Tips on how to have a zero-waste road trip
We hit the road for a spur of the moment, mini-vacation to Florida (you only live once, right?), and wanted to do our best to have a zero-waste drive down to the sunny south.
It is easy to generate waste during long drives. Frequent stops at gas stations for a fill-up usually result in the purchase of a couple (likely wrapped) snacks, a bottled drink, and maybe a few fast-food runs. When I was a kid, endless snacks were a necessity to get my brother and I through those long, monotonous drives. Now, I view long road trips as an exciting adventure! Especially when you have friends, some good jams, and endless podcasts to get you through.
We want to share some tips on how we tried to keep our roadie as zero-waste as possible and some of the things we learned along the way.
Half the fun of a road trip is getting to indulge in snacks that, on an average day, you likely wouldn't treat yourself to. Gas stations are the perfect place to succumb to those sweet and salty cravings. Unfortunately, those snacks usually come with a price (not only in the form of money). Chips, trail mix, chocolate bars, cookies, even pre-prepared fruits or veggies all come wrapped in some form of plastic that is harmful to our environment. We wanted to avoid having to buy snacks, and decided to pack our own! We filled up some reusable stacking tins with veggie chips and pistachios, and opted for some homemade peanut butter cookies and almond butter energy balls to bring along with us! Here are a few things you can easily pack in a cooler to keep in the back seat or trunk of your car for whenever you need a little pick me up:
Homemade cookies or muffins (the options are endless!)
Fruits and Veggies (avoid the pre-prepared stuff)
Peanut Butter (good for sandwiches, or by itself)
Homemade trail mix (buy some nuts and dried fruit at your local bulk food store and make your own mix)
Bring some jars to your local bulk food store and hit the candy aisle
When you're thinking of snacks to bring, opt for things that you can make yourself and avoid buying things that are wrapped! If you're heading to a different country, make sure you check what foods you can and can't bring across the border.
2. Bring Your Reusable Bottle(s)
It's important to stay hydrated (and energized) on long trips! Make sure to bring your reusable water bottles with you. Some gas stations have water fountains you can re-fill your bottle up at, or ask your server when you stop at a fast-food joint or restaurant to fill it up for you! If you're someone who drinks juice or pop, consider bringing a second reusable so you can avoid buying the bottle.
A few coffee stops were required to help get us through the long drive. We made sure to fill up our reusable mugs in the morning (taking advantage of the free coffee at the hotels). We also stopped at a McDonalds along the way for a re-fill, and they were happy to serve us in our personal mug! We recommend avoiding drive-thru's when possible because they don't always accept your reusable mug, or they prepare your drink in a disposable cup before pouring it into your own mug.
We can't help that food is an essential part of any road trip. When you can, avoid ordering take-out and opt to eat at a restaurant instead. Take-out often means your food will come in plastic containers, with sauce in plastic packaging, along with plastic utensils, and maybe even a plastic bag. Treat yourself to a sit down meal at a local diner or restaurant when you can. We hit up some good local restaurants for dinner in the small towns we stayed overnight in. You never know what secret gems you might stumble upon!
It's hard to avoid fast-food stops every now and then. When we needed a quick meal for lunch we stuck to Subway because we found it to be the most eco-friendly option. Subway wraps your sandwich in compostable paper (even the cookies come in compostable bags....so treat yourself!). Just remember to ask for no plastic bag when you get to the check out!
If you're in the mood for a hamburger and fries, we recommend hitting up an A&W if there is one near by. As far as a sustainable fast food restaurant, A&W is a good way to go. They have adapted sustainable food practices, and are committed to reducing the amount of waste going to landfills. On top of this, they are continually working towards reducing their energy consumption, and making changes to help preserve water.
If you're not craving either of these, just be mindful of the food you order and what it comes wrapped in. Opt for places that wrap your meal in paper instead of plastic, and use your reusables!
4. Miscellaneous Necessities
Bring along a couple reusable Tupperware containers, you never know when you might need one! If you find yourself stuffed to the brim and unable to finish that delicious meal you ordered, you'll be happy to have a container to take your leftovers on the road with you. Even some gas stations have self-serve areas where you can grab an on-the-go hot dog or cookie that you can put right into your container. We stopped for some Dunkin Donuts and were happy to have our Tupperware container with us to put them in!
Bamboo or stainless steel reusable cutlery is a must-have while on the road, especially if you're one to hit up fast-food joints. We want to avoid all those plastic utensils that come with take-out meals (they're the worst!). Don't forget your re-usable straw also, I take that thing everywhere! When you sit down at a restaurant, remember to make it a straw-free table.
We'll admit to having a couple slip-ups along the way. After our first long day of driving we sat down for dinner at a restaurant and forgot to ask for no straws. To our dismay, water was served to us in a glass with a straw (*que facepalm).
5. Carbon Offsets
With every road trip comes the inevitable carbon emissions. We decided to explore some options for offsetting our carbon emissions this trip, because even though we tried to keep the trip as zero-waste as possible, we couldn't help but feel guilty for the amount of driving we were doing. We found a website called Carbon Footprint, where we were able to put in the total distance we travelled, vehicle type, mileage, etc. which was then used to calculate our CO2 equivalence (CO2e). We travelled 4800 kilometres round trip in a Chrysler 200. Our total carbon footprint was 1 tonne of CO2e, which we then rounded to 2 tonnes to account for the additional driving we did while in Florida. From there, we were able to choose from a variety of carbon reduction projects in which our carbon offset would go towards. We decided to support a reforestation project in the Great Rift Valley in Kenya!
We expected the price of offsetting our emissions to be a lot greater than it was, so we were relieved to find out that it only cost $26 to offset 2 tonnes CO2e (not bad considering the distance we travelled!). The prices did range between the different carbon reduction projects, so that is something you can consider if you decide to offset your own carbon emissions. It is a great way to help tackle climate change!
Although our road-trip wasn't 100% zero-waste, it was definitely a big step for us in our journey towards living a more sustainable lifestyle. We challenged ourselves while becoming aware of the things we need to work on most (*cough* straws *cough*). Our mistakes, in a way, helped us learn how to transform our intentions into habits.
Next time you hit the road, whether its for 2 hours or 20 hours, take a few minutes to think about how you can make your trip a zero-waste one! If you have any tips send them our way, we're always looking for new suggestions and ideas on what we can do!