Zero-waste Travel: How We Do It
At Montanya Distillers, we’ve noticed something cool about dramatically reducing waste throughout our company. The more we work toward it and the more we talk about it, the more people want to know how we do it. Especially when it comes to the things so many of us do, like travel.
All it takes is one trip to the airport, a fast food joint, or even a Whole Foods to realize that single-use trash is everywhere. It can feel like an epidemic. Or the zombie apocalypse… Turn down one piece of trash, and the others just keep coming! (Equally scary too.)
We’ve been learning as we go and discovering that it is possible to forgo unnecessary waste (though a little self-forgiveness is important too. Setbacks happen.) Because so many of you ask about how to go zero-waste (and because we’re big fans of ask and ye shall receive), here of some of the things that Montanya Distillers founder and owner Karen Hoskin does to avoid trash on the road:
Planning Ahead: A Zero-Waste Packing List:
1 small stainless steel ice pack
1 small container of dish soap (I use a small screw top jar, but you can also reuse something like a small vitamin bottle)
1 reusable water bottle
2 market totes/reusable grocery bags
2 cotton produce bags
1 wax crayon
The total weight of these items is 3.5 lbs, and they fit in my backpack or travel tote along with my computer and other items. Also, before any long trip, I prepare at least one meal and often two to take with me. This helps me avoid plastic to-go containers on close connections, or buying over-packaged foods on the plane.
On the Tarmac and in the Air:
At the airport, I make sure to refill my water bottle once inside security (if I’m not sure where to fill up, I use an app called Tap to figure it out). On the plane, when flight attendants offer me a beverage, I provide my 12 oz Cortado Cup for water, coffee, wine, cocktails, tea, seltzer or juice. I rarely encounter any pushback, but if ever I do, I tell them the requirement is that they not touch the rim of their vessel to the rim of my cup. Easy.
At the Hotel
When I reach the hotel, I wash up my used items and leave them to dry overnight on a towel — they’re ready for a new day. I also refreeze my ice pack in the hotel fridge or pack it in ice from the ice machine.
On the Go
At coffee shops, I offer my reusable cup and it is rarely ever refused. Companies like Starbucks have perfected ways to prepare coffee waste-free for reusable cups. If Starbucks can do it, any coffee shop can. (There’s good reason, too: paper cups have a plastic lining.)
If I get a pastry or food item, I ask for it unwrapped, unpackaged or on a “for-here” plate. Then I transfer it myself into my reusable ziplock-style bag or reusable container.
If I want lunch/dinner on the go and am surrounded by plastic clamshells of salad, I choose a sit-down restaurant or bar where I can see that all the items on the tables are washable. In airports, these restaurants are usually lighting fast and the food is way fresher and hotter than the prepackaged options available at the grab and go counters.
Sticking to It (a.k.a. It’s Okay to Walk Away)
Sometimes, eliminating single-use trash requires extra time so I build it into my plans. I can't let my need for convenience cause me to acquire a pile of plastic—I made a commitment and I keep it. If I need something to go, I sit down, order it for here, transfer it to my own containers and pay. Off I go! This works well with counter service establishments like Chopt Creative Salad Company and other kinds of deli and fast food restaurants. The conversation often begins like this: “I am eliminating single use plastic from my personal and work life. Can you help me get my food without all the disposable plastic?” I have learned that many service employees are so pleased to have a chance to help. Not always, but more often than not.
If the establishment puts every single thing in to-go containers, I must refuse to buy there. I always remember, it’s okay to ask and it is okay to walk away. Many places have a washable plate option they don't offer widely or offer only on request. And if they say no, I inform them that "I don't use single use plastic so I can't buy from your establishment, thanks anyway." This helps them to hear the feedback and maybe consider changing their offerings.
Just like a meal, you can order a tall beverage like iced tea or iced chai "for here, no straw" and transfer it into your own 16 oz. cup with a stainless steel straw. Voilá, you’ve avoided the ubiquitous plastic iced beverage cups with tops and plastic straws and you are ready to take it on the go.
Salad and Hot Food Bars
When I’m on vacation or a longer work trip, I write the weight (known as the tare) of my containers on them with a wax crayon. I fill them with olives, salads, or hot foods at stores like Whole Foods, and then the checkout clerk knows the container weight. If they object, I simply offer to pay for the weight of the container since it is so light anyway—it is worth the minor extra cost for me to avoid the single use packaging. I also carry reusable market totes and produce bags for trips to the grocery store and bakery: super compact, light weight and versatile even for shopping the thrift stores or malls too.
Learning from the Inevitable Stumbles
I sometimes forget to preempt the straw problem. I get talking and before I know it, there is a beverage with a straw in front of me. In airport restaurants, you’ll often receive a water glass with a straw in front of you right when you sit down. I often have to get up and catch servers before they deliver my water. If I haven’t touched it, they can save it for another customer and re-serve mine with no straw.
Recently, I had about 2 minutes to sprint between international flights and no time to grab food before a 10-hour leg over the ocean. I was starving, and I was forced to eat airplane food. The amount of packaging on an international flight meal (unless you are in first class) is ASTOUNDING. Next time, I will carry homemade protein bars or some sort of back-up food option, because the reality is that airplane food is terrible enough to avoid no matter what.
Let us know what you think: Is there a tip in here that you’ll try? Have a pro-tip we haven’t thought of? Let us know in the comments below!
P.S. You may have noticed that many of Karen’s reusable items come from one place: Zoetica. It’s a social entrepreneurship company that Montanya Distillers supports and Karen co-founded to help people eliminate single-use trash from their lives. In 2019, Zoetica is challenging everyone to quit one single-use item. Will you take the pledge?