Can We Travel Zero Waste?

I have talked about travel a little bit on the blog because it is my favorite hobby. I can’t imagine not traveling around the world. I am currently working on a bucket list of places I want to see in the next five years. Whether it be a 7 hour plane ride to another country, or a short car ride to the next state over. Travel is an essential for my personal growth.

Since becoming Zero Waste, I have begun to feel guilty about all my travels. Especially my most recent trip for a week long vacation in London. Many would tell me that I should just stop traveling. Too many, travel isn’t that important and isn’t something that they are interested in. I personally believe that our planet was built to explore and there are many friends and family members that I would never be able to see if I didn’t travel. What am I supposed to do? In this blog post I am going to answer two main questions. How much is the real cost of travel? What can we do to help “offset” our travel carbon footprint on this planet? I put offset into quotation marks because I believe that we can’t really offset our Co2 emission that is created during our travels. As a result, I hope to inspire more of you to pay attention to your travel carbon footprint and find some alternative ways to book your next travel adventures!

According to an article in the New York Times titled: "Flying Is Bad for the Planet. You Can Help Make It Better" by Tatiana Schlossberg, “the aviation industry accounts for 11 percent of all transportation- related emissions in the United States.” 11 percent may not seem big when you think about the grand scheme of things. That number is only going to increase as the airlines continues to add more flights onto their daily schedule. What are we supposed to do?

Driving seems like the right answer as it is lower impact and doesn’t admit as much co2 into the atmosphere right? For trips from New York to San Francisco, where your averaging about a 7 hour long plane ride, driving will take longer and use more gas. If you are thinking of traveling long distance than flying is definitely the better option. That being said, if you are planning a trip that takes less than an hour to fly too, you may want to drive or take the train. The reason being that it takes more Co2 to take off and land a plane. It’s also important to note that many shorter plane trips are usually not that full and could take less than half the Co2 emission to drive or take the train. Driving or taking the train may cost you more, but your planet will thank you.

What about offsetting your carbon emission? The main issue with “offsetting” your carbon emission is that you aren’t actually getting rid of that pollution that you just admitted into the air. I still recommend that many try and donate as much as they can to organizations who are trying to make our planet a better place for future generations. To say that it will solve your pollution problems during travel is unrealistic and completely false. So, unless you plan on walking everywhere or just staying home, there’s no way around co2 being admitted into the air.

How can we make our trips more eco-friendly and pleasant on our planet. They have energy efficient cars, why not have the same for planes? “The problem is that electric motors can’t produce enough power to get a plane off the ground, so the only alternative to regular kerosene-based aviation fuels are special kinds of biofuels.” Some biofuels can be environmentally problematic as well because it would take a huge chunk of the world’s arable land to grow enough crops to fuel all the world’s planes. Despite the name, it may not seem like the perfect solution to this serious environmental problem. So what is really? How can we make our next vacation more Zero Waste?

The truth is, that you really can’t make your travel completely Zero Waste. I am sorry to burst all of your bubbles. You can make your next vacation a little bit more environmentally friendly. Over the last year and a half I have continued to research and find new ways to help make my vacations a little bit more zero waste. Below is a short guide of some tips and tricks that I continue to follow every time I travel.

  1. Don’t Fly If You Can Take the Train or Car- I know I already mentioned this in the post. I think it’s very important that people recognize that the easiest choice may not be the most environmentally friendly one. Flying takes more carbon emission than driving or the train. Your carbon footprint only increases the shorter the flight is because there are more empty seats and it takes more fuel to take off and land than it does to fly the plane itself. Try to take flights that are sold-out and/or to very far away destinations. If it can take you less than a day by car, than it isn’t long enough to take a plane.

  2. Airline Programs to Help Offset the CO2 Emission- I know that I said you can’t really “offset” your carbon emission. That being said, I do believe that people should donate more. Offsetting is still fairly new, so not many airlines have a program where you can donate to organizations that are trying to make our planet a better place for our future generations. This does require you to spend more money. It also forces you to think about your travels a little bit more and how they may impact the overall planet. More information on offsetting your carbon emission can be found here!

  3. Longer Flights= Longer Vacations- If you are thinking about traveling to somewhere that is over 7 hours away by plane, I highly recommend staying for longer than a week. Make sure that the flight is actually worth it. You wouldn’t take a weekend getaway from New York to Australia. If you are taking some time off of work to travel, see if you can go for a few weeks or even a few months to really make it worth all the co2 emission that you have created during that flight.

  4. More Layovers= More CO2- If you are planning a trip, it may be cheaper to take connecting flights, but it is worse for the planet. Like I said before, it takes more Co2 to take off and land. If you are doing that more than twice, that means you are emitting more co2 than if you had taken one flight straight to your destination. I know that it isn’t always feasible, financially or in distance. Next time you book a trip from New York to California, rethink that layover in Cincinnati and book a direct flight- you will thank yourself and the planet!

  5. Bring Your Own Food- Not only are the plane meals usually filled with nasty ingredients, they don’t usually taste that good. Pack your own or try to eat before you leave depending on the length of the flight. This will help reduce the amount of trash you make on the flight, helping to shorten your carbon footprint that much more during your travels!

  6. Sustainable or Wastefree Airlines!- According to the Green America Today, United and US airways rank worse on a sustainability scale. This scale compared 11 airlines and explained that US Airways throws away about 1 million plastic cups every 6 hours. British Airways was not far behind, in 8th place. That being said, there are many airlines that are trying to be more mindful of their waste. Alaska airlines just recently banned all plastic straws and more airlines are trying to recycle. Do some research before booking your next flight and try to find the most sustainable fight possible that will allow you to feel better about taking your next trip!

  7. Return Freebees- When you fly, you will probably find the cheap plastic headphones, a pillow, and maybe even a blanket on your seat. Once your up in the air, tell one of the flight attendances that you don’t want them and ask them if they can reuse them for the next flight. Those free items don’t last long and aren’t worth the waste. You will be happy that you brought your own headphones, blanket, and pillow onto the flight. If you can find an airline that doesn’t provide those cheap freebies, then cotose to you and write about them in the comments below :)!

  8. Don’t Beat Yourself Up- You can think of a million reasons why you should and shouldn’t travel. You just have to figure out what is more worth it to you. I have heard a ton of zero wasters explain that they have told their family that they can’t come visit them because it is too much co2 for the planet. That may work for them, but I think that my family would kill me if I didn’t actually visit them in person. Skype is amazing, but it doesn’t replace the smells, tastes, and real moments that you get during your travels. I will continue to fly, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t label myself as zero waste. I am doing the best that I can, and I don’t want to beat myself up about the small stuff.

I hope that this article helps bring some stuff into perspective for you and help you realize that you can try your hardest to reduce your carbon emission in all areas of your life, but sometimes you just have to bit the bullet and go on the trip. Hopefully in the next five years or so, someone comes up with a new more efficient way to fly that won't cost an arm and a leg to be able to purchase. We will have to wait and see.

Work Cited and Some Helpful Articles:

https://medium.com/milena-glimbovski/there-is-hardly-one-subject-in-the-zero-waste-scene-which-is-that-controversial-9f1e1f7dbdd4

http://www.theweek.co.uk/96017/best-green-travel-ideas-environmental-sustainable-holidays

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-bad-is-air-travel-for-the-environment-51166834/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/apr/06/aviation-q-and-a

https://zerowastehome.com/2010/07/05/less-not-zero-waste-air-trave/