Let’s be real, the words, ‘zero waste’ or ‘plastic free’ can be rather intimidating and unrealistic to some as the concept just seems beyond reach. You can imagine how I felt going zero waste in Europe, it was daunting but I didn’t see any harm in giving it a shot! Along the way I thought I was pretty hard on myself and felt guilty many times when I was faced with plastic but I needed to remind myself that I’m new to this and I’m bloody human! So I’d like to point out that ‘zero waste’ is more like a goal, and it’s not all or nothing. We’re not perfect and let’s face it, being alive produces some form of waste one way or another, so it is impossible to achieve ‘zero waste’. It’s about creating a new lifestyle, this means it takes increments over time to make the lifestyle sustainable to YOU! So if you’re new on this journey, don’t be too hard on yourself if there are mishaps, instead celebrate the small steps 🙂
So without further ado I’ll go through my attempts to go zero waste in Europe, it was probably far from it but it was the best I could do with the resources I had. When backpacking you want to try and stretch your money as much as possible so having a zero waste approach will save you some money and the environment can benefit too. I’ll show you my zero waste kit that I put together whilst on the go and hopefully it’ll spark ideas for your own.
My on the go Zero Waste Travel Kit
Everyone is at different stages of this eco conscious journey and I just happened to start mine just before my partner and I picked up and left for Europe for 8 weeks. It was plastic free July and I wanted to take on this challenge and it sure was a challenge! I did not come well-equipped on this journey, no sustainable coffee cups, bamboo cutlery, stainless steel straw or anything of that sort, but I did manage to create my own version of a zero waste travel kit (most things we had already brought with us), it’s not perfect but it’s a start! It just goes to show you that taking part in the zero waste movement doesn’t have to mean buying new things, you can use what you already have – which is ultimately the whole purpose right?
These things included:
- Stainless steel water bottle and a collapsible bottle.
- Decathlon compact bag which we used as a grocery bag as well as anything else we needed to carry while on the go.
- A spoon (which I brought to scoop my coconut oil, but so glad it had other purposes too!)
- A collapsible container which we bought in a supermarket in Greece for €5.85. It served as a cereal bowl, leftovers storage, lunch box, take away purchases, pastries, cookies, bread rolls…It was such a versatile item and worth every penny!
Other optional things that helped with our zero waste traveling:
- Portable blender – so we could make smoothies in the morning or on the go whenever we felt like one we could just pop by a grocery store.
- Coffee – we made our own coffee in the mornings in a stainless steel bottle so we could carry it on the go. We could then re purpose the coffee jar for other nifty things!
How everything panned out on the road
Some of the countries we visited in Europe were relatively behind with the times and made it pretty difficult to not come in contact with plastic on a daily basis. I had the main 4 single use plastics in mind: plastic bags, plastic bottles, straws and cups. I’ll be honest, I can’t say I hadn’t bought any water bottles, used a plastic bag, straw or cup on this trip which made me feel guilty, but I can confidently say I definitely used them far less than I would have previously!
My health ultimately comes first and when tap water was no good to drink or I was dying of thirst at the end of a hike, I bought a water bottle. I did try to recycle the bottles wherever I could. Most of the time I was able to fill up my bottle before leaving home or finding a bathroom along the way to refill. I also downloaded this app called ‘Refill’ that allows you to find the closest refillable station and share the excitement if you found a one that hasn’t been included! It’s a pretty handy app! Other apps that have come out since include ‘Refill my bottle’ or ‘Tap’.
Drinks that I ordered from the restaurants automatically came with straws and it was too late to refuse by the time they came out (guilty). I tried to remember to refuse later on, but mishaps happen. It’s about creating a habit and being prepared, if I had my own reusable straw handy this probably wouldn’t have happened. So I’ve learnt from this since.
We either used our Decathlon bag for groceries or carried them if we forgot our bag, I became rather proud of my tetris stacking skills! It was beneficial to have 2 people as it made carrying things much easier. I would always choose to not take a plastic produce bag and use the paper bags wherever they were offered (only if I really needed it, like for loose grapes or mushrooms).
Just by being aware of plastic pollutants guided my daily choices. I indulged less in packaged treats, which is so hard for me because I am a sucker for chocolate and ice cream and there is a vast selection of chocolate and ice cream over in Europe. So whenever I had cravings for ice cream I would try to find somewhere I could buy it from a store and in a cone or I would go for the chocolate wrapped in paper instead. A tip I read somewhere was if you shake the block of chocolate (or whatever it is that is wrapped in paper) you can hear if there is plastic packaging inside, to avoid any surprises when you unwrap the goods!
Starting small and creating habits
I know that making these small changes seems very minimal but when I look back on the plastics I managed to dodge during the month by bringing my own carry bag for groceries, reusable cutlery, water bottle and container – I think I did all right considering the circumstances. Keeping in mind that this was coming from the perspective of a traveller – where one would regularly indulge in a cocktail or drink bottled water almost daily. Imagine if just one more person made these small changes…the numbers would double and could potentially triple, quadruple…..you get the idea. So together we can do this!
So that was the start of my journey, how did your zero waste journey begin? Or if your don’t think you’re quite there yet, what are your thoughts on zero waste? I’d love to hear from you, where ever you are on this journey.