Zero Waste Travel, it’s Hard

I am in the middle of a 10 day multi-city trip. We’re traveling to NYC, Washington DC, NY again, Philadelphia and Vegas – and, I admit it, so far I’ve blatantly failed at avoiding to create trash during a significant part of this trip.


I set out on this with great intentions, but a little too much optimism. I packed some sporks, bulk bags, a food container, a mason jar… and I thought I’d be FINE.

Damn was I wrong.

I started this “zero waste living thing” while in California, and I just didn’t realise how eco-conscious California is, compared to the rest of the US. In San Francisco they generally don’t put a straw in your drink without asking first (!) and most cafes I go to have ZERO issues filling up my mason jar with drinks or food. So far, two servers around here have refused to fill up my jar with coffee, or green juice – and then I went to go to DC for two days and left the jar at my friend’s house.

This is the result of just two days of not paying much attention to zero waste:

My trash during this trip, most of it 🙁

This is a straw in my jar – which the server just put in there before I could ask him to NOT give me one… 🙁


There are certainly lots of people for whom zero waste on the east coast is a breeze. All the infrastructure is there, especially in NYC. Heck, I have a Whole Foods with a bulk section just within 5 minutes walking distance from the West Side apartment where I am staying – but I got thrown off of my routine, had too little sleep, and just went on autopilot for a little while.

This sucks.

I want to get better at this.

There’s one good thing I take away from the past few days… awareness. I can’t believe I used to create so much trash and I wasn’t even aware of it!! Now I’m painfully aware. And it’s uncomfortable. I felt much more aligned and grounded, while I was barely producing any trash! I want that “free” feeling back, so I’m making some changes to get back on the wagon, and I’ll work on it until they stick.

Here’s my game plan to remedy the situation: 

A – Have a designated bag for my zero waste “kit” 

My Zero Waste “Kit”

I have a super sturdy cotton tote bag from a friend, which I love. I won’t leave the house any more without carrying at least a jar and utensils in there. My current kit which I assembled just before this trip consists of a stainless steel water bottle, a mason jar, cloth bulk bags, two sporks, some ziplocks and a plastic tupperware food container. It’s all pretty lightweight, though if i know I’m only headed out in between meals, I might not bring everything.

B – Always bring the kit + always bring some water 

C – Stock up and upgrade the kit 

A sustainable straw seems to be a pretty essential item while traveling in the US. I’m getting one ASAP to avoid all this plastic straw madness! I also don’t have a napkin yet, and could’ve used one many times during this trip, so I’ll add that asap as well. On top of that I’d like to have a better food container that I actually *want* to take with me (I.e. not plastic). I’ve come to dislike plastic, so I’ll look out for a stainless steel option. And lastly, I’d like to get some nicer utensils than the plastic spork.

C – Stock up on some bulk goodies 

I’ll stock up on some organic bulk snack food asap, so I can stave off hunger more easily and make more clear-headed decisions while in transit.

D – ASK servers and waiters to leave off the straws and napkins, ask what container things come in and refuse disposable containers. 

This one is the hardest part for me, because it means I always need to be “on”, confident and plan a few steps ahead.


Some changes have stuck…

On a side note, I’ve had some partial successes. I created ZERO toiletry/bathroom related trash (aside from toilet paper, duh) – yay! I brought all my toiletries with me in used travel size bottles, which I refilled at home with bulk products. I simply leave all hotel toiletry bottles untouched and pray that the cleaners will see that they were clearly not used and leave them for the next guest.

I have one more evening in NYC left, and almost 2 days in Philadelphia. I can do this.

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