6 Zero-Waste Packing Tips

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zero-waste packing tips

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The chant against waste reduction is reaching epic proportions as awareness of plastic and other pollution spreads.  A call for change, in both attitude and habits, is rising.

Whether it is making better purchasing decisions, or exploring zero-waste packing skills for your next vacation, ideas are power. 

Eco-friendly travelers are some of the latest guinea pigs for zero-waste packing techniques. We sign pledges with movements like Travelers Against Plastic, and zealously agree with anti-waste blogs like Trash is for Tossers.

We applaud ethical and Eco-friendly travel by the likes of The Oceanpreneur, who inspires us to dig deeper in combating our convenience travel lists, especially favoring products which are “cruelty-free, child-labor free, low carbon, zero/low chemical, durable, thoughtful and with PASSION for play and planet.

So how do we jump on board the zero-waste travel adventure? Here are six considerations:


1. Planning is your friend

Zero-Waste Packing Tips

As a general rule, travel requires a bit of planning beforehand.  

It is all very romantic to ‘go with the flow’ until you realize you’ve paid double for a last-minute flight, missed out on a great deal at the other hotel, need to hire something you could have brought with you, and completely misjudged the wardrobe needed for the week’s weather forecast.  

Planning is a traveler’s friend. Truly.

This applies wholeheartedly to zero-waste packing. It may require you to think hard about layout, to purchase a zero-waste item, and to change your perspective on travel itself.  

The “Don’t worry, we’ll buy it when we get there,” mentality is a bad idea when trying to minimize how much plastic is purchased (and disposed of).  

Instead, a responsible traveler might benefit from slightly more planning and bringing useful items with you (fold up cloth grocery bags, for example, which also make great beach bags, and make-shift pillows).


2. Don’t assume

You know what they say about what assumption makes out of you and me… Well, zero-waste packing is not meant to be a guessing game.  

Common sense might assume choosing paper bags over plastic bags is better for the environment, for example. Right? Wrong.

One of many studies comparing Life Cycle Assessments of paper bags to plastic bags (in terms of environmental impact) concludes:

Surprisingly, the trend is the same for most of the individual categories of environmental impacts. No one category showed environmental impacts lower for either the compostable plastic bag or the paper bag.”  

It goes on to say cloth or tote bags are effective at lowering environmental impact if communities can be persuaded to use them consistently.


3. Take off the Sunglasses

zero waste packing

Travel is exciting, and the point is to relax, expand horizons and savor every moment of the experiences that come our way.  

There’s plenty of information out there to assist in environmentally-responsible packing decisions, and to avoid rookie mistakes. On the way, you might also come across ways to travel responsibly.

Not funding illegal vendors or supporting environmentally-damaging activities designed to milk funds from eager tourists, for example.

It is easy to forget our travel destination is a real place with real problems, not a fantasy land designed exclusively for our pleasure.  

The folks behind exotic dishes and well-organized tours are just trying to make a living, often without any thought for impact on the environment.  

It’s up to us, as travelers, to take off our sunglasses, roll up our sleeves, and make green a priority.


4. Money Talks

Where and how we spread dollars is the loudest evidence of our value system. The world notices where we spend cash, even if surface-level dialogue seems to contradict it.   

One of the best ways to consume less plastic is to purchase less plastic.

It’s the same principle as healthy eating – if it is in the pantry, you’ll eat it.  If there is plastic on, in, and over the products you want, you’ll buy it, and then have to dispose of it.


5. R is for Right

reduce reuse recycle

The five R’s are making headway as nature’s proponents expand on the classic reduce, reuse and recycle mantra.  

Refusing and repurposing are now part of the mix, too. The five principles encourage us to invest more than just a mediocre effort in our daily interactions.  

The five R’s stand in this order: refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose and recycle.

In zero-waste packing, reuse is key. Reusable items trump single-use items any day, especially plastic.  It is surprising how many people are opposed to reusing materials. The excuse is often in the name of hygiene.  

Perhaps the hygiene card is a mask for ego issues against the “second-hand” concept. Careful reuse though doesn’t need to be dirty.  

Society is rethinking reuse in clean, elegant and attractive ways. Think of the gorgeous modern cloth diapers now available as green-conscious mothers transform this once boring old terry-cloth world, for example.  

There are awesome new travel items popping up everywhere, too:

  • Thermos travel mugs to keep drinks hot and cold.
  • Refillable toiletry containers for creams and shampoos.
  • Eco-friendly towels which are made of natural fibers. These use less water and need fewer washes.


6. Do it, then say it

Actions speak. Before you criticize a barista on the ground about the straw his franchise requires him to place into your milkshake, get your ducks in a row.  

We like Drew’s message, and it is creating awareness about a problem, but how do we know he is genuine? 

Will it help to combat the problem itself?

A haughty retort about the straws killing turtles means nothing when you are carrying groceries in a plastic bag, buying bottled water, or using the plastic cup the coffee shop provides because you forgot your reusable travel mug.  

Let a green lifestyle speak for you, that way hypocrisy cannot taint good intentions.

What other zero-waste packing tips have you discovered through your travel experiences?

  • Heather Lind

    Heather is a mother, teacher, writer, and newly-initiated farm girl in sunny South Africa. Her world travels have inspired the Travelinds blog and given her a new appreciation for how beautiful the world can truly be if we care for it.

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