by Michelle Millet
This past Christmas, my family had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii where we spent 10 lovely days at a resort on the island of Oahu.
This was our first extended trip since taking on the challenge a year ago to reduce the amount of waste we generate. So in preparation I did some Internet research looking for tips on how to minimize our waste while traveling.
While I did find some useful suggestions, like bringing our own utensils and snacks to the airport, they weren’t always practical ones.
I have a hard enough time keeping track of my boarding pass and my ID at airports, so it wasn’t realistic to think that I would remember to bring our own utensils, much less remember where I packed them.
Assuming that I found the time to prepare snacks — in between wrapping last-minute Christmas presents, packing and cleaning the house enough that my friend, who was house-sitting, would not be afraid to use the bathrooms — I’ve traveled with my kids enough to know that they were going to be far more interested in buying snacks at the airport than eating anything I brought from home.
Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the prospect of not generating any waste on our trip I decided to take a similar approach to reducing waste while traveling as I did when I took on this goal at home, which was start simple, and focus on what I could realistically do, instead of feeling guilty and overwhelmed by what I couldn’t.
So while I did not bring our own utensils or snacks, in order to avoid purchasing a bottled water, something I have resolved to no longer do, I did pack an empty water bottle in my carry-on bag, which I planned to fill once I got through security.
The person who worked at the establishment where I purchased my kids’ bagels, which of course tasted better than any I would have brought with us from home, was happy to fill up my water bottle upon request.
I’m hoping more airports soon will follow San Francisco’s lead, and encourage passengers to bring their own water bottles, by installing “water hydration stations” on the airside part of their terminals. These water fountains dispense water vertically, making it easier to fill water bottles.
In order to avoid using the single-use packaged toiletries provided by hotels when traveling, I usually fill my own airline-approved-size containers with shampoo, conditioner and lotion. But because this trip was 10 days long, I needed more than 3 ounces of shampoo, so one of the first things I did when arriving in Hawaii was head to the store, where I purchased all of the above-mentioned items in larger, more efficient packaging than the mini-variety the resort offered.
If I wanted to enjoy a tropical beverage by the pool, which I frequently did, I had little choice but to drink it out of the single-use plastic cups provided by the resort’s poolside bar. When ordering, I did ask the server to hold the straw, which I would not use, and the lid, which was not necessary. This might not seem like a significant amount of waste reduction, but when you take the number of mai tais I enjoyed into account over 10 days, it started to add up.
The first time my kids ordered their favorite lunch at the pool — chicken strips and french fries — the food came with a plastic knife, spoon and fork, wrapped in plastic. Since these utensils were not required to eat chicken strips or french fries, I requested that they not be included the subsequent times we ordered this meal.
When we go out to dinner, whether we are on vacation or not, I have noticed that restaurants often serve kids drinks in single-use plastic cups, with lids, instead of the reusable and sometimes breakable glass variety that adult drinks are served in.
While I understand this practice is prudent for younger children who tend to spill and break things, at 8 and 10 my kids are no more likely to do so than the adults at the table. When I remember, I request that they be served their beverages in “adult” glasses.
There is no doubt about it, we generated a lot more waste during our day vacation in paradise than we do at home. It seemed at every turn and at every stage of our trip, from the airport to airplane to the resort, I was throwing something into the garbage.
While I tried not to feel guilty every time I sent another item to the landfill, I was conscious that I was doing so, which would not have been true a year ago. My hope is that this increased consciousness will lead me, and my family, to discover new ways to reduce our waste whether we are at home or in paradise, and inspire us to make the effort to do so.