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  • Jenica

Road Trips without Waste

I've spent a while now perfecting my zero waste home life. But every time I need to take it on the road, it throws me for a loop! Traveling without waste can be a huge challenge. Whether its a day adventure, weekend get-a-way, or a month long trip, it's important to plan ahead in order to keep your trip waste free. If you're taking to the road any time soon, make sure to look over my list of essential items and think about what you can do to keep your trip waste-free!

Road Trips without Waste

What to Bring

Here is a recommended checklist for your trip that I have developed over the years. Given how long you're going to be gone for, you can take off some items or increase the quantity of others. However, I always recommend being overly cautious and bringing as much as you can fit in your car. The worst thing is realizing you left something at home that could have helped avoid waste! Take a look at what I usually pack:

  • reusable water bottle

  • reusable spork or real silverware

  • napkin

  • reusable straw with shake cup

  • mesh or cloth bag

  • bulk snacks

  • container for food waste scraps

  • reusable grocery bag

  • container for recycling

  • 2-3 reusable Tupperware containers

Road Trips without Waste

Recycling and Composting

When you're on the road, you have to be aware that you may not have access to recycling or composting right way. That's why it is super important to bring seal-able containers to put them in so your car doesn't stink. Recycling shouldn't be too hard to find in many towns or just to haul all the way back home and recycle it there. Compost however will get smelly and gross if left in the heat for more than a few days. If you can stand the stench, just keep it locked up until you get home. But if you're going out for a long period of time or just don't want your nostrils flaring, there are some options.

  • research where you are staying to see if curb-side composting is available

  • contact local friends to see if they compost or know of a neighborhood bin

  • contact a local animal farm (such as pigs) who might take scraps

  • and worst comes to worst, sometimes you might have to find a nice dirt spot in the woods or a backyard to bury the food in

Road Trips without Waste

Eating on the Road

If you have the option of bringing all of your own food and keeping it in a cooler, that is the ideal scenario. You have complete control ahead of time to plan meals and purchase everything waste free. Nothing is left to chance.

In a situation where you don't have a cooler or are gone for far too long, the risk of getting stuck without bulk options increases. To minimize the chances of buying things in plastic, there are a few things you can do to prepare:

  • bring lots of bulk snacks

  • bring sandwiches and fruit for the first day or two

  • make sure to pack lots of containers and grocery bags

  • research along the way common food chain stores to see what bulk options they offer

  • buy lots of fresh produce (least likely to be in packaging)

  • research local weekend and night farmers markets

  • don't be afraid to ask for it in your own container!

Road Trips without Waste

Where to Stay

Where you choose to sleep at night also effects the quantity of trash you are likely to produce. When considering whether you are camping, staying at a hotel, or couch surfing, there are a few things to keep in mind. In the future I will cover traveling options in more detail but for now, just consider this a brainstorm list to get you thinking. Where should I stay to produce the least amount of trash and impact?


  • PRO - access to a fridge to store food

  • PRO - access to tap water

  • PRO - potential access to bulk cereals, milk, machines, and coffee in the morning

  • CON - bedding must be washed by management when you leave

  • CON - breakfast may come in plastic containers

  • CON - TV remotes, water, and toiletries come wrapped in plastic

  • CON - electricity use is higher, hallway lights, A/C or heating

Camp Sites

  • PRO - no need to wash bedding

  • PRO - no electricity used except fire and flashlights

  • PRO - Nature!

  • CON - no access to a fridge to store food

  • CON - potential for no tap water access

Friends and Family

  • PRO - access to a fridge to store food

  • PRO - access to tap water

  • PRO - access to local knowledge of bulk food stores

  • PRO - control over washing and electricity use

  • CON - dealing with alternative views/lifestyles

  • CON - may need to eat what the family provides (even if it's trash!)

Road Trips without Waste

Where to next?

So the next time you are headed off on a great adventure, make sure to pause a moment to consider your impact and waste production. There are many more factors than I mentioned here - the type of car you drive, how far you are going, how long you are staying, etc. All of these add up to create a carbon footprint and waste total for your trip. Don't let these get in the way of visiting family and making new memories, but each step you can take to reduce your impact with help the planet (and your guilty conscious) while on your trip. So...where to next?

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