zero waste travel

This interview appeared in Volume 12 of SUITCASE Magazine, Our Planet. 

Over the past year alone I’ve ventured across two continents, travelled round Europe both by car and by train, driven down the west coast of America, been on a week-long expedition on a schooner at sea and taken a cross-country trip from New York to Southern California – all completely waste free. Because when I travel, I always make sure that I don’t leave anything behind.

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Before explaining how I do this, I think it is important to talk about why I do it. I am committed to a ‘zero waste lifestyle’, which means I don’t send anything to landfill, and haven’t for over three years. This doesn’t just count when I’m living in the comfort of my home; it encompasses all aspects of my life. Besides having a positive impact on the environment, living this way while I’m travelling has two main benefits:

I Save Money

This starts before I even leave for my trip, when I pack my handmade toiletries in reusable containers instead of buying travel-sized products packaged in plastic. I also save money by preparing snacks and non-perishable meals. This is cost-effective, as I save myself from having to buy marked-up food on the road.

I Eat and Feel Better

Eating while travelling can often mean packaged processed food. Think airports, train stations, petrol stations and supermarkets. I prefer a healthy, organic lifestyle, and let’s face it, none of the meals at any of these places are ever particularly nutritious. So I think ahead by picking up healthy snacks and planning my stops around places where I can grab something fresh. This helps me feel so much better than I would if I were stuffing myself with junk for weeks on end.

1. PACKING

When I travel, regardless of how long it’s for, I only travel with carry-on luggage. I do this because it’s lighter and allows me to have a capsule wardrobe full of basics that I can mix and match. I do laundry every week or so (that’s how much underwear I pack) and just get creative with what I have.

2. KEEPING CLEAN

I make all my own toiletries and pack them in small mason jars. I only use five: an organic soap for my body, face and hair, as well as a moisturiser, a face oil, some toothpaste and a deodorant. They are all free from toxic chemicals and preservatives as well as synthetic fragrances.

3. EATING

Food on the go is typically packaged in plastic that is non- recyclable and heads straight to landfill. So I choose to pack snacks in bulk – including nuts, dried fruit and granola – and make sure I stop at a natural food store or a farmers’ market so that I always have fresh produce. On my most recent trip I camped out in Yellowstone National Park for five days. Before I got there I picked up organic eggs, beans, rice, vegetables and made pickles so that I could still eat fresh food. When I travel I always bring my food essentials with me. These include a stainless steel spork, a mason jar, some airtight containers, organic cotton produce bags and a napkin. I wash these in my hotel room and recently even used a petrol station sink to clean my dishes while I was camping.

If you eat meat, then getting different types of charcuterie is also a great option, as it is filling and will not go off. You can ask a butcher to put them in a container instead of being wrapped in plastic. If that is not an option, always opt for paper instead of plastic as you can compost or recycle it, or in my case use it to light a fire while I’m camping.

4. COMPOSTING

To avoid food waste, I collect all my leftovers in a mason jar or an airtight container for composting. If you are not familiar with the term, this process breaks down the waste using time, heat and sometimes worms to create a nutrient-rich topsoil which is great for plants. I even held onto a mason jar with food scraps between Paris and San Sebastián once, so I could pick the right place to properly compost.

5. RECYCLING

I typically don’t have many recyclables, but when I do, I hold onto them until I find a proper recycling bin as opposed to throwing them away. Common items that I recycle are alcohol bottles or canned food items such as beans.

6. DOING LAUNDRY

Since I have only a small capsule wardrobe while travelling, items need to be washed regularly. If I am not in a place that has a washing machine, I use the laundry detergent from my company The Simply Co. and handwash everything then allow it to air-dry. This way I always have some fresh, clean clothes. Not producing any waste while travelling doesn’t just help the environment, it helps me eat better, feel better, save money and most importantly, focus on the adventure at hand. And if I can do it, you can too.

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