Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling – 14 Easy Ways

In Travel Tipsby Phoebe Nicolas

Being environmentally conscious starts within one’s home, but what happens outside? How can one continue to help the environment and reduce plastic waste while travelling? It might seem silly to others, but reducing plastic waste while traveling still makes a big impact on the environment. In this article, we guide you through many ways and tips on how to reduce plastic waste while traveling.

Reducing your plastic waste while traveling is much more than abandoning single-use plastics like plastic bags, bottles, and straws. Your choice of destination, transportation, food selection, down to your choices of souvenir items can play an important part to help you reduce plastic waste while traveling.

As a traveler, we have a social responsibility to care for our environment and help preserve it. Even the actions we make during our short travels make a big impact. One way to protect and preserve the environment is to reduce plastic waste while traveling. As one part of the saying goes, leave nothing but footprints. See to it that you do not leave behind loads of plastic when traveling. In this article, we outline several measures you can take to help reduce plastic waste while traveling.

We divide these easy to do ways to reduce plastic based on the time-frame of your travel:

  • Things you can do while in the planning phase
  • Things you can do while on your actual trip
  • And things you can do when you are bound home

These are easy and simple ways to help the Earth and our environment.

Magnitude of the Problem with Plastic

How to Reduce Plastic Waste Before Traveling
1. Choose an environmentally-friendly destination
2. Save your documents to your phone or tablet
3. Bring only selected pieces for your outfit
4. Choose environmentally-friendly toiletries
5. Use reusable bottles for toiletries

How to Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling
1. Bring a reusable water bottle
2. Make use of reusable containers
3. Avoid using plastic straws and cutlery
4. Pack a reusable shopping bag
5. Shop at local markets
6. Do your share of cleaning up

Reduce Plastic Waste Before The Trip Ends
1. Choose environmentally-friendly souvenir items
2. Bring home local cuisine or delicacies
3. Wrap your souvenirs in paper

Magnitude of the Problem with Plastic

How problematic has plastic waste become nowadays? In its simplest definition, plastic refers to a group of synthetic materials that are used as a component in many things. Plastic is lightweight, cheap, moisture-resistant, and a multipurpose material making it a popular component in many everyday things. It is found in virtually almost anywhere: cellular phones, tables, chairs, bags, utensils, containers, cosmetics, and makeup. Name anything and it probably has a plastic component. However, on the downside, plastic is non-biodegradable, meaning it does not naturally break down or degrade over time.

  • Some types of plastic are photo-degradable, meaning they can be broken into smaller components by UV light but will still remain plastic.
  • Plastics therefore have the potential to accumulate in the ground, and even in bodies of water.
  • Poor waste management and the frequent use of plastic products leads to piling up of plastic waste.

The widespread use of plastic is becoming a burden globally. As our consumption of plastic rises, the amount of plastic waste we produce also rises. As a consequence of our excessive consumption of this material, a number of unfortunate events transpire. An example would be flooding. Plastic waste accumulates and blocks water drainage systems, aggravating floods during periods of rain.

Each year, millions of plastic waste is dumped into the sea. As a result of human plastic consumption, this greatly affects our environment – the plants and animals around us.

  • Plastic waste pollutes our water and makes it uninhabitable for living organisms.
  • Sea creatures such as turtles, whales, and seals die because they get trapped in plastic dumped into the sea or accidentally eat plastic they come across in the sea.
  • It is said that by the year 2050, the amount of plastic in our oceans will surpass the number of fish present.

Plastics also contain and release toxic chemicals into the environment. Chlorinated plastics release harmful chemicals into the soil, as well as the water they are dumped in. These harmful chemicals can even reach our water systems and we somehow find ourselves drinking these chemicals. They can be absorbed and ingested by our body, obviously causing harmful effects.

Most of the plastic we use is often used only once then immediately thrown away. This includes plastic straws, utensils, bags, wrappers, bottles, and the list goes on. Do not make any additions to the already problematic waste problem, instead, avoid using plastic at home and reduce plastic waste while traveling. Minimizing plastic waste begins even before you travel, read on to find out how.

How to Reduce Plastic Waste Before Traveling

In this section, we enumerate 5 ways you can reduce plastic even before you embark on your travel. Planning is one of the crucial stages when traveling, and there are several things you can begin to reduce plastic waste even before you reach your destination.

During the planning phase, there are several windows of opportunities where you can reduce your plastic waste and minimize its environmental impact. From choosing your destination to booking your tickets down to packing your luggage, we highlight the ways you can reduce plastic waste while traveling.

1. Choose an environmentally-friendly destination

Environmental changes due to human consumption of plastic have greatly affected many countries in the world. In response to this, many countries are now promoting ecotourism. Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, natural environments, intended as low-impact and to support environmental conservation. Choosing a destination that promotes ecotourism and environment consciousness will help you reduce plastic waste while traveling.

Several countries in different continents, such as Costa Rica, Norway, Kenya, Palau and Denmark encourage ecotourism. Costa Rica is a destination famous for its well-preserved natural beauty. There are a lot of forests and pristine beaches to visits. Best part is, the country offers many eco-friendly accommodations. Another environment friendly destination is Kenya and is one of the most popular choices when thinking of going on an African safari. Likewise, it offers eco-friendly tourist accommodations, and has recently banned the usage of plastic bags. Travelling to this country has made using less plastic easier.

Additionally, many other countries have promoted and followed the movement of banning single use plastic products. These include United Kingdom, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and France. They have banned the use of plastic straws and bottles, single use plastic bags, and even microbeads on cosmetic products. Sadly, if you are looking into exploring Southeast Asia, you will be disappointed that some countries are less rigid on limiting and banning the use of single use plastic products. Staying at eco-friendly accommodations wherever you choose to go will also help. Make sure to research ahead of time when planning your travel for a specific countries rules and regulations on plastic use. Start your search for eco-friendly accommodations here.

2. Save your documents to your phone or tablet

Printing your itinerary and other travel documents will only invite the use of plastic products. Skip the plastic cards, folders, and bags and download your documents and tickets onto your phone instead. Rather than printing your tickets and transportation cards, save them on your phone. You will not only be saving paper, but will also reduce plastic waste while traveling as well.

3. Bring only selected pieces for your outfit

The things you will be packing will matter as well. Avoid the use of plastic bags by carefully selecting your pieces for your outfits. Pack only staple clothes that can be effortlessly paired with other pieces. The lesser items of clothing you have the lesser plastic bags to use for wrapping and organizing.

Plastic compression bags are used to compress clothes when packing. When you choose fewer clothes, you eliminate the need to use these plastic compression bags.

Fortunately, reusable packing cubes was invented to help keep our belongings neatly stored and conveniently organized. Best of all, the fabric containers protect garments against wrinkles, reducing the need to iron once you arrive at your travel destination.

4. Choose environmentally-friendly toiletries

  • Bar soaps and shampoo

One way to reduce plastic waste while traveling is to use soap and shampoo bars instead of shower gels in plastic containers. Soap and shampoo bars can be wrapped in biodegradable paper or boxes. You can opt to buy organic soaps free of plastic components and packaging. If you have not seen one yet, try the soap bars from Bali Soap and solid shampoo bar and conditioner from BAMBOEARTH.

  • Environment friendly facial wash

Avoid using cosmetic products with “fine microbeads” as these are made out of plastic as well. Small as they can be, they still contribute to plastic waste. Cosmetics that advertise themselves as “scrubs” often contain these microbeads. Choose a facial wash that does not contain these. Try St. Ives Apricot Scrub, which uses crushed walnut shells as its exfoliator or scrubbing component, rather than plastic microbeads.

  • Bamboo toothbrush

Exchange your plastic toothbrush for a bamboo one. Not only do you reduce plastic waste while traveling, bamboo toothbrushes are sturdy and known to have antibacterial properties as well. These bamboo toothbrushes are a good way to keep the Earth clean and green. You will not have to worry about these contributing to plastic waste as bamboo is 100% biodegradable and does not contain any harmful chemicals that can harm you or the environment. You can also opt for bamboo charcoal toothbrush by ECBIO.

  • Organic tampons

Women have an added contribution to plastic waste because of the monthly use of sanitary napkins. Sanitary napkins take at least 50 years to degrade into smaller particles, even then, they remain as plastic and do not completely decompose. To reduce the use of plastic each time a woman’s monthly period comes, why not look for a more environmentally-friendly version such as Natracare Organic Tampons – These tampons are 100% certified organic, are made from unbleached cotton and come either made with or without biodegradable card applicators. This product has has no rayon, plastics or dyes, completely chemical, perfume, and chlorine free, biodegradable & compostable.

The other alternative is to go completely green with no disposable waste by using washable re-usable pads!

5. Use reusable bottles for toiletries

Forget using those free toiletries from hotels. They are a huge source of plastic when traveling. Those little bottles and plastic wrappers immediately get thrown out whether they are consumed or not, ending up in a large amount of plastic waste. It can be enticing to use these hotel toiletries to save up on money, but bringing your own toiletries is much more helpful to the environment and reduces plastic waste.

Rather than consuming hotel-given toiletries or purchasing new products each trip, purchase a few travel-sized reusable bottles you can refill. Pack your own toiletries (shampoo, soap, shower gel, conditioner, cleanser, etc) into those reusable plastic bottles that can be used over and over again each time you travel.

Invest in travel bottles that will last many, many trips. They usually come in several sizes, shapes, colors and openings. Check out these trendy travel bottles that are leak-free, durable, and easy to squeeze, and made of BPA-free silicone. Using reusable travel bottles will not only reduce plastic waste while traveling, but will help you save up on money as well. This way, you limit the use of plastic used to wrap and store your toiletries.

Now that you have learned how you can minimize plastic waste prior to your trip, always put these in mind before you travel. With your ticket and itinerary ready, let us talk about how you can reduce plastic waste while traveling.

How to Reduce Plastic Waste While Traveling

We are often most environment-conscious when we are at home, but that should not change even when we are away. As you walk around and enjoy the destination of your choice, you can minimize your contribution to plastic waste by keeping these tips in mind.

1. Bring a reusable water bottle

Bringing along a reusable water bottle prevents you from constantly buying small bottles of water that are such a waste of plastic. These little plastic bottles take hundreds of years before they begin to break down with UV light, or photo-degradation. Taking a reusable water bottle with you saves you time, effort, and money as well. Choose a durable water bottle that can be used over and over again for years. You can opt to choose a plastic or stainless steel one. This will help reduce plastic while traveling by minimizing the plastic bottles you purchase every time you get thirsty.

There are travel bottles that work well for hot and cold drinks. It is totally up to you to select which kind works for you. Choose one that’s handy, safe, durable, and with the right size. Here are some of our recommended bottles:

This 32oz plastic travel bottle is ideal for travel, hiking, or even everyday use. It is made of non-harmful plastic and is BPA free. This is a perfect travel bottle since it has a secure screw top lid, a wide mouth for easy drinking and filling, and even has a loop-top that can be clipped to your bag or luggage!

If you love coffee, tea, or other hot drinks, this insulated travel bottle from KleanKanteen will be a great option. This stainless steel water bottle is designed to keep your drink hot or cold even after several hours. It also has a wide opening for smooth filling and pouring and a leak proof cap – you will not have to worry about wet items!

There is one last thing you must consider when buying a travel water bottle. If you have plans of traveling to highly rural areas or where safe drinking water is difficult to access, you might want to bring with you a water bottle with a good filtration system. These bottles filter water and leave you with safe drinking water.

2. Make use of reusable containers

Traveling means there is always new food to try. When having take out, have your food placed into your reusable containers instead of using single-use plastic boxes and bags. This way, you are able to reduce plastic waste while traveling.

Reusable containers come in either plastic or glass materials, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – select your containers based on amount of food you usually have served for yourself. If you are worried about the size it will take up, thanks to technology there are collapsible containers out there.

Select reusable containers that are durable, safe, and leak and spill-proof. Try the handy containers from Rubbermaid, it comes with an airtight seal that prevents spills and includes a variety of sizes to choose from. Additionally, if you plan on bringing home local delicacies and food specialty, you can store them in these reusable containers.

3. Avoid using plastic straws and cutlery

  • Use reusable straws

If it is possible not to use a plastic straw with your drink, then do not ask for it. Straws are often discarded after being used once, ending up in the sea and endangering water creatures. If you deem straws as a necessity in your life, use reusable ones instead. These can be either made of glass, bamboo, or the more common and popular ones, stainless steel straws.

These straws can be reused and easy to clean – they usually come with cleaner brushes that fit the inside of the straw. They are safe to use on both hot and cold drinks. Not only that, they also come in different variants: regular straws, bended straws, and even wide ones perfect for your jelly or pudding drinks.

When looking to buy stainless steel straws, make sure they are made of 100% stainless steel: meaning they will not rust and will keep your drinks safe and healthy to take. Otherwise, if the straws are not genuinely stainless, they will tend to rut over time.

  • Use reusable cutlery

Not only can you reduce plastic waste while traveling by using reusable straws, take the extra step and use reusable spoons and forks. Again, when having take out, politely refuse disposable plastic spoons and forks. While traveling, carry with you a sturdy, reusable cutlery instead of using single-use disposable plastic ones. Reusable cutlery made of bamboo are not only environmentally-friendly, but are also safe to use and lightweight. Get a reusable cutlery set that includes a knife, spoon, fork, stainless steel straws, and cleaning brush, neatly packed in a handy portable bag.

  • Use cloth napkins

Lastly, another item you can use as an alternative to be plastic bags is cloth napkins. Ditch your sandwich bags and plastic bags for washable cloth napkins. Wrap your sandwiches, snacks, and other dry food using cloth napkins, to avoid using plastic bags and even lessen the consumption of paper towel.

4. Pack a reusable shopping bag

It is no secret that plastic bags contribute majority of the plastic waste used when travelling. To avoid this, why not pack a reusable shopping bag instead? Environment-friendly alternatives to plastic bags include using canvas bags – lightweight, durable, and cheap. If canvas bags are too bulky for you, pack along reusable nylon bags which can be folded or rolled and take up very little space, even fitting in the pocket of your jeans. There are also 100% cotton bags that are soft and have a good carrying capacity. Whatever the material, these reusable shopping bags are designed to hold several items you buy during your shopping trip.

Using a reusable bag will drastically reduce plastic waste while traveling. These are washable and can be used again and again for future travels. But reusable does not mean it has to be ugly. You can get stylish, yet durable choices for canvas bags perfect for on-the-go shopping walks.

5. Shop at local markets

When traveling, explore the local markets instead of high rise malls and boutiques. Chances are, these local markets will be more environmentally friendly and use less plastic materials. They often pack their goods into paper bags or with recycled paper. Not only will you be getting fresh produce at cheaper costs, you will also have an option for a more natural and environmentally conscious packaging.

6. Do your share of cleaning up

Reducing plastic waste is not a single person’s achievement, but a result of collaborative efforts between people with the same goal – to reduce plastic waste while traveling. It is unavoidable to see plastic waste in your surroundings. You can be in the mountains, at the beach, famous tourists’ spots, or just walking the streets, you will surely see plastic around.

  • If you see a piece or pile of plastic trash, do not just look at it, pick them up and throw them where they belong.
  • It is also important to educate co-travelers and the locals as well.
  • Politely decline plastic items that are offered to you, and in turn, explain nicely the importance of reducing plastic waste.
  • If all travelers contributed to picking up plastic waste they come across, together, you will be cleaning up a lot.

How to Reduce Plastic Waste Before the Trip Ends

It is almost automatic for a traveler to purchase little trinkets or souvenirs for their family and friends after travelling. Even during this last leg of your travel, you can still reduce plastic waste while traveling, and here’s how:

1. Choose environmentally-friendly souvenir items

Giving zero waste gifts to your friends and family is hitting two birds with one stone: you get to give them something personal from your trip, and you get to educate them on reducing their own plastic consumption as well.

  • If you are traveling to Southeast Asia, get your loved ones a stylish sling bag made from 100% natural rattan fiber with a cloth lining. It is just the perfect size for travel.
  • You can also buy them something handmade – these are usually one of a kind and made from recycled or reusable materials. People will surely appreciate this kind of stuff.
  • You can also choose from any of the items that we have mentioned here in this article, as they can be repeatedly used.

2. Bring home local cuisine or delicacies

One of the best parts of a trip is to taste new and unique flavors of other places. Bringing home different delicacies to your friends and family is a perfect way of sharing them a piece of the places you have been to. If you are planning to gift your friends with food from your trip, place them in glass jars instead of plastic food containers.

Store food in jars from Le Parfait that are made of thick glass that is able to handle both hot and cold food. It has a large mouth making filling and pouring easy. It has a tight seal and looks festive too.

3. Wrap your souvenirs in paper

Gift wrappers and boxes have the tendency to be immediately thrown out after one use, so to avoid plastic waste from plastic wrappers, wrap your gifts in paper instead. Exchange your plastic boxes for cardboard ones, they are equally sturdy, plus, will be reusable without harming the environment.

Another eco-friendly way is to use burlap bag with drawstring that are suitable for a variety of items. They are well-made and can be reused for a long period of time with proper storage and washing.

Now that you are at the end of your trip, do not forget to practice these plastic-reducing tips while traveling. Reducing plastic waste while traveling is relatively simple and easy. The longer you practice these, the more it becomes a habit to reduce plastic consumption and avoid its usage.

Final Thoughts

The problem with plastic will persistently be around for a long period of time, given that plastic takes decades to be degraded into smaller pieces. Human consumption of plastic is growing at an alarming rate and will continue to grow if we do not act on it.

Traveling is an inviting chance to use lightweight, convenient, and disposable plastic materials. Even so, there are many ways we can reduce plastic while traveling, such as utilizing reusable things instead of single-use ones, among others.

Keep in mind that there are always greener alternatives to the things we use. The next time you are offered a plastic bag or a plastic utensil, politely decline. Give yourself a pat on the back for your small, yet meaningful contribution to the environment.

Have we inspired you? If yes, please feel free to share this with your family and friends!

Phoebe Nicolas

Project Manager at Coles Management Ltd
I quit my office based job after 10 years and started to work remotely as a project manager. Working remotely gives me the flexibility and freedom to travel and work at the same time which I really love. I want to share information and tips on how to work while traveling, work from home lifestyle and my travel adventures.
Phoebe Nicolas