Zero Waste Wins While Traveling

by Katy on July 8, 2014 · 24 comments

My family just got back from a four day vacation down to Ashland, Oregon to attend the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and tour Southern Oregon University. The trip was a graduation gift to our eighteen-year-old son, and was a deliberate choice for an experience rather than a thing. And just like when we’re at home, we try to minimize waste whenever possible.

We’ll never hit zero waste, but we try, baby. We try.

Our first Zero Waste Win (ZWW) was this toiletry dispenser in our motel room shower. I love how this smart looking contraption took the place of those tiny and wasteful little bottles synonymous with hotel bathrooms around the world. I know this is a cost saving measure for the fine folks at Ramada Inn, but often times the two go hand in hand. (Oddly, they also had the tiny bottles set out on the counter, but we just left those alone.)

We also put the sign on our door that we woundn’t need housekeeping services throughout our stay, as daily sheet changes are far from necessary. Do I wash my sheets on a daily basis when I’m home? Hardly.

Zero Waste Win!

Wall toiletries

We also brought our own water bottles and travel mugs. I hadn’t thought about how the motel would use disposible tableware for their deluxe continental breakfast. I hate, hate, hate styrofoam, so we simply reused the same disposables every day of our trip. Not exactly zero waste, but still better than getting fresh stuff every morning.

Zero Waste Compromise! (ZWC?)

Zero waste kitchenware

Summer in southern Oregon gives you many opportunities to refill your water bottle, and here I am partaking of a public water fountain in adorable historic Jacksonville. We also refilled our bottles at the end of every restaurant meal with lovely ice water.

Zero Waste Win!

Zero waste water

And no Non-Consumer Advocate trip would be complete without documentation of the many coins to be found on the ground. This 11¢ was found under a bench in Ashland’s Lithia Park.

Zero Waste Win! (Waste no free money!)

zero waste money

I loved the ingenuity of this porch rail constructed from old horse shoes. A perfect use for an otherwise useless object. Sure, people decorate with them, but this is actually functional, and takes the place of what would otherwise have been built with new materials.

Zero Waste Win!

zero waste horse shoes

Other random ZWW’s included:

  • We bought a couple pints of Ben & Jerry’s on our last night. We had one we didn’t even open, so I took it down to the night clerk since our in-room freezer wasn’t up to the job. He was very happy to accept his pint of Coffee, Coffee, Buzz, Buzz, Buzz.
  • My original idea had been for the three of us to see two different plays while down in Ashland. However, that plan would have been a real budget buster. (We paid $210 for our back of the theater Tempest tickets.) I did have a Chinook Book coupon for 50%-off two tickets for Sunday-Thursday shows, but the Sunday night plays were mostly sold out and I had my heart set on The Tempest. I didn’t want my coupon to go to waste, so I took it over to the box office on Sunday and gave it to a couple who were about to buy tickets. (Instead, we paid $21 to see a movie in the blessedly air conditioned historic Varsity Theater.)
  • We held onto all recyclable materials during our trip and brought them home to put into our recycling bin.
  • I handed back a few unnecessary papers to the admissions department at Southern Oregon University.
  • We didn’t buy even one memento or thing during our trip. We only spent money on transportation, entertainment and food.
  • I just paid our six-month garbage recycling bill, which we split with our next door neighbors. Because we both minimize our garbage output, we’re able to split the service which saves us each $168 per year.

Do you make an effort to minimize waste when traveling? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For loads more great information about zero waste solutions, make sure to check out Zero Waste Home.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen July 8, 2014 at 10:02 am

A couple of years ago I bought a set of bamboo utensils (fork, spoon, knife, and chopsticks) and a stainless steel straw. I wondered at the time if I was being ridiculous. I have to say though that I use them all the time. My kids and I like going out on picnics and we bring our lunch when we go to museums. I always have them in my bag.

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Katy July 8, 2014 at 10:04 am

I have a set of super cheap stainless steel with plastic handled silverware that I picked up at a “Stuff Swap” years ago. They’re used for school/work lunches, but I didn’t think to bring them on this trip.

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Jay July 8, 2014 at 9:24 pm

I have bamboo ones as well—so much lighter, and less bulky!

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Lynda D. July 9, 2014 at 5:24 am

I’ve had a stainless steel straw for about a year but after one use realized it is difficult to clean inside the straw. I’m not comfortable using it until I get that figured out. Any suggestions?

I’ve carried two items consistently in my everyday bag/purse. A swiss army knife for 30+ years and my TITANIUM spork (from Snow Peak) for the last 5 or so years. I use them regularly in all kinds of situations (lunch I bring to work, restaurants, take-out, picnics, food we pack for a car trip, etc). The knife I use to cut or spread food; as a can opener-especially when traveling; + all it’s other non-food uses. The spork I use – well – you can probably figure that out on your own :) Although, I will say that if you don’t carry a knife, the side of the spork can be used for some less challenging cutting needs.

I have these two items on a (non-climbing) carabiner and usually keep them hooked to a loop inside my bag.

I’ve given the sporks as gifts to my family and friends. They don’t use them as consistently as I do but any use is better than none.

Oh, and of course, my battered stainless steel water bottle.

Now if I could only break my napkin habit.

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Dawn July 9, 2014 at 5:42 am

Pipe cleaners will clean the straw. You can find these at craft stores or even the Dollar Tree. For really long straws I twist them together and then presto!

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patti July 9, 2014 at 9:22 am

The stainless steel straws on Amazon come with a miniature brush to clean them with.

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Diane C July 9, 2014 at 11:43 am

Sidebar – Do you know the word “spork” is not in the Official Scrabble Dictionary? It’s such a useful tool, I can’t imagine why it hasn’t been approved by the Scrabble rule makers!
P.S. I know this because I played it and my Soldier of Scrabble mother challenged it. Man, she is ruthless!

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Lynda D. July 9, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Dawn and Patti,
Thanks! I will check out both of these options.

Diane C.,
How can a word that is so much fun to say not be Scrabble worthy? I have even more fun saying titanium spork, especially in funny accents (ok – this may be TMI). Anyway, Scrabble needs to get with the program because sporks have been around for a century (and are sometimes called “foons”). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spork

Maureen July 8, 2014 at 10:12 am

Most hotels do not change the sheets everyday if you are staying more than 1 day. If you are staying more than 1 day, they have a little note that you can put on the bed and they will make the bed without changing sheets. Also if you hang up your towels that you used, they usually don’t swap them out for clean ones. However if you throw them on the floor, they will think you are gone and give you clean ones. Although every hotel I have stayed in, I get clean towels even if I do hang them up which does frustrate me. I mean they put the note there, why don’t they follow it?!?!?!

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Tracy Stone July 10, 2014 at 7:19 am

Yes, thank you for this. I always hang the towels up and they always give you new ones. Drives me crazy!!

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Alison July 8, 2014 at 11:05 am

We always hang our towels to reuse for a couple of days or more, and don’t have them change sheets too I often. I usually bring home paper and plastic bags, etc. Also when we go to the U.S. I find lots of places don’t take recycle plastic bottles, so if I am in the car I bring those back as well. We are off to Europe tomorrow, so it’s going to be a lot harder, as I will have only a small pack, and won’t be able to bring stuff home. I am taking my stainless water bottle with me though, as well as a cloth shopping bag. We recycle so many things here at the home, it’s going to be hard to see things going in the garbage.

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Katy July 8, 2014 at 1:11 pm

One thing we did do was to put any garbage into a single lined wastebasket. That way only one needed to be dumped and relined.

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Sarah July 8, 2014 at 11:56 pm

It depends on where you go in Europe, I guess. In Belgium, we are “sorting champions”. F.ex.: in train stations, you find garbage bins where paper-plastic-etc are sorted. Germany is also heavily into sorting. But in southern Europe, it’s a lot harder I’m sure.

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gabrielle July 8, 2014 at 1:52 pm

“I didn’t want my coupon to go to waste, so I took it over to the box office on Sunday and gave it to a couple who were about to buy tickets.”

I love that you did this. :)

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Gladys (The Pinay Mom) July 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm

When we go somewhere even for a short trip we also bring our little ice cooler and put water bottles and girls’ milk and next time we will bring paper plates with us too!

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WilliamB July 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I, too, wish that more hotels used those large dispensers. It makes sense for *everyone* involved.

When I travel, I take home the soap bars that I’ve opened. If I don’t use them in the shower I’ll use them to make laundry detergent, whereas the hotel will just throw them out.

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Diane C July 9, 2014 at 12:05 pm

LOL William. I always thought so too. Then I asked at one of the hotels where I was a regular. Turns out the maids collected all the used soap slivers and made their own soap at home. On the face of it, this could involve a little bit of ick factor, but since the soap is boiled in the process, I doubt there’s any real concern. “Selective squeamishness” as Amy D famously put it.

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Amy G July 10, 2014 at 10:40 pm

If the maids don’t want the soap, I hope the hotels consider doing something with it other than sending it to a landfill.

There is a charity called The Global Soap Project that recycles hotel soap for needy people in 32 countries. http://www.globalsoap.org/our-work/

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CW July 8, 2014 at 5:44 pm

We, too, gave our daughter an experience graduation gift. She rides horses and wanted to attend a jumping clinic. It was on grad weekend, but she managed to fit in both events. Oh, to be young. She said it was the best present, ever.
I, too, bring home any bars of soap that I open while staying at a hotel/motel.

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Jill July 9, 2014 at 6:35 am

Delurking to say that I am SO glad to hear that I am not the only one think about theses things! And while I have yet to find thrifting an enjoyable experience,I am uber waste conscious I too carry my own utensils, water bottle etc. I also am an avid food composter even though I live in a county that does not support it so I take it to friend’s that do have it King county also recycles a lot more plastic items (like sour cream lids) so I sort those out and takes those over with the composting, Cannot stand the thought of sending something to a landfill! I think I might have issues. :(

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Katy July 9, 2014 at 8:56 am

Imagine if everyone had your “issues.”

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cathy July 9, 2014 at 9:08 am

We have food allergies in my family so we don’t do restaurants and always try to stay places with a kitchen. On vacation a few weeks ago, we did that and ate all meals in. We took some hard-to-find foods with us in our suitcases, and then stopped at the grocery store as soon as we arrived. We packed food for the plane ride(s) in the kids’ lunch boxes (also included stainless water bottle, titanium spork, real napkin). On the trip home, we packed non- and less perishable leftovers (pasta, potatoes, fruit, aluminum foil) in the suitcases and perishable things (butter, cheese) in the lunchboxes. This might seem cheap to some, but was a frugal win for us as I knew we’d eat the food at home and I hated to “waste” our groceries. We gave some of the liquid leftovers to a friend who lives where we were vacationing and only left a little in the condo’s fridge. I’m not sure the housekeeping staff is allowed to take leftovers; if I’d planned better, I could have given even more to our friend. Luckily, we were able to take advantage of a good recycling program, so we had little garbage.
We live in a city that has light rail to the airport so we took advantage of that. It was also free for my husband since his work gives him a pass for public transit. Took our reusable water bottles and filled them at the airport–discovered our airport has (free) water bottle filling stations with filtered water!
Like you, we opted for experiences on vacation and didn’t buy any souvenirs.
While we flew this time, we’ve done the same thing (and more) on roadtrips. When the kids were little, we continued to cloth diaper them on vacation, even camping. Short trips: bring the (double-bagged) diapers home to wash. Long trips: hello Laundromat!

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Bellen July 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

Love your experience vacation. My grandkids are at Hershey’s theme park this week – they’ll remember it for about 2 months or until that What You Did on Your Summer Vacation paper. I think a big waste of money and not the typical vacation we took our kids on.

We keep a medium sized insulated lunch bag stocked with cheap stainless utensils, small kitchen knife, camper’s S&P with snap lids, bandanas for napkins, cleanup, etc. Also some plastic lidded containers and ziplock bags. Even if we don’t take our own food, we’ll buy it when we reach our destination and have the means to pack a take along meal. All containers, bags, etc get washed out and reused until they simply wear out.

About the dispensers at the hotel. Unless they had locking lids I would never use them – I simply don’t trust people not to add something to them – too many strange folk out there. When we travel we bring our own shampoos, lotions, etc. in small bottles – no waste and we know that the product will do what we want with no side effects. I’ve used hotel lotion that gave me a rash and shampoo that dried my hair out. Extra stress is not needed – it’s supposed to be a vacation.

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Mrs. GV August 2, 2014 at 7:59 am

We just did a cross-country road trip in June. My husband is very sensitive to any taste in his water, so we carried a Brita pitcher with us. Every night in the hotel we filtered enough water to fill up our reusable water bottles plus two or three quart Mason jars that we kept in our cooler. We keep the pitcher just for vacations and break open a new filter before we leave, then use it at home until it no longer works and we recycle it.

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