Zero waste travel: Simple ways to start making a difference

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Over the past few years, like many, I have become very aware of my waste impact on the earth. Due to this, I started making small changes to my every day to lighten my footprint. I travel frequently by plane as well as work in an industry where sterility is vital, where at present we have to use single-use products or re-sterilised products with packaging. I quickly became aware that I need to be making changes outside of these areas in order to do my part and therefore began researching how to live a low waste lifestyle and be zero waste while travelling.

At first, I found the zero-waste movement quite intimidating and had no idea where to start, but I have found the best way is gradual. Changing one or two things every so often, the process may be slower but I found I quickly become more aware and the whole process just turned into my every day. I gradually I built up my zero waste travel kit, to make it more affordable, in fact, most of the items transition so I use them in my everyday life at home as well.

I am by no means ‘zero-waste’ yet, in fact, I believe at present it is still impossible to be, but I am trying as much as possible to be low waste in order for my footprint on earth to be as minimal as possible.
if we travel plastic free we helping to avoid furthering beaches look like this.

My zero waste travel essentials

Bamboo or metal straw

A really quick and simple one, swap your single-use straw for a reusable metal or bamboo one. You can pick them up for really cheap now. Ensure you purchase a straw which comes with a pipe cleaner for your hygiene. I also suggest popping it in water with a Milton tablet every so often to ensure it is extra clean. Straws are such a quick and easy change to reduce your waste, just pop it in your bag when on your travels and at home, and be sure you do ask for no straw when you order your drink.

Bamboo utensil set

If you are a big fan of street food when travelling you may want to think about purchasing a reusable utensil set over a using disposable plastic cutlery, which will often be handed out with your meal. Again, they are easy to wash and pop in your bag, most come within a cloth pouch as well. They can also be used at home for your work lunch as well.

Shampoo and conditioner bars 

I now feel awful about the number of travel minis I have picked up from Superdrug over the years, purely for convenience over anything else. Now I have switched over to shampoo and conditioner bars from Lush, not only are they low waste, but they also last for multiple trips so, in the long run, I will be saving money.  You can also purchase a tin to store them in and they take up less room in your luggage.  I do not currently use these at home, but I may change soon, at home, in an attempt to combat my waste, I purchase the industrial hairdresser sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner. My theory behind buying in bulk, means I am buying far less often and in turn creating less waste.
lush shampoo bars are a great alternative to mini travel bottles

Looking for more ways to save space when packing? You can find my smart packing tips and essentials guide here.

Deodorant blocks

Again, just a simple thing to think about. We all use deodorant every day, so a simple switch to a deodorant block over the traditional roll-on or spray can really start to make a difference. Again I would recommend Lush for this, but there are other brands around however I have yet to try so, therefore, cannot comment on their efficiency.

Bamboo toothbrush

I have a separate travel toothbrush to the one I use at home, so for my spare, I purchased a bamboo toothbrush over a cheaper plastic one, not only is the actual product plastic-free, it comes in recyclable paper packaging unlike the traditional toothbrushes from the store. If you are choosing to purchase a toothbrush, be sure to buy a bamboo toothbrush with hard bristles, as most I have found come with soft bristles which are not great for cleaning.

Reusable make up pads

If you remove your make up at the end of the day you most likely use cotton wool pads or make up wipes. Not only are these not very cost-effective they produce a lot of waste. I found out about these reusable makeup pads through my friend Ellie, now I am a massive convert and will not be going back. Once they are all dirty, if I am away I wash them in the sink with a bit of soap and hot water or if I am at home I just pop them in the washing machine with a load of washing. I think this is a really easy but massive change any person who wears makeup on a daily basis can make.

Related post: Eco-friendly products you need to help you travel more sustainably

Tote bag

At home, most of us carry around a material tote bag with us for purchases so why would you not carry one with you when you are on your travels. They take up no luggage room or weight and are perfect for carrying purchases abroad, just as you would at home.

Water bottle

At home, I use a metal water bottle but this is quite heavy, a lighter alternative is a Nalgene water bottle for when you are travelling. Staying hydrated is essential for our health but as much as possible avoid buying bottled water when abroad.

If you frequently travel to countries where it is suggested you do not drink the water, you may want to consider investing in a reusable bottle with built-in filter straw. Lifestraw have the best reputation for filter straws, which are proven to – remove minimum 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria, 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites, and filters to 0.2 microns; surpasses EU and EPA filter standards. It removes E. Coli, Giardia and Cryptosporidium oocysts, and many other waterborne contaminants. 

If you are going to purchase a filter straw, do not skimp for a cheaper option, invest in a good product and brand to protect your health.

More airports are now providing refillable water stations, to find out which UK airport are you can follow this handy guide.

Coconut oil 

Coconut oil is known for its multiple uses so when travelling, particularly if you are going for a substantial amount of time, I would suggest packing a jar. It can be used as a face and body moisturiser, a conditional hair mask and even on sunburn. So if it works well for you, a jar of coconut oil can potentially replace multiple items in your travel kit.


Simple tips for low waste travel

  • Remember to always take your own headphones on a plane instead of using the complimentary ones. For hygiene purposes these are obviously not reused and they always come in a plastic package.
  • Reuse the plastic liquids pouch from airport security. Please do not get a new one each time. At present I believe these are the only bags they allow you to place your liquids in, I use the same one each time and leave it at the bottom of my case so I do not misplace it for next time. If anyone finds an accepted, alternative to these bags please let me know.
  • Where possible look into alternative methods of transport, I recommend using the website Rome2Rio which lists all possible routes and transport methods when travelling.
  • Where allowed do not print boarding passes, use your phone or tablet.
  • Choose a Kindle or e-reader over a purchasing books, if you prefer books, ensure you recycle or donate them to a charity shop after reading. Also, consider buying your books from a charity shop rather than new.
  • Reef-Safe Sunscreen:  Help preserve that reef by wearing reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen when you go swimming or snorkelling. Many sunscreens are not reef safe and contain chemicals which are harmful to the reefs and the creatures which live in them. Reef-safe suncream is formulated to be safe to the oceans. Some places such as Mexico and Hawaii will not let you in the ocean without a reef-safe sunscreen, and if you are on an organised tour will check, so invest in a decent, safe suncream.
  • For smaller trips, instead of purchasing a new tube of toothpaste, decanter some of your one from home into a reusable travel bottle.


Making the change towards a low waste lifestyle, especially when on your travels, does not mean being perfect, it means being aware. I found small steps made it more achievable, and now these options are inbuilt into my everyday routine.

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