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Zero-Waste Travel

Actionable tips to reduce negative impacts of travel

The title of this blog is a bit of a misnomer. In our modern world, it is nearly impossible to conduct travel, especially internationally, at a waste level that would be considered “zero.” But while the tourism and travel industries make up nearly 10% of global CO2 emissions, the key to getting to zero waste requires a holistic mindset shift beyond planning around your vacations.

How Can You Reduce Your Negative Impact on The Environment?

Start with Awareness

The first step to solving a problem? Recognizing that there is one.

By now, it’s probably been made clear to you that climate change is an issue, or at the very least, humankind has been THE cause of major pollution of our planet.

And when you look at the statistics, the science, the pictures, rising diseases, deforestation, worsening air quality, the warming ocean temperatures, the endangered species, and garbage-littered beaches….😨 it’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all to the point where you feel totally and utterly powerless.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Control the things you can control. You have more power than you think.

Calculating your Carbon Footprint

In order to know where you’re going, it's important to know where you are.

Taking a good look at your carbon footprint (in your daily life in addition to when you’re traveling) is a good way to highlight areas where you’re excelling in energy efficiency and areas that need improvement.

There are numerous apps you can check out to plug in your travel habits and energy usage to determine your individual contributions to greenhouse gas emissions as well as charts that depict which daily habits make up the largest portion of your footprint. These are the areas to focus on to find practical ways of neutralizing your emissions either through a change of routine or through carbon offsets.

Purchasing Carbon-Offsets

With an estimated 45,000 flights per day handled in the US according to the FAA and with an estimated 500 tons of carbon per passenger per 1,000 miles traveled is emitted into the atmosphere. That’s a lot of CO2! For the frequent business traveler, aviation makes up the bulk of their individual carbon footprint.

By purchasing carbon offsets, you can contribute to renewable, green energy solutions to compensate for your contributions to GHG emissions.

They’re not perfect, and their effects are not immediate, but renewable energy solutions are an investment in the future of the planet— the most valuable and worthy investment there is.

Refusing Single-Use Plastics

Aside from carbon offsetting, single-use plastic elimination would greatly aid in the effort to reverse climate change.

This one’s a biggie! It’s no secret that plastic makes up a huge chunk of the pollution problem we’re currently facing. Plastic was initially invented to alleviate the overuse of natural resources and save the environment. Ironic.

We have garbage patches floating in our world's oceans, microplastics found in the seafood we consume, and studies showing the toxic effects of BPA on humans in these pervasive polymers.

When you’re traveling there are lots of single-use plastics and other waste involved. Choose not to add to the waste by refusing to partake in their use. Check out the swaps below

  • Book your tickets online and download boarding passes to your smartphone to eliminate printed passes.

  • Bring travel cutlery, your re-usable (ideally non-plastic) refillable water bottle, and pack a container of food to avoid waste from purchasing food during travel.

  • Swap your travel or plastic-bottle-contained shampoos and liquid body wash for solid shampoos and soap bars

  • Bring a metal safety razor for those who shave instead of plastic disposables

  • Swap your plastic toothbrush for one made of natural materials such as bamboo

  • Wooden and natural fiber hairbrush

Minimalist Wardrobe/Lifestyle

Did you know that the fashion industry— from the high energy wasting manufacturing process, to long supply chains— makes up 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions?

When I took a look at my own closet, I found out that

1.) I had entirely too many articles of clothing.

2.) I hardly wore a large percentage of all of the clothes that I did own.

I know I’m not alone in this. And when you get down to it, you realize that all one really needs is a few quality articles of clothing.

You can reduce the number of clothes you own to a few quality (and stylish) pieces by creating a capsule wardrobe— a wardrobe made of interchangeable, matching articles of clothing to create many different outfits with the same few pieces.

Another way to stop the fashion waste in your world is to buy second-hand or better yet, have clothing swaps with your friends, rather than purchasing new items. Donate what you no longer want to those who need it. Keeping clothing in the cycle of use is important to keep it out of landfills.

This can be applied to your luggage as well. There are plenty of quality pieces of luggage sitting in consignment stores waiting to travel the world with you.

When you whittle your possessions down to the things you really need and love, what you’re really doing is removing the distractions from the things that truly matter.

Opting for Public Transportation

While an international flight can make up a large portion of an individual’s carbon footprint in a given year, it’s the daily private vehicle transportation usage that is the largest contributor to emissions globally.

Opting to use public transportation can reduce carbon emissions by 37 tons compared to driving. If you’re able to walk or ride a bike to your destination, that’s best. Walking is also a great way to experience a destination and discover its hidden gems you might have otherwise missed. If you can’t, then take a train or a bus. If that’s not possible, opt for a ride-share.

Shop local

Just because you traveled a long way, doesn’t mean your food has to. When eating in restaurants or cooking meals, opt for local produce choices. We often forget the energy use that’s required when shipping food products from other locations.

By purchasing produce from local farmers, you’re not only reducing the amount of energy wasted on the transportation of the food to its destination, but you’re also contributing to the local economy and livelihood of those farmers. Plus, you’re eating the foods native to your travel destination for a well-rounded experience of the culture.

Another layer to buying local is the power that is taken away from industrial agriculture and farming.

Much like the invention of plastic, industrialization began with good intentions. In the efforts to feed the world, the industrialization of food production has created adverse effects on the environment through dangerous pesticides and herbicides that pollute the air and water, the local communities residing nearby industrial farms and factories, and the destruction of fertile soil with single crops growth on designated farmlands.

Sharing what you’ve learned

Once you’ve developed awareness on all the little ways you can reduce your own impact on the environment, sharing what you’ve learned is a great way to keep the needle moving forward in the effort to zero waste. The goal is not perfection, but consistent, conscious effort.

Join the challenge and see all the ways you can reduce waste in your life and travels.

If you’re looking for ways to travel with more intention, subscribe to our mailing list, and follow Conscious Travel Collective on IG or FB. We craft private small group travel for those looking for meaningful connection to places and people, so when you are ready to experience for yourself, we are here help make it happen!

The author of this blog is the oh-so-talented, Shelagh Hogan.

You can find out more about her work on our team page



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