (and your wallet).

#3 Bring Your Own Cutlery

Reusable cutlery is actually pretty handy to have in your bag even when you’re not travelling, but it’s an absolute lifesaver when you’re trying to see, eat and do everything in the latest city you’re visiting. Whether you just bought a crunchy baguette and some creamy cheese for a picnic in Paris or you’re trying to slam down yoghurt and a banana on your way to the airport, reusable cutlery will become your new best friend.

Speaking of airports, now that you’ve got your reusable cutlery, you can politely decline the plastic knife and fork which are wrapped in more plastic when you get your aeroplane meal. You’d be surprised at what you’ll learn from the airline staff when you get to chatting about waste.

#4 When Flying Budget, BYO Food

It’s hard to believe in this day and age, but most big airlines still send their waste straight to landfill or to be incinerated. 

If you’re travelling on a budget airline, bring your own food on board. You can go all out and make it at home if you’re really invested, but nine times out of 10, even just getting something from the airport before you board the plane will contain less single-use plastic, especially if you decline the plastic bag and disposable cutlery. 

If you’re flying on a full-service airline, keep in mind that they have at least one meal per person on board and if you decline that, it will likely end up in landfill. Unless there’s an option to request no meal, your best bet is to eat everything on the tray and decline the cutlery and any other extras they try to put down in front of you.

#5 Pack Your Canvas Bag

Pack a canvas bag that folds down to next to nothing and you’ll be surprised how often you use it. Store it in your day pack, handbag, pocket or whatever you know you’ll always have on you so you’re never caught out. Whether you’re shopping for food, souvenirs, clothes or you just need a beach bag for the day, you’ll be able to pull it out. 

#6 Pack Your Own Toiletries

Yes, the Malin and Goetz toiletries at your hotel are cute and all, but do they really work any better than the shampoo and conditioner you use at home? 

About two million half used soap bars from hotels get dumped into landfill each year in the United States alone, so do Mother Earth a favour and find yourself some small bottles that you can fill up with your own shampoo, conditioner, body wash and moisturiser; you probably already have some sitting under the bathroom sink at home. Or go one better and get yourself unpackaged toiletries like the shampoo and conditioner bars at Lush. Store them in something you’ve already got at home—get creative—or if you really don’t have anything, Lush also sells tins you can store them in.

If you forget and you really must use the mini toiletries provided by hotels, then make sure you take them with you and finish them off. You could even reuse the bottles the next time you travel.

#7 Dine In And Eat Locally

You’re on holidays so it’s time to slow down. Do a spot of people watching while you drink your morning coffee instead of getting it to take away. If you really like to wander the streets while sipping on your latte, then we’re going to assume you’ve already packed your reusable cup.

You might also want to go one better and get yourself some collapsible containers to keep in your bag in case you want to get your food to take away. 

When you can, also try to choose cafes and restaurants that serve local produce. You’ve just flown halfway around the world, your food doesn’t need to as well.

#8 Invest In A Scrubba

If you’re going away for a few weeks and washing your delicates in the basin of your accommodation isn’t going to cut it but you don’t like the thought of sending your clothes to be washed and returned in plastic bags, you might want to consider investing in a Scrubba. It’s essentially a super lightweight, portable and powerless washing machine. The bag has a flexible washboard inside so you get a really good clean. 

Use the bag as your laundry bag, then when you’re ready to wash, you just fill it up with water and go for gold. You might also find a portable clothesline handy, but you can usually make do without by getting a bit creative with chairs, doors and other surfaces around your accommodation.

#9 Choose Eco-Friendly Accommodation

While eco-resorts tend not to be budget-friendly, if you can afford it, it’s a great way to reduce your waste. If not, these days you can usually find cheaper hotels and hostels that do what they can to run sustainably.

Look for accommodation options that are constructed with sustainable materials, run off natural energy sources and partner with sustainable tourism companies. If they have a restaurant on site, also look for places that grow their own vegetables, compost their waste and serve local food.

#10 Walk And Catch Public Transport

Walking is always going to be the most sustainable way to get around, but it’s also one of the best ways to explore a new city so ditch the Uber and stretch your legs whenever you can. 

If you’re going a little further afield, explore the public transport options in the city you’re visiting; it’s often a pretty amazing insight into the local culture.

#11 Offset Your Flights

Plenty of airlines actually offer this as an option when you’re purchasing your ticket, and while we’re all for skipping over the travel insurance the airline is trying to flog you (get your own, do NOT skip travel insurance), the ‘offset your carbon emissions’ box is one that you should really think about ticking.

If there’s no option when purchasing your flights, you can calculate your CO2 emissions using one of the many calculators available online and then donate to a verified organisation like Gold Standard.

Travelling solo? Here's everything you need to know. 

Image credit: John Cobb

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