As much as I love to traverse the globe, I’m aware that travel can be harmful for the planet. Depending on the mode of transportation I use I’m increasing carbon emissions, using single-use plastic that can end up in landfills and potentially interfering with the natural ecosystem of the destinations I visit. Traveling is one of my greatest passions; realistically I will be using planes, trains or buses to see places around the world but it got me thinking, how can I travel in ways that are less harmful for the planet? I spoke to New York-based sustainability blogger Laura Baross who champions zero waste living about small changes we can make that help reduce our impact on the planet while traveling.
How harmful is traveling for the environment?
Laura Baross: If you’re both a passionate traveler and a nature lover, you’ll probably enjoy visiting new places but you don’t want the environment to suffer as a result of your personal pleasure. When it comes to traveling, some methods are greener than others. But which one is the greenest one? Buses tend to be the best option of public transformation. Along with trains, hybrid cars they produce less than 1/2 pound of CO2 per mile. Airplanes don’t have the best reputation in the green community — it does take a lot of fuel to keep those things up in the air. The least you can do is to make up for carbon dioxide released during a flight by planting trees. Some airlines have this option available on their website but you can also find programs online to do the planting for you. Did you know that the max amount of CO2 a person should produce per year in order to halt climate change is 2.0 tons? Planting a few trees will definitely not revert global warming and we all should strive to reduce our environmental footprint. To see how much CO2 you produced on your latest trip you can use this carbon footprint calculator.
Why is it especially hard to be sustainable during travel?
Traveling can be long, tiring and uncomfortable. Travel companies do their best to please their customers on many levels and make their experience as convenient and fun as possible. With comfort comes entertainment as well as food and beverages. To ensure dining en route meets certain standards, every item is designed to be single use. This is the only way they can provide fresh, clean and tasty snacks with little effort and low risk in quality.
What are some things travelers can do to prepare for a trip that would make it more sustainable?
First, define how far your destination is and explore all the options of getting there. The greenest method of transportation might actually depend on how far we have to go. When flying is your only option, there are many conscious decisions that will help you remain kinder to the earth. Fuel is emitted most during take-off and landing, so booking direct flights when possible will make your trip greener along with offsetting your emissions. Before locking the door, make sure your apartment is ready for the time you’re gone. Get a plant sitter, eat all your food supply or try to preserve them. Make sure all the lights are off, electronic devices are unplugged and heating/air conditioning is set properly, based on the current season. Pack light. The less you bring, the cleaner your mind and the easier it is to move around. Plus, it’s better for the environment. The more weight a plane is carrying, the more fuel will be used and more carbon dioxide will be emitted into the air. Unless you’re a fashion icon where you need multiple outfits a day, you should be just fine with one pair of sneakers, jeans and some of your favorite tops.
What are some ways to cut waste during the flight?
Look around a cabin at the end of any flight and you will get a sense of the waste on a small scale. Half-eaten meals, tossed cans, empty plastic water bottles, napkins, discarded packaging — and the big picture? According to the International Air Transport Association, airlines produced 5.2 million tons of waste a year, and will produce over 10 million tons annually by 2030.
To stop contributing to this enormous amount of waste, you can start traveling prepared. Pack snacks, put your reusables in use and say “no, thanks” to free items you don’t even need. During international flights you get offered headphones, snacks, drinks, main courses, blankets, pillows, etc. All these items come in plastic packaging that usually doesn’t get recycled. Next time you fly, think about all that waste before you unwrap that 30th pair of headphones you’ll never use again or grab that bag of goldfish just because you’re bored. You can get ready to satisfy your needs by bringing your own produce bags filled with bulk snacks, fruits or pastries. You can refill your own reusable water bottle after you make it through security, to stay hydrated during the flight. By packing a reusable cup you’ll be able to enjoy your glass of wine waste-free and even reuse it later when getting a cup of coffee in the morning. Preferably pick beverages that are canned or in a glass and bring them off board with you to put them in recycling bins at the airport. If you choose to reject your main course, hoping that you can save some packaging out of landfills, I’ll have to upset you. Keep in mind that most of the time all food goes to waste whether it has been unwrapped or not. So you might as well enjoy it and hope that in the near future airlines will figure out a way to donate leftovers.
What are some tips for people to be less wasteful when they arrive at their destination?
Always travel with the planet in mind. Respect the place you’re traveling to and act aligned with nature. Replacing these five items with your reusable ones will definitely keep your travels less trashy:
1. Plastic Bag vs. Reusable Bag
2. Plastic Straw vs. Reusable/No Straw
3. Single Use Soda Bottle vs. Refillable Water Bottle
4. Plastic Utensils vs. Reusable Utensils
5. Polystyrene To-Go Boxes vs. Reusable Food Wraps
On your next travels across nations remember that human race represents only 0.01% of all living things but produces the largest amount of waste amongst all of them. Is this something you want to contribute to or will you try to do your part reducing your waste? Every little act counts.