Santorini, a beautiful Greek island, lost some of its shine when we stumbled upon its immense landfill. Bottles aren’t recycled and the trash accumulates quickly on this very popular tourist destination. The landfill reminded us of each small bar of soap, the paper on that soap, the little plastic container of shampoo, the paper, plastic or styrofoam cups (also wrapped in plastic) used by everyone who stays in a hotel each year. The numbers quickly become overwhelming, not to mention a little depressing. For instance, Global Soap, a non-profit organization that recycles hotel soaps globally to improve health in impoverished nations, estimates that U.S. hotel visitors throw away over 2.6 million bars of soap – every day. So here are eleven easy to follow tips for eco-friendly travel that we try to follow and use for business trips, short holidays or a year long career break.
11 Eco-Friendly Travel Tips
- Bring your own soap and shampoo – 2.6 million bars of soap are thrown away every day.Hoteltoiletry bottlesare thrown out or incinerated but many are not recycled or recyclable.
- Use small carry-on friendly GoToob Travel Bottles or other easy-to-carry bottles and fill them with your favorite soaps and shampoos.
- Or take a small bar of soap from home, even dry shampoo, and put it in a sandwich bag. When you run low, it’s easy enough to take one from the hotel and replace it or buy a full-sized bar at a local grocery. Instead of using the hotel soap once, you can reuse it for at least a few days.
- Buy a travel-friendly cup and throw it in your backpack – According to carryyourcup.org, each year the USA alone throws away 23 billion styrofoam cups.
- Reusable coffee cups are cheap enough to buy and can fit into a backpack. Use collapsable coffee cups if you want to save space. A cool cup called Stojo on Kickstarter should come out in 2015.
- Wine glasses. We picked up a plastic set from Govino that store nicely in our carry-on bags. They don’t create that pleasant “ding” sound that only a nice wine glass can make, but we find that they are portable and more elegant and romantic than plastic cups or a mug.
- Walk, ride a bike, or use public transportation
- When possible and safe, ride a bike, walk or take public transportation to your destination. Walking has opened our eyes to places that you just can’t see from a taxi and gives us a whole new perspective on a city.
Recycle everywhere you can
- Not every country has the best recycling practices but many are trying. Inquire about the recycling opportunities at your accommodation. In some places, locals profit from recycling plastic containers or aluminum cans.
- Use water bottles – US citizens used 50 billion water bottles equal to 17 million barrels of oil in one year.
- Bring a reusable water bottle with you when you travel. You can fill them up at fountains in the airport, water stations or from large reusable water coolers.
- Use a SteriPEN, Camelbak AllClear, or other bottles with built-in filters when you are somewhere with limited potable water options
- For long hikes use a 3 liter reservoir like our Camelbak hydration pack that slides into a daypack.
- Avoid coffee packages – avoid instant packs that come with napkin, spoon, stirring stick,sugarandcreamer, meaning a lot of waste
- Bring a small amount of your favorite instant coffee and powdered creamer in a resealable bag. If you are in the same place long enough and have a fridge, buy a carton of milk.
- Reuse towel and sheets – An average hotel uses an estimated 825 liters (218 gallons) per day per room.
- Hotels often ask you to hang up towels if you don’t want them to be replaced. We also ask housekeeping to skip making the bed if we are only there a few nights
- At AirBnb accommodations, we wash the towels about once a week along with the sheets.
- Limit use of air conditioning or opt for a fan – More energy is used for air conditioning in the US than the entire continent of Africa uses for all purposes
- If air conditioning is the only cooling available, set it to a higher temperature to use less energy. 72 degrees is comfortable but 76 or 78 degrees can also be comfortable and have less of an impact on the environment
- During our longer term stays in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Thailand and Vietnam we use fans extensively for cooling.
- Avoid plastic bags – 12 million barrels of oil used to create the 100 billion plastic shopping bags for the US and less than 5 percent are recycled.
- We carry along a reusable tote bag. We use it for local shopping in place of plastic bags. Reuse plastic bags for garbage and for packing.
- Eat local and eat less meat
- Eat local foods that are in season and easily available, not shipped across the world, and try out great regional dishes. We found it challenging to avoid imported wine, oats and chocolate so there is certainly more we can do.
- Eating less meat can help reduce environmental impact.
- Use a safety razor over disposable razors or cartridges – 2 billion non-recyclable disposable razors are thrown away every year in the USA.
- I bought a Merkur Heavy Duty Double Edge safety razor and blades (100 for $25). In my opinion they are easy to carry, are at least as good or better than disposables, and replacement blades are cheap and easy to find.
It is our responsibility to at the very least try to minimize our impact while we travel. It’s great to hear what others are doing so please share any eco-friendly travel tips you have in the comments.