A Personal Journey in Environmental Responsibility

Reducing Waste When Traveling

Part 6 – Traveling

By Kait Spielmaker

Many of life’s benefits are connected to traveling. Lower stress levels, new worldly perspectives, being more creative, and living an overall healthier life. Traveling is an existential part of living that offers profound views of the world. Like everything in life, there is almost always good with bad. Traveling, while intrinsic to our lives, can have a negative impact on the planet. There are many easy, efficient changes that can be made in order to minimize your carbon footprint whenever you travel.

On the Road

Road trips are an American staple: road maps, snacks from the convenience store and good tunes. Countless times I have walked into a gas station to stock up on Twizzlers, Cheez-Its or Oreos. Gas stations are designed for indulging when making a stop or getting gas. Snacks pass the time while on the road, and sometimes they provide something to do so you don’t fall asleep when driving through the night. Investing in a good cooler to pack meals from home is really helpful, especially if the trip is only a couple of days. 

Hummus, veggies, fruits like bananas, oranges and apples, overnight oats, chia seed pudding, DIY trail mix, and sometimes even a slow cooker meal are perfect traveling food. These can all be prepped at home using minimal waste and taken out on the road to serve as healthy, low-waste meals for any trip. 

In the event of seeking out something at a gas station or fast food place while traveling, try to avoid packaging as much as possible. When it comes to fast food like Subway, their sandwich wrappers are compostable. Furthermore, ask for no bag and bypass the extra napkins, silverware, etc. Sadly, transitioning to low waste means no longer enjoying hot sauce packets from Taco Bell or ketchup packets when getting fries from McDonald’s. Avoiding the drive-thru and going into an establishment can help decrease waste since it offers more self-service. Purchasing a set of reusable silverware to keep in the car has proved to work well when traveling on the road, this essential can be purchased almost anywhere.

In the Air

Ironically, as I write this piece, I am waiting for a flight in the Phoenix airport. What better time to write about cutting corners in waste while it sits fresh in your mind as you catch a flight?

Two of the easiest things that can be done are bringing a reusable water bottle and travel coffee thermos. Most large airports now have water refill stations located with drinking fountains to alleviate the need to purchase plastic water bottles. This becomes useful in the airport, but also on the plane itself. Most airlines still rely on single use plastics and have not implemented recycling. 

Everyone knows that the airlines do no favors for the environment when they pass out complimentary food and beverages on flights. It’s completely acceptable to bring your own food through security (something I was unaware of for a really long time). If you plan on having a cocktail, getting one from the airport bar removes the single shot plastic liquor bottles airlines use for cocktails on flights.

Stocking up on non-perishable snacks from the grocery store (especially from the bulk section) is also a good habit to get into. Not only will this reduce your waste but it will save you money, as we know how expensive everything on the other side of airport security is.

In the event you arrive at the airport snack-less and hungry, just aim to minimize waste as much as possible. When browsing options inside the airport, select a fruit or indulge in a pastry or sandwich from a display case at a coffee shop where minimal packaging can be requested.

Camping

Lately, there have been a lot of stories floating around the internet of people leaving beautiful nature spots littered with wrappers, beer cans, cigarette butts—the list goes on and on. I have seen and picked up my fair share of garbage from the wilderness when camping or hiking; it is truly frustrating. Nature, whether it be camping, hiking or swimming at the beach, is reserved for everyone and shouldn’t be destroyed by prior visitors. 

Pack It In, Pack It Out is a principle of Leave No Trace, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting nature from trash left behind. Similar to being on the road, many of the same principles can be implemented when camping or just being in nature in order to alleviate negative human impacts on the environment. 

Once again, the cooler. We purchased a Yeti cooler last summer and it’s worth every penny. More affordable ones exist on the market that serve the same purpose, be on the lookout for a good deal during sporting goods sales. They are designed for heavy-duty excursions in the outdoors and keep food from spoiling for five days. Reusable silicone bags such as Stasher bags, have replaced the need for plastic zipper bags and work perfect for storing nuts or veggies. 

If any plastic is brought into nature, make sure to collect everything, including micro litter (micro litter is like the corner of a granola bar wrapper that’s easily left behind). If your household composts at home, bring a container to store food scraps; banana peels, apple cores, etc., as this helps keep organic matter out of its unnatural habitat.

Transportation

In our society, we have a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. They continue to be integrated into our everyday lives as coal and natural gas fuel most modes of transportation. With that being said, it is understood that it may seem irrelevant to practice minimizing waste when flying across the world or driving across the country. At this point in time, we are still dependent on fossil fuels but hopefully as we progress, we will gravitate more towards renewable and clean energy solutions.

While you can’t avoid taking a plane to Europe, using public transportation or walking when you get there is a conscious option. Furthermore, when you are in the market for a new car or are renting a vehicle for an adventure of your choosing, aim for fuel efficiency or an electric car. Using ride share apps, carpooling, public transportation and biking or walking when applicable are ways to reduce environmental impact. In the end, we collectively should be more aware of our impact and making more mindful decisions help us shift our behavior moving forward.

Keep up with this series and find back articles here:

Part 5: Your Guide To Recycling And Composting

Part 4: Empowering Women to Reduce Waste

Part 3: Navigating The Grocery Store


Kait Spielmaker is a Michigan native who relocated to Phoenix, and is the administrative coordinator at Green Living Magazine. She is an avid hiker and is working on her master’s degree in Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.

Photo by Dani Cropper

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