How To Minimise Your Environmental Impact While Travelling


For many people, zero waste travel may feel completely unattainable. But does that mean it’s not worth attempting? How close can we really get to it? We were curious if there were simple swaps we could make to reduce our impact on the environment. Turns out, helping Mother Nature when we’re on the go may be easier than we think.

According to the 2016 Australian National Waste Report, “In 2014–15 Australia produced about 64 million tonnes of waste, which is equivalent to 2.7 tonnes of waste per capita. Almost 60% of this was recycled.”

And the Australian Council of Recycling says, “Australia is one of the richest countries in the world yet we are losing the recycling race, ranked 17th among OECD nations.”

No doubt we need to recycle more. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

Bea Johnson, author of the best-selling book Zero Waste Home and who in conjunction with her family only produces one jar of waste per year (one jar!), mentions on her blog that she “lives by the 5R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot (and only in that order). Refuse what you do not need, Reduce what you do need, Reuse what you consume, Recycle what you cannot and Rot (compost) the rest.”

Choose the best method

Instead of driving in your car to your travel destination, can you hop on public transportation? A quick search on Google Maps can help you decide. Of course, flying in general creates environmental waste no matter how careful you are. There is a way to minimise your impact though – consider purchasing carbon offsets to balance out your flight. 

Pack right

In addition to bringing your own refillable water bottle (sans liquid to get through security), you can also pack a set of reusable cutlery, a cloth napkin and a handkerchief. (Yes, you should bring both—one for your hands and one for your nose.) Toss in a refillable ballpoint while you’re at it, instead of using a disposable one.

So what’s Johnson’s number one multipurpose travel item? A peshtemal – or Turkish-style towel. She says, “I use it as a blanket on a picnic or the plane (to avoid the plastic wrapper around the ones provided by the airlines), as a wrap, a scarf, a towel or a cover-up on the beach and pool.”

Forgo liquid toiletries

Tiny toiletry containers that you can refill are great, but why not go one step further and skip dealing with liquid restrictions altogether. Ditch the packaging and opt for purchasing shampoo, conditioner and soap in bar form instead. (They might even last longer.)

Refuse it

Want to know a great tip on reducing waste? Refuse it. Don’t take the aeroplane headphones wrapped in plastic (bring your own) or that food you don’t plan to eat (just because it’s supplied doesn’t mean you need to take it).

Hand over your water bottle to the flight attendant when the drinks’ cart rolls by instead of using their disposable plastic cup. And you won’t need that paper napkin because you’ll already have your own cloth one. See how easily one change affects another?

Book smart

Hotels are lovely but create more waste than necessary. Refusing to use the samples provided and saying no to having your towels & bedding laundered daily is a smart move. Even better, book an Airbnb. You’ll save money on food by taking advantage of the kitchen and can sometimes even use pantry item already stocked in the home.

Skip paper

That goes for your ticket (just do an e-ticket on your smartphone instead) as well as what you’re reading. No more beelining it for the magazine stands once you pass security. Instead, switch on your Kindle, Nook or iPhone to read your latest celebrity goss.

Shop thoughtfully

If you’re opting for a house or apartment rental anyway, take it one step further and buy food in bulk at the store. Bring reusable containers from the place you are staying in to the deli counter to fill with sliced meats and cheeses, or hand them your reusable cloth bags. Johnson’s number one travel tip: “To find locations that sell loose and unpackaged near me when I travel, I check Zero Waste Home’s bulk finder.”

Even making just one small change can make a difference. Not only in terms of waste, but your decision may have an impact on the person standing behind you in line and influence their habits, too. Think about it. Reusable water vessels took awhile to catch on. Now everybody’s doing it.

Instead of going in with the mindset to try to achieve zero waste travel on your next adventure, start small. Shoot for less. Test out a few ideas next time you travel. Then make another step on your next trip. If we all just do a little, maybe we can help get this world back on track.

Emily O’Brien is a freelance lifestyle writer and editor from the States, and loves to blab about her life in Sydney on her blog emilytellsstories.com.