With the news that InterContinental Hotels Group is getting rid of mini toiletries in favour of refillable bottles, bulk dispensers and ceramic containers by 2021, it’s a good time for everyone to re-think their relationship with waste when travelling.
According to Greenpeace, an estimated 12.7 million tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans each year. This is the equivalent of a truckload a minute. Take a moment to imagine the crystal clear waters of your dream beach holiday. Now, imagine the 6 truckloads of plastic being dumped in there in the time it takes to read this one article. Not a pretty sight.
Those mini toiletries aren't the only ones to go. On 8th May 2019, Qantas also operated the world’s first zero waste flight, replacing plastic with compostable alternatives, for example, meal containers made from sugar cane and cutlery made from crop starch. The Australian aviation company has pledged to remove 100 million single use plastic items every year by the end of 2020.
The cynic in me says that these are great PR stories to distract from the detrimental impacts these companies have on the environment. The climate crisis is happening right now so it’s imperative that we aren’t allowed to rest on our laurels when we hear stories like these.
The reality is that until we start seeing major airlines adopting biofuel and hotel chains using green energy, we won’t see a major reduction in the carbon footprints of these corporate giants.
Heathrow is the UKs largest single source of carbon emissions. (Source)
We need to keep applying pressure on companies and our governments, as well as changing our own behaviour, otherwise we won’t have a snowball's hope in hell of reversing the impacts of climate change.
Change your holiday habits
Travel is the perfect time to start forming zero waste habits. As we often travel to get closer to nature and see the world's wonders, it follows naturally that we should take this time when we are out of the trappings of our usual busy lives to start making some conscious changes to the ways we consume.
Those who get to travel the world are privileged. With great privilege comes great responsibility. So yes, while reasons we travel might also be to escape responsibility and disconnect from the stresses of modern life, we can also travel to feel more connected to the earth and remind ourselves that we have a really meaningful responsibility to look after it.
Now this all sounds very daunting — no one likes change! — but there are actually some really easy ways that you can be more zero-waste minded on your holiday. The old adage of waste not, want not, couldn't be any more fitting.
7 ways to reduce waste on your travels
1. Opt for digital
Save paper and travel lighter by selecting a digital option wherever possible. A lot of airlines offer digital boarding passes and if booking via companies like Airbnb, booking.com or Expedia you can download their app to store all booking references.
As a backup, use iCloud, Google docs and/or a USB to store important paperwork — you can always find somewhere to print it off if you really need a printed copy.
Rather than buying brand new books for your holiday which take up a lot of space in your suitcase, use a digital e-reader like a kindle. If paperbacks are the only way you’ll read a book, take yourself to a charity shop or second-hand bookstore to buy your holiday reading. If you're staying in B&B or a hostel, maybe even leave the books you’ve read for someone else to enjoy.
2. Save water
Particularly when travelling to areas suffering from water shortages, be conscious about not wasting water. Take short showers instead of baths. Put the Do-Not-Disturb sign on your room to let your hotel know you don’t need new towels and fresh bedsheets each day. You wouldn’t have fresh bed linen daily normally so why start on holiday?
Use that precious shower time to multi-task. Brush your teeth in the shower. Wash your undies in the shower. Wee in the shower. You can save 1.3–3.5 gallons of water by peeing in the shower rather than flushing the toilet, just saying!
And don't forget to use eco-friendly soap for bathing and washing your clothes so you don’t pollute the waterways.
3. Solar powered battery charger
Maximise that sunbathing session to charge your solar powered battery charger. Not only will you save on batteries, you’ll keep your electrical items charged in a greener way.
4. Keep cups
Every good green traveller should have a reusable coffee cup or flask in their arsenal. If you are a fan of coffee on-the-go, reduce your wastage by BYO coffee cup.
It’s also a money saving way of grabbing coffee-to-go from your accommodation rather than splurging on your coffee hit from a café. Economical and environmental — it doesn’t get much better than that.
5. BYO eating equipment,
Tupperware, knives and forks, reusable straws, beeswax wraps. These are all lightweight luggage essentials for those wishing to live less of a wasteful life on their travels. We have an ingenious cutlery item which is an all-in-one knife, fork and spoon! Whatever will they come up with next?
When you’re eating out bring a Tupperware container with you and you might find you take home tomorrow’s lunch as well, saving good food from the waste bin.
6. Shop as you go
Shopping locally means the food you buy hasn't travelled as far to get to you, so doesn’t have as large a carbon footprint. Say no to plastic bags by using a reusable shopping bag or bring a rucksack if you’re buying heavier items.
7. Buy second hand travel gear
The prospect of travelling somewhere new can often incite a whole new spending spree which you may not have factored into your holiday budget. A shopping session in an Outdoors clothing store can start wracking up pretty quickly — a lot of these items don’t come cheap!
Do your research about the best brands and search on eBay, GumTree or Facebook marketplace for second hand travel gear. Borrow items where you can from people who already have things you might need and return them when you’re done. Sell anything don’t need anymore when you’re done with it to keep the cycle going.
A sewing kit is always a good item to pack and can be a real lifesaver at times. Repairing your clothing as you go saves wasteful fast-fashion habits as well as the water taken to make those clothes.
A pair of jeans takes 7,600 litres of water to make. — Source
Better for the planet, better for the budget
Living a zero waste life when travelling is not only better for the planet, it’s better for your budget too. Reducing waste is only the beginning of becoming a greener traveller, there is so much more we need to do to be more environmentally minded global citizens. It’s something, however, and something isn’t nothing.