8 Smart Tips for Low Waste Travel Low Impact + Low Carbon Travel Series

8 Smart Tips for Low Waste Travel


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We were doing better in the fight against pollution until the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020 and uncertainty became our new reality.

Containing the Covid-19 virus became a “greater priority” than environmental concerns, and we have to make difficult and often necessary changes to the way we live and consume.  The versatile and affordable plastic became indispensable in preventing the spread of the virus and saving lives, and demand for single-use masks, gloves, gowns and disposable bags skyrocketed. A glut of masks and gloves are washing up on shorelines and littering the seabed, choaking and strangling animals and sealife. Food deliveries in single-use containers with plastic utensils surged,  and so did online grocery and Amazon deliveries in excessive packaging.  This massive “back step” needs two huge steps forward to minimise the repercussions of a very wasteful year and changing attitudes and behaviour will be our biggest challenge.

With Covid-19 still a rampant concern in 2021 as travel restarts, committing to lead a less wasteful lifestyle also means lower impact and lower carbon, and a better and more sustainable travel experience. Travelling waste free is impossible, but there are oodles of small things we can all do to reduce our personal waste which can lessen our travel carbon footprint. 

Airports and airlines, train stations and trains, ships and boats use loads of single-use disposables, and so do hotels, resorts and B&Bs, depending on their sustainability commitment.  Many hotels claim to be eco or sustainable with creative PR by changing to LED lights, a reuse of towels/bedding programme, and no plastic straws and bottles. Expect these and good service as basics … and demand better.  

Don’t underestimate your impact and the power of your wallet when choosing places to stay.  Demand a commitment to rigorous sustainability with accountability and transparency, support of the Global Goals and actions to reach Net Zero carbon emissions before 2030. Find them in the NOW SUSTAINABILITY TOOL.

Here are 8 tips as you prepare to travel smartly and rethink your packing to waste less and lighten your load.


Try not to buy a vacation wardrobe, or if you must buy, purchase better locally. For warm places, avoid purchasing cotton and go for basics made of linen or hemp at the destination and support the locals. While natural is better than synthetic, a linen shirt uses 6.4 litres of water compared to 2,700 litres for a cotton shirt!  Clothing and trainers made from ocean plastic are great, just remember that microfibre plastic in clothes and shoes will release nanoplastics in the wash into drains to rivers, lakes and oceans! Wash in low temp and use a washing bag.

Globally, 80% of discarded clothing are doomed for the landfill or incineration. Only 20% are actually reused or recycled. The clothing that ends up in landfills can sit there for 200-plus years, and as it decomposes, it emits methane—a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon.


Don’t waste paper if you don’t have to. With the ease of technology and a smartphone, there is no need to print your plane/train/bus/metro ticket and boarding pass.  Use electronic tickets and digital receipts for Expense Reports. Save trees by using eBook readers to read a book or a magazine. You will travel lighter too!


Tea and coffee-to-go often comes in a paper cup with a plastic lid and less than 1% is recycled.  Use your own BPA-free light, portable, leakproof and well-insulated cup for hot drinks.  If you’re not moving around too much, there are umpteen cup options that come in a myriad of shapes, sizes and materials, from bamboo to biodegradable materials,  ceramic models, and even temperature-controlled cups connectable to a dedicated app.

Most tea bags are not recyclable and made of the same plastic as PET and could leach plastic particles into the brewed tea. Billions and billions of them according to  researchers at McGill University who tested four kinds of plastic tea bags in boiling water, and found that a single bag would release more than 11 billion microplastic and 3 billion nanoplastic particles.  We would not be able to see the contamination with your own eyes; the researchers had to use an electron microscope. But it’s there!

Bring your favorite tea leaves in properly sealed containers and tea infusing balls or spoons. Tea balls are a great choice for tea leaves that don’t need to expand, great for green tea, pu’erh tea, some black tea, and most herbal teas. You shouldn’t use them for oolongs or loose leaf teas or rooibos which have very small particles that will end up in your cup.


Bring your own socially-responsible and environmentally-friendly, ultra light reusable bottle made from stainless steel, glass, or safe aluminium. Carry safe drinking water with you wherever your adventures take you with a range of refillable water bottles with built-in filter technology to make contaminated water safe to drink while you are on the move. For cool drinks, a collapsible cup will save space when not in use or travelling. If you do forget to bring your water bottle along with you, don’t panic. You can find a fountain, ask a cafe for a glass of water, or purchase a glass bottle of water and reuse it. 

Avoid purchasing water or any drinks in single-use plastic bottles. The perception that bottled water is purer than tap, of higher quality and more pristine water most likely come from adverts depicting a fresh stream or mountain spring, but this is rare and most water likely comes from public sources.  Some are filtered before bottling it but many do not, and you risk ingesting the chemicals used to make the bottles as these toxins can leach into the water over time. In fact, a World Health Organisation (WHO) study found that in 93% of popular bottled water brands tested the water contained plastic fibers (similar results were also found in a study conducted by Fredonia State University of New York).


Carry reusable utensils and straw to avoid using the disposable plastic variety provided with take-out or delivered food.  Consider using reusable cutlery made from bamboo to further reduce weight and just remember to clean them once you’re done eating!  

Our homes or office or lodging place already have cutlery and do not need the plastic cutlery that is delivered with food orders! Plastic cutlery is too small and lightweight and one of those items that won’t get recycled even when you put it in the recycling. It’s considered contaminated, so the 40 billion plastic utensils delivered per year in the USA alone are a complete waste.


Bring a reusable bag for shopping to help cut down on disposable plastic or paper bags.  Do not buy goods that come in single use disposable packaging. Instead bring your own tasty, energy booster snacks packed in sealed and reusable silicon ziploc bags.They are more durable, easier to clean for reuse, and also great to store your toiletries, etc. 

Less than 1% are recycled and most are  made from Polyethylene that takes centuries to degrade. Some 10% of this plastic end up in the oceans. An estimated 300 million plastic bags every year end up in the Atlantic Ocean alone. Each ton of recycled plastic bags saves the energy equivalent of 11 barrels of oil.

The numbers are shocking:

  • 5 trillion – number of plastic bags thrown out per year! 
  • 160,000 – number of plastic bags thrown out per second! 
  • 700 – number of plastic bags thrown out per person each year! 
  • 12 minutes – average amount of time the plastic bag is used!
  • 1000 years – the time needed for a plastic bag to break down!


We travel with an excess of toiletries: shampoo, balm, shower gel, face wash, moisturizer, deodorant, razors, tampons, toothbrush, toothpaste, and a manifold of beauty products. Avoid buying plastic mini toiletries and taking minis from hotels. 

Decant from bigger bottles from home. Shampoo and conditioner bars are lightweight compared to bottles and can be found wrapped in paper to further save on plastic usage. 

Chemicals from toiletries overload our bodies! Buy chemical-free or organic. Chemicals from sunscreen damage coral reefs! Aethic Sôvée is marine positive certified (doing more good than harm to the marine ecology) and use recyclable PE bottles made from sugar cane in a glue-less box made from sustainable Swedish paper with water- based food-grade inks and compostable clear film,

Ethical personal care products appeal to women who don’t want to use harmful chemicals with chlorine or synthetic materials in pads and tampons. A menstrual cup is a lighter option.

Use an organic cotton reusable towel or handkerchief instead of disposable napkins or tissues.


Buy local and support local businesses selling locally made artisanal products. Think of 5 places to display the souvenir to avoid buyers remorse.  Think twice before purchasing cheap, poorly made items with excessive packaging that travel a huge distance to get to market.  Avoid items that are made of natural and eco materials, but take loads of energy and chemicals to make into a product.

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