Reducing Waste While on Vacation

global-tapby 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.

About The Author

Michelle Millet is a 25-year resident of Davis. She currently serves as the Chair of the Natural Resource Commission.

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41 Comments

  1. Topcat

    I usually fill my own airline-approved-size containers with shampoo, conditioner and lotion.

    If you check your luggage, you can bring full size containers of these things in the checked luggage.  The 3 ounce limit is for carry on luggage.

    1. South of Davis

      Topcat wrote:

      > If you check your luggage, you can bring full size containers

      > of these things in the checked luggage.  

      Unless you have hard side luggage (like the stuff in the link below) you need to make sure to always put big bottles of shampoo and lotion in a hard side container (I use a Rubbermaid/Tupperware) and then put the container in a plastic bag so if the baggage handlers are as rough (as shown in the link below) you won’t have shampoo and lotion all over your clothes and have to pay hotel cleaning charges (that are twice as high as the most expensive cleaner in Davis) if the lid pops off the Tupperware (ask me how I know this).

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8C-e96m4730

      P.S. Another way to cut waste while on vacation is to ask the bartender to give you drinks without umbrellas in them:

      http://sunilshinde.typepad.com/.a/6a00d835494ab953ef016762ee49aa970b-pi

    2. Barack Palin

      If you check your luggage, you can bring full size containers of these things in the checked luggage.  The 3 ounce limit is for carry on luggage.

      Yes, but for the really really hardcore environmentalist that should create a problem.  Is not buying more plastic containers of shampoo, etc. in Hawaii worth the extra fuel used to transport those items from the mainland to Hawaii?  Hmmmmmmm?

      1. Topcat

        Yes, but for the really really hardcore environmentalist that should create a problem.

        The hard core environmentalist certainly would not be flying to Hawaii on vacation.

        1. Michelle Millet

          The hard core environmentalist certainly would not be flying to Hawaii on vacation.

          Luckily, as I mention in all my pieces I am not hard core, because Hawaii was awesome, and being one of six kids, (my parents Catholicism out-weighed their concerns about overpopulation) we only get an opportunity to use their time share once every 6 years.

      2. Michelle Millet

        Is not buying more plastic containers of shampoo, etc. in Hawaii worth the extra fuel used to transport those items from the mainland to Hawaii?

        If the choice is between buying one big plastic container of shampoo in the store vs using 40 little containers in the hotel (4 people X 10 days), which also needed to transported to Hawaii, I would say the one big one is more efficient.

        A side note: To address this issues some environmental conscious hotels are switching to refillable wall mounted shampoo, conditioner, and soap dispensers.

    3. Michelle Millet

      We didn’t check anything. We had a a very short layover in LA where we switched airlines  so we didn’t have time to wait for luggage then go back through security.

  2. dlemongello

    I got the sense she was trying to reduce what she threw in the trash bin to the landfill, she was not talking about climate change and fossil fuel.  It has a limited scope from what I read.  That said, at least for me, 3 oz.per person is enough for 10 days, or as another poster said, pack it if you are checking luggage.

    And yeah, the stuff is being thrown at you from every turn.  I have a small mess kit that fits in a sleeve and stays in 1 spot in my “purse” and I never need utensils anywhere.  I think they sell these at the COOP.

    As for around town, I think it is pathetic that there are many more trash cans than recycle bins and recycle bins are even hard to find in many places in town.  Maybe they cancelled the order for the $1000 a pop bins we heard about at one point, I have not seen them anywhere, and that’s good because the trash part was way bigger than the recycle part.  Or maybe they are around and I just have not seen them.  Beside every trash can there should be a recycle bin, at least.

    Don’t worry, I know reduce/refuse and reuse come before recycle.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i don’t want to be *that* poster, but i see a policy discrepancy here between reducing waste and needing to cut back on carbon emissions.  rather than personalize it, maybe we can discuss it in general terms.  so if someone is not trying to reduce carbon footprint, what is the purpose of zero waste?

      1. Michelle Millet

        Because someone has flown to Hawaii 3 times in 42 years should they just say screw it I’m not going to try and reduce my waste?

        What did I tell you David:-)

        1. South of Davis

          Michelle wrote:

          > What did I tell you David:-)

          I have a very “green” friend (a writer) who lives in West Marin who lives in a small “yurt” and rarely drives his 1980’s Westy Syncho Camper unless he is leaving the county (we go camping together at least once a year).

          I have another “green” friend (an HBS grad who funds “green” investments for a VC firm) who tore down a perfectly nice home in Portola Valley to build a (supposedly) “greener” much bigger home and also tore down a perfectly nice cabin in Tahoe to build a “greener” one that is on his second Tesla in 4 years and has a Chevy Volt that the nanny drives the kids around in.

          Guess which friend never brags about how “green” he is or gives me a hard time about my “non-green” home and “non-green” 11 year old SUV (that I bought used ~5 years ago) …

          I don’t have a problem with people who fly around the country to go on vacation, build 6,000 sf homes or drive Teslas, but I want to remind these people that every time you tell people how “green” you are or tell the rest of us what we need to to to be “greener” it rubs a lot of people the wrong way…

           

          1. Don Shor

            I want to remind these people that every time you tell people how “green” you are or tell the rest of us what we need to to to be “greener” it rubs a lot of people the wrong way…

            Which, of course, Michelle didn’t do at all in this column. Lots of practical suggestions. Used the word ‘I’ a lot, only one use of the word ‘you’.
            The response by some of the anonymous commenters to this article is very discouraging. I really wish you folks would understand how much this kind of stuff discourages guest writers.

        2. Davis Progressive

          i think most of this is pretty playful.  what turns people off is when it’s malicious and mean-spirited.  i don’t see that here.  we’re all just giving our buddy a hard time.

        3. Michelle Millet

          If nothing else it is predictable;-). This is the text I sent David last night after he told me he was posting the piece today:

           What do you want to bet the first comment some one makes is about the amount of carbon I contributed to the atmosphere by flying to Hawaii?

    2. Michelle Millet

      That said, at least for me, 3 oz.per person is enough for 10 days, or as another poster said, pack it if you are checking luggage

      I only have two 3 oz travel containers, one for shampoo one for conditioner. Definitely not enough for four of us for 10 days. We travel so infrequently, especially by plane, that I didn’t want to purchase more small plastic containers that would just take up space in my house for years before I would need them again, at which point I probably wouldn’t be able to find them.

      I bought some bar shampoo that other day which I’m going to try, if it works I can ditch the plastic shampoo bottle all together whether at home or traveling.

      1. dlemongello

        OMG, BUY a plastic container 🙂 Just let me know if you do ever need any more, I store everything under the sun and you can borrow them if you don’t want to keep them.

        1. Michelle Millet

          If it was something we would use on a regular basis I would buy it, even if it was plastic;-) But we travel by plane so infrequently it would not be worth the space it ended up taking in my already clutter filled drawers. And I’m not joking when I did need them again in 5 years, I would have long forgotten where I put them. Thanks for the offer, I may be in touch in 2020;-) when it’s our turn to use the time share again!

           

  3. dlemongello

    That’s why we are doomed, it is a way of life we have accepted and to be truly hard core would put one into a life style so unlike 99.9% of the rest that it wouldn’t make any difference. Meanwhile those very few could barely function in out society.  In the 90s, when I read about what oil extraction/fossil fuel use has done to the people and environment of the Amazon, I seriously considered NEVER using any again. What would that have accomplished? Nothing!  I already use very little and it would have crippled a few things I use it for, made a statement and accomplished nothing.

    If we do not change collectively and comprehensively, then what ever happens, happens and that’s it.

    However, each person reducing waste can make a huge difference cumulatively and NOT seriously affect one’s life and opportunities. We do not need plasticware or disposable  towels, dishes etc.  And if they were not provided we’d see just how fast and relatively convenient it would be to provide our own reusables.  Yep, we would all need to carry around a few items with us wherever we go and wash them when we get home.

    We could bring a container from home if we order take-out or have left overs at a restaurant.  And restaurant-provided containers should be recyclable, or even better, compostable.

    1. Tia Will

      If we do not change collectively and comprehensively, then what ever happens, happens and that’s it.”

      I am of the “every little bit helps” school of thought. Constructive actions, even if not currently common are contagious and can be spread by setting a good example. I will site one instance in which it was me that made the improvement in behavior. I have a friend who while walking downtown, makes a point of picking up any plastic or paper litter than happens to be in her path and places it in an appropriate container.

      I observed this and appreciating it for the obviously good practice that it is began to emulate it. I steer clear of obviously dirty or contaminated objects, and leave those for the crew with the correct protective gear. However, it does make a difference and people do notice when I do it and I have gotten a number of positive comments or waves and smiles.

      The change while it would ultimately need to be collective an comprehensive, does not have to start out that way. If we all start incrementally identifying what we can do to improve our environment, eventually we will create a “collective” change even if we do not want to call it that. We have to start somewhere. I firmly believe that that somewhere is with me.

      1. dlemongello

        Exactly Tia, the only way it adds up is if each of us individually does it.  And when very few do it amounts to nothing but a conversation about the subject.

        1. Davis Progressive

          i have long since given up on the idea that change at the level we need can occur through voluntary actions.  we still have to do those actions because otherwise we become hypocrites, but the governments of the world need to reduce the emissions far more than we can voluntarily.

  4. Michelle Millet

    I was at a fundraiser a couple of weeks ago, where some very delicious soup was served. As I was throwing my disposal bowl in the garbage the person standing on the other side of it looked at me and said, ha, I saw you throw something away.

    I get this response a lot, or I get people who apologize to me for using plastic utensils at their kids birthday party. This sentiment is what I was trying to avoid when I started writing this series of articles.

    The point of my pieces are to find simple things I can do to reduce waste and share these ideas with others. There are not meant to make people feel guilty or solve global warming.

    I throw stuff away all the time, and I never pass judgement on anyone for the flatware they serve at their kids birthday party, I’m usually just grateful that my kids have some place fun to go for a few hours, so I can clean out the my mini-van which I drive around Davis in sometimes.

  5. dlemongello

    My point is, I’ll just say it, we as a society are not even willing to do the simplest of things to try and reduce in a meaningful way what we throw away. It’s rampant and massive, insane and hopeless.  Not enough people care in enough of a way for it to not be HOPELESS! The person who apologizes knows it’s wrong, but is unwilling to wash a few dishes.  And part of the reason they don’t bother is almost no one else does. If instead that person had not used them, others may have noticed and even a few followed the next time around. An entire trend has to be reversed, not just slightly slowed, for it to make a difference.

    1. Michelle Millet

      When I starting writing this columns I decided that I would focus on my choices and my behaviors, and purposely not judge or or criticize the actions of others, I felt there was to much of that already going on, and I didn’t see this as an effective way to create change.

    2. Frankly

      Forgive me, but you seem to be one of those glass-half-empty people.  You use words like rampant, massive, insane and hopeless… I wonder then what words you use to describe REAL tragedies?

      And entire trend needs to be reversed?  You mean like working for a living and creating products that people buy?

      I would like a survey that cross-checks lifestyle demands with actual lifestyle.  Ironically you are using some computer device to type this opinion of extreme small carbon footprint.  Do you get that bit of irony?

      I have no problem with Michelle’s creative ways to save a straw or fork or plastic water bottle here and there.  If more people did a little bit like this, it would help a little bit… a very little bit.  But it is something.  The basic message here is to not waste if you don’t need to.  I applaud the effort.  As long as it does not become new rules to live by pushed by a few overly-excited people on the rest of us.

      And by the way… had another paper grocery bag rip after getting wet in the rain and spilled contents to the pavement.  And so I now do all my grocery shopping in Woodland except for Westlake Market that still uses the more robust plastic bags.  Davis merchants can thank the Davis bagofile extremists for the lost business.

      1. Davis Progressive

        where do i begin.

        i hate glass half full/ half empty analogy.  the glass in this case has been shattered all over the pavement and its pieces have been ground into such fine dust that we cannot visibly recognize them.

        we are so far past individual actions mattering it’s not that funny.  but no one is willing to make the tough calls.

        ” You mean like working for a living and creating products that people buy?”

        yes, that exactly.  we have to change the way we live if we want our future generations to live.

        1. dlemongello

          Yes DP, that’s the way I think it is, and so few people realize it because it has not all crashed on their heads yet. Most likely it will crash on their childrens’ heads but humans do not seem able to grasp long term thinking, they need severe crisis.

          Frankly, I’m using a powerbook G4 that a friend gave me when she got a new computer and I might even get a new computer someday.  It’s like the oil I wrote about above, for me almost alone to become a hermit will not help.  I am not a saint, but I do grasp the severity of the situation.  And you would probably not believe much of what I do and how I live, but I still need to function in this society.  In fact, to be honest, I do work and even make things people use, I am a ceramicist. So I burn gas to fire my work. And though nothing can make up for that, the total energy I consume is so below the norm.  I do what I actually can and still try to live my life.  That’s the point, what we need to live even with little sacrifice is so much less than we consume collectively.

      2. Michelle Millet

        I have no problem with Michelle’s creative ways to save a straw or fork or plastic water bottle here and there.  If more people did a little bit like this, it would help a little bit… a very little bit.

        I agree, me saving a straw here and there alone does very little. But another goal of my articles is to create an awareness in people of the amount of waste they generate, in often mindless ways. I think this is the first step to bigger more significant changes.

        And by the way… had another paper grocery bag rip after getting wet in the rain and spilled contents to the pavement. 

        I’m sending you a usable bag.

        1. Barack Palin

          I like it, he might even remember to bring it with him into the store.  For the life of me I only remember maybe 25% of the time, so I’m always buying bags.

        2. dlemongello

          The reason he goes to Woodland is he does not want to reuse bags, unless he has changed his mind from a conversation we had in about 2012 or 2013.  He believes reusable bags will breed disease. Notice how all of us who use them are getting ill right and left, NOT.

        3. Topcat

          I already have one picked out for him. In big letters it says, “My whacko environmentalist friend is making me use this bag.”

          I like it.  Personally, I use a fabric Walmart bag when I shop in Davis.

    3. Tia Will

      I guess I just don’t buy “hopeless”.  There are many examples of things that I am sure that looked “hopeless” to people that have been overcome. Slavery in this country for one. Women not being able to own property or to vote for another. I am sure that in their time, their were many who believed that these changes were “hopeless”.

      I was told that because of my background I could not be a doctor. I wasn’t from the right background. My degree wasn’t from good schools. I didn’t have the money. My degrees weren’t in science. I was too old. And worst of all, I was a woman interested in a surgical specialty. Hopeless !

      “Hopeless” is just not a word with which I can connect.

       

      1. dlemongello

        That’s truly good for you Tia.  The one good thing I can say though I actually do see it as hopeless is I still do every single thing I can to not be part of the problem. My friend Jen once told me “you are the most hopeful person I know” and I said no Jen, I’m not at all, but it was my actions that caused her to say that to me.

  6. Biddlin

    Michelle’s goals, in this regard are laudable. Having been stationed at a land fill for many years, I have been a strong recycle/reuse advocate and even use recycled lubricants in my machinery. I also strive for green vacations. I use a quartz butane lighter, have had the same pipe since Barry Melton was a Fish and recycle my aluminum cans.

    ;>)/

  7. odd man out

    “While wandering a deserted beach at dawn, stagnant in my work, I saw a man in the distance bending and throwing as he walked the endless stretch toward me. As he came near, I could see that he was throwing starfish, abandoned on the sand by the tide, back into the sea. When he was close enough I asked him why he was working so hard at this strange task. He said that the sun would dry the starfish and they would die. I said to him that I thought he was foolish. There were thousands of starfish on miles and miles of beach. One man alone could never make a difference. He smiled as he picked up the next starfish. Hurling it far into the sea he said, “It makes a difference for this one.” I abandoned my writing and spent the morning throwing starfish.”
    Loren Eiseley

     

  8. Anon

    When I starting writing this columns I decided that I would focus on my choices and my behaviors, and purposely not judge or or criticize the actions of others, I felt there was to much of that already going on, and I didn’t see this as an effective way to create change.”

    Good for you Michelle.  Encouraging people to do something by setting a good example as opposed to trying to shame them into doing it is far more effective.  As the old adage goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

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