Sep 132019
Travelling Low Waste — Successes and Failures

This summer I had mixed success with trying to travel low waste. To find out where I travelled to this summer, see ☀️Summer Adventures – 2019☀️ . In this post I talk about travelling low waste, the successes and failures!

Carbon Footprint

Obviously, taking a long haul flight from the UK to Canada means a huge carbon footprint, but for me it’s unavoidable two times a year to visit family.

Reducing the global carbon footprint from flying is partly the industry’s responsibility to design more efficient planes, but the onus is also on consumers to fly sensibly. Fly only when needed, pack light, and fly economy. A colleague mentioned that some business executives are known to book themselves first class tickets on long flights just to “get some work done” — not sustainable. Flying to go on multiple holidays a year, flying when you could just as easily have taken a train or bus (or worked remotely), and travelling first class instead of economy are the areas we as a society need to focus on changing. Oh, and cutting out the plastic waste on flights, but I’ll talk about that later.

Living High or Low Waste?

It appears to me that the UK is slightly ahead of Canada in adopting a lower waste approach to conveniences. In Canada, it was still the norm to see people using drive throughs, getting take away coffee in single use cups, and several times my purchases were automatically loaded into free plastic carrier bags, which I firmly declined.

Positively, at my parents’ local grocery store, much of the produce is package free and they have bulk bins. Unfortunately, everyone seems to still be using plastic bags. Actually, after the second time grocery shopping with my mom, she decided to buy a set of mesh produce bags, and without any prompting from me!20190824_103230

If you’re in Canada, are lower waste living changes happening in your area? If so, please do share!

While I was in Canada I emailed two companies, asking them to consider changing their packaging to more sustainable materials. There is no excuse to serve sushi in Styrofoam and to not offer customers a glass when drinking a cold beverage in the shop. So come on Canada, you can do better! I highly encourage my readers to be proactive and email companies when you find yourselves upset by their lack of sustainable business practices — for more info on how to reach out to companies, see Companies Respond to my Feedback on Sustainability.

Here are some of my successes and failures in attempting to travel low waste.

Preparing and bringing our own food to Cornwall

With a bit of planning, I was able to prepare several lunches for us to take to St Ives. We had a zero waste (and vegan) picnic at the Exeter services and got coffees in our reusable cups.

The leftover food we took to the beach for lunch a couple of days later.

We also brought our tub of peanut butter from home, and many of the items we bought for breakfast and dinner were either low waste, or they returned home with us!

Food Prep for Cornwall

Water Refill Stations

Both Canada and the UK are getting better at having water fountains, specifically bottle refill stations. There was a refill point at Kew Gardens, and Heathrow and Vancouver airports have bottle refill points. A café server in St Ives also kindly refilled our bottles upon request.

At Heathrow, bottle refill points are a bit hard to find and, although I managed to refill in the Terminal 2 waiting area, my gate only had dribbling fountains, and I spilt most of the water. The next time you’re travelling, be sure to bring your own bottle — just make sure you empty the water before going through security!

Reusable Coffee Mugs

Both in the UK and Canada, I used a travel mug. We brought them to Cornwall, and Lucy and I brought our mugs when she dropped me off at Heathrow so that we could get coffee at the services. While in Pitt Meadows, I packed three travel mugs in my tote bag so that me, my brother and my mom could get coffee while walking the dog. There are lots of travel mug options — from glass to insulated to collapsible — so pick what works best for your lifestyle.

Travel Mug
A travel mug and tea strainer for making hot or iced tea!

FYI- if you haven’t bought your coffee in a travel mug yet, most places give you a discount!

Reusable Bag

I’ve carried a tote bag in my backpack/handbag for years, but if you’re still in the habit of getting a plastic bag, this is an easy sustainable swap. Recently, I picked up a lightweight collapsible tote, which takes up no space in my small travel purse. It came in very handy while running errands with my mom. I’d say a lightweight tote bag is an absolute travel essential!

Sustainable Take Away Packaging

The most sustainable packaging would be to use your own reusable container, but this isn’t always feasible, especially while travelling. I was excited to see that the fish and chips we got in St Ives came in compostable containers instead of Styrofoam and had tiny wooden forks. It’s not perfect, but it’s an improvement!

Plastic Filled In-Flight Meals

As I eluded to above, one of the most wasteful elements of my holiday was the meals they serve on flights. Eating in the airport in advance isn’t always an option (especially with my dietary restrictions and a 9hr flight), and it’s a bit tricky to bring my own food because I pack light, so I opt for the meal on the plane. Air Canada had made some changes, such as paper coffee cups, wooden stirrers, and sorting recycling, but it still is a lot of plastic. I hope that airlines focus on reducing this waste.

To reduce a bit of waste, ask for the full tin of pop, rather than a plastic glass with ice, and try not to waste the food.

Fast Food Packaging

I encountered two major fails with take away packaging. Firstly, mom and I went into Blenz to have a coffee and we both ordered iced coffee to drink in. Annoyingly, they gave them to us in plastic cups with plastic straws (and there was no recycling bin). It should be default that have-in drinks come in reusable cups, businesses should not provide plastic straws unless requested, and they should have a recycling bin!

Similarly, we decided to order sushi for dinner and, as we went to pick it up, I realised that I’d made a zero waste error. Rather than using paper bags with compostable or even plastic containers, the sushi came in a load of Styrofoam containers and plastic that couldn’t be recycled, as well as an excessive number of soy sauce packets. There was more landfill waste in that one meal than what I normally produce in 1-2 months! As I said above, I emailed the company and will not be getting take out from them again.


Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Normally there is a spare electric toothbrush and large tube of toothpaste at my parents’ house but they both disappeared. I ended up having to use a new toothbrush (freebee from the dentist) and a travel size toothpaste. I would have brought my DIY toothpaste but it was melted and in glass, so not travel friendly. At least I kept the toothbrush to use next time.

Some victories and lessons learned while travelling this summer. If you went on holiday, did you have any low waste successes or failures? As always, feel free to share in the comments!

For more travel tips, see Top 10 Travel and Packing Tips.

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Reader Comments

  1. Hi Katherine, waste-free is much harder when we’re travelling, isn’t it? We also fly to visit family regularly and find airports and plane travel especially tricky to work around. Sounds like you did some good planning and made proactive choices. I agree it’s good to contact companies that could be doing better, too.
    Cheers, Sally at One Family, One Planet blog

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