Throw-away culture is alive and well on the road. Speed and efficiency is of utmost importance when we are on-the-go, but if you do not consider leaving a trail of trash in your wake to be efficient here are some tips for practicing zero waste while traveling!
1. Be Prepared: Most of what you will be trying to get on the road is food, fast. Know what you like to eat on the road and stock up on it in the most zero waste way possible. In the days before your trip spend some time cooking, you can make fruit leather, jerky, crackers, granola and trail mixes. Spend some quality time in the bulk section of your local grocery store to stock up on snacks. It is kind of like preparing for a long hike except you can bring a cooler to keep things fresher.
2. Gear up: Make sure you have what you need to take care of yourself on the road. Bring your own to-go containers: a primary one that is the right size and shape for the amount of food you usually eat each meal as well as a couple of back-ups for compost, left-overs, sides and whatever else might come up. Other important tools to consider are eating utensils, small towels for napkins and car spills, reusable and packable bags, plenty of reusable water bottles, a hot thermos if you are a coffee or tea drinker (try to get one that is sealable to avoid spills), and cleaning supplies for your gear.
3. Use your space wisely: Setting up crates, or large bins in the trunk that are always accessible ensures that you are not constantly packing and unpacking the car. This is also super helpful if you are collecting recyclable and compostable material to ensure it gets handled the right way.
4. Carmpost: Not everyone has access to a composting facility. The best way to ensure your food scraps stay out of the landfill is to take them with you. This can be tricky in a car that you are going to spend a lot of time in. If you are going to have the compost on you for a week or more I suggest the following: find a large, sealable bucket or bin for your scraps (we used a big plastic pretzel tub), put it inside a cooler or something else equally sealable and drape a towel over the top. This keeps the bin from stinking or fogging up the car. Composting food generates a ton of heat!
5. Look carefully: While gas stations are usually filled with some of the heaviest packaging and unrecyclable material out there you can often find some gems! Look for fruit baskets near the cash register or prepared, hot food if you are in a pinch. Use your trash goggles to evaluate what is recyclable and what is not.
6. Take stock each night: Keeping your space neat, or at least decently organized is key! When you stop for the night take stock of anything that needs to be tidied. Do you need to sort your recycling? Do you need to clean your containers or freeze your ice packs? How clean are your towels?
7. Know your resources: When you stop for the night know if you will need access to a freezer, dishwasher, washer/dryer/drying rack, supermarket, kitchen, compost and anything else that will help rejuvenate your gear and resources.
8. Technology is your friend: The chain restaurants that cluster around the sides of the highways with hundred foot signs are usually not able to accommodate your zero waste needs due to strict regulations. Either use a smart phone, try to plan your stops ahead or be prepared to explore off the beaten path to find smaller, locally owned cafes or specialty markets that will be able to take the time and care that zero waste requires.
9. Communicating your mission: Recognize that you are asking food service workers to divert from the norm of their work. Explain that you are trying not to create any trash and you would really appreciate their help. Be sensitive to their concerns and try to work with them toward a solution.
10. Be flexible, find a balance and share your experience: We are working to change a system that requires us to engage in rapid disposable consumption. This is a process. Take what you have learned and use it to inform your personal life as well as your zero waste work.
Be in touch with us! We love to hear about people taking on new challenging zero waste projects and trying out their own zero waste road trip. To take a line from the lovely folks at the People’s Climate March: “To Change Everything We Need Everyone!”