Zero Waste Travel: Top Tips

Have you ever wondered how much waste is generated by tourists? In 2019, the United Nations Environmental Program, or UNEP, has estimated that around 14 percent of all solid waste produced around the globe each year comes solely from the tourist industry. As travel becomes ever more popular, and accessible, for millions around the world, this figure is likely to keep increasing. With popular tourist destinations becoming overwhelmed by waste, what steps can we take to reduce this issue? We have put together these tips to give you ideas to reduce on waste when travelling, live a little more sustainably and help to clean up our planet. 

Is it possible to travel with zero waste? 

Although currently, it may be very challenging to travel while generating zero waste, there are many actions we can take to reduce our impact, cut down on trash and fuel the movement of living in a more sustainable manner. We know that choosing the sustainable option can often inspire others around you to do the same.

Refuse Unnecessary Items 

Do you remember the last time you took a flight? Or bought a takeaway coffee on the go? Oftentimes, you will be served with single-use items, which are frequently made of plastic, or are difficult to dispose of properly. If possible, try to refuse any unnecessary items included in your purchase, like disposable cutlery, plastic cups, stirrers, or sugar packets, if you do not intend to use them. Packing a reusable cutlery set can help you to eat on the move, without adding to the waste pile. Remembering to bring a reusable coffee cup lets you refuse the disposable cup, plastic lid, and cup sleeve, all of which require a different recycle bin. 

Bring a Water Bottle


This leads us to one of the easiest steps to reduce your plastic waste on the move – the trusty reusable drinks bottle. Staying hydrated is important, especially while travelling. However, with water or other drink options frequently being sold in single-use, petroleum-based plastic bottles, it can sometimes be difficult to make the sustainable choice. By packing your own drinks bottle, you can not only save money, but cut down on your waste too! 

Bring Tote Bags


Although this may not be the first thing we think of, bringing tote bags, or reusable shopping bags, can help to avoid using polluting plastic bags on our travels. It is likely we will purchase some items on our adventures, be it food items, clothing, or gifts, and taking our own bags can save us money, and a lot of plastic waste.

Zero waste toiletries


Displays of tiny, plastic, miniature toiletries can frequently be found in airports, pharmacies, and supermarkets around the world. These ‘travel-size’ items are admittedly very useful when packing for our trips. However, how often do we reuse them? Many of us begin with good intentions, but these cheap, plastic containers often go straight to the bin, during or after our travels. To cut down on waste, trying investing in a durable and reusable travel set to fill with your favourite toiletries, again and again. Switching to soap bars and solid shampoos can also cut down on packaging and make your liquids bag more manageable.

Sights over souvenirs 


The question we must ask ourselves, as we pour over the endless souvenirs in our destination of choice is, will we really appreciate these items on our return? Or would it be more memorable to invest in our sightseeing, photographing our favourite locations and making memories in the form of experiences instead. That delicious meal, or funny photograph, tends to stay in our memories for longer than cheap plastic items that we forget about, or throw away on the next spring clean. If you must get a souvenir – no judgement! – try and find a local business or artist to support.

Bring your own snacks 


The temptation to reach for the bag of brightly wrapped chocolates is high, and when travelling, sometimes even higher. However, with just a little pre-trip preparation, we can ensure that we have our favourite snacks and sweet treats go with us wherever we go. Try picking up a bag of reusable silicone food bags, to fill up with whatever snack you can think of. This simple act can save you money on overpriced food, gives you the freedom to select what you want, and cuts down on difficult-to-recycle plastic packaging. So, you can have your cake, and eat it too! Not only this, but it can encourage you to pick up fresh local delicacies instead, letting you fill up your snack bags with new flavours too.  

Put Together a Zero-Waste Travel Kit

We may have considered many of these options in the past, but sometimes it can be hard to put these thoughts into action, as the countdown to our travel begins. Putting together a zero-waste travel kit ahead of time can take the pressure off, save time and make it easy to reduce our waste when travelling. Your travel kit could include all the items mentioned above - and more! - with the best part being you can customise it to your needs. Love drinking from a straw? Grab a reusable straw to add to your kit. Prefer hot drinks on the go? Make sure to include a travel cup. The limit does not exist.

Long story short...

There are many small steps we can take to live a little more sustainably, reduce our waste and help look after our shared planet. None of us enjoy the trash that we find smothering our favourite destinations, much less the local inhabitants or wildlife. By keeping in mind the five principles of zero waste: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot, we can reduce our impact as we travel the world and help keep dream destinations pristine and healthy, for others to enjoy in the future, for many more years to come.

 Written by Cicely Sinclair