Tales From the Back of the Pack

Tales From the Back of the Pack

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Earth Day Every Day 4-Zero Waste Travel

In observance of Earth Day this week, I wanted to write a daily post about habits I've adapted to be kinder to the Earth.
This past Spring Break we took a family trip to Mt. Rushmore and I made it a goal to go the entire trip without creating trash. Here's how I did it:

Our first day I packed my breakfast in my carry-on bag. I filled up my travel mug with Diet Coke from the Burger King counter after passing through TSA and sat down at our gate to eat breakfast.
The Puff needed a bag of chips to go with her breakfast. And again, good ol' Terracycle to our rescue. While I did not get a spot on their Potato Chip Bag Brigade, I did reach out to Terracycle who sent me a UPS mailing label for free.

I carried that empty Doritos bag back home with me & added it to my collection. I've been collecting empty chip bags for about a year now and when my box is full, I'll send it on to Terracycle. The only difference is because I'm not a part of the official Brigade for chip bags, I won't earn any credit from Terracycle like I will with my Toiletries box.
When I first heard of Terracycle I thought it was THE answer; that I wouldn't have to change any part of my lifestyle because all my garbage could just be sent in to Terracycle for repurposing. Now that I know a little more about the lifecycle of plastic, I know Terracycle isn't the perfect solution. It is something though.

OH, and one funny thing about Terracycle, is that they are featured on a show called Human Resources which my sister looooves. It's on Pivot if you haven't seen it.

Next up had lunch at a pizza place where I was tempted to order a salad. But since the salads were all boxed in plastic I opted for a slice, making sure to ask them not to use any plastic in serving it.
I know I annoy the people I'm with when I ask a million questions and make weird demands in order to avoid plastic, but in my eyes it's the same as people with food allergies or food preferences (no tomato, is that gluten-free?).

Boulder had these super convenient public recycling bins! I puffy heart Boulder.

The biggest help for me to stay on track with my zero waste goal was that there was a Whole Foods market with bulk bins near our hotel. Our trip required a lot of driving and I brought a couple cloth bags with me to the store to shop for road trip snacks. Chocolate malt balls, peanut butter pretzels, fruits & veggies, some cookies & other baked goods and we were set!
In the morning we stopped to pick up some breakfast before our long drive to Devil's Tower. We stopped at Breadworks in Boulder and I ordered a sandwich to eat In house instead of asking for it To Go. 
We didn't have any intention of sitting down to eat, but the sandwich was served on a real plate. Once I got the plate I put the sandwich in my tin and we were on our way. It required a bit of juggling while being stared at quizzically so I didn't snap a picture. I always feel like I'm acting suspicious or something, which I guess I need to just get over. 
road trip snacks, zero waste
 We also stopped for gas once or twice and filled up our travel mugs with soda or hot chocolate from the self-serve machines at the gas station mini-marts.

Later in the day we stopped again to eat, this time I chose Subway for their paper wrappers. Otherwise, we still had plenty to snack on from the Whole Foods run I'd made in Boulder.
The next day, our hotel in South Dakota served a free continental breakfast. 
After filling up on hot food in my own container, I also grabbed some bread, cinnamon rolls and hard boiled eggs to save for later, just in case. Grab it when you can find it. The last thing I wanted was to be caught hungry without any options. 
I think the biggest hassle on this zero waste trip (which was hardly a hassle) was having to say No Thank You to every brochure we were handed. I didn't count how many times we paid entrance fees to the places we went to but every time we were handed a receipt the attendant included with it a map(s) or brochure(s) of the place we were entering.
I always handed the brochures back but it felt weird, like I was ungrateful for the free gift. Seriously, in this era of information, everything you need to know you can find online. Save the trees! 

And for the next two days, it was more of the same. We purchased souvenirs (I collect refrigerator magnets from my travels) everywhere we went and refused the plastic bags. Ate at restaurants where I usually had to refuse just the plastic straw that gets put in my glass automatically.

At Barlee's diner, I had to eat a plain baked potato because their butter and sour cream were served in plastic cups (always ask!). It was totally fine.
And anywhere I went that I found package-free goodies, I snatched them up. It helped me to not feel so deprived because of all the other times I'd have to refuse something. 
For my last meal at the Denver airport, I opted for a food option again that would be served all wrapped in paper, McDonald's. 
When I got back to work after our trip, I added all the receipts I'd collected to my stash of note paper. I use the backs of my receipts to jot down notes/messages before they head to the recycle bin. I put our boarding passes in my printer at work so the paper could also be used on both sides before being recycled. 
And the biggest reward was that our suitcases were free of clutter and other junk that we'd normally end up tossing out at home. It was great! 

Besides my own self discipline in refusing freebies and at times doing without, these reusables were essential in helping me avoid making waste on this trip. 

The Puff and I have a trip to Tulum coming up in July. I know that traveling to another country, especially one where the tap water is not potable, will be a whole different kind of challenge but I think we'll do alright. Does anyone have experience with the water situation in Mexico?


  1. This is all very impressive!! I will need to look into collecting chip bags, my son loves his doritos!

    I was thinking last night, and you might be getting close to talking about this, but what do you do for cleaning products?

    Also, do you compost? I used to compost, but it's almost impossible to do in the winter in a small apartment with no garden.

    1. My kid loves Doritos too! I will include some of my cleaning products in future posts. I use baking soda and vinegar in the bathroom and floors, and make my own laundry detergent and dish soap (using the same ingredients--washing soda and fels naptha bar soap--it's really easy and cheap!).

      I don't compost. Our city takes away green waste, but everything else goes in the trash. Composting is on my bucket list, along with solar power and a hybrid vehicle. Some day!

  2. I am really enjoying this series! I just signed up for Terracycle's performance nutrition program so I can send them my Gu packets! Thanks!

    1. I'm so glad! Very awesome that Gu partnered with Terracycle...Wouldn't it be great to put a box at half marathon & marathon races that people could drop their used Gu's into?