The Trash Pitfalls of Travel, Firsthand

Mat and I just returned from a pretty full-on week of travel abroad.  This being our first trip since I began trying to reduce my waste, I made an effort to prepare for the journey.  I bought some dried fruit and nuts in bulk, which I carried with me in my own container.  I had my water bottle to fill before boarding the plane, and my bandana to use as my napkin/paper towel/handkerchief.  I also brought a few carry bags to stash in my purse, in case we ended up doing any shopping while we were away. 

Cute though my efforts now seem in hindsight, I soon realized that these meager preparations were insufficient for our jam-packed itinerary, which went something like this:

  •         Bangalore to Paris by air
  •         Paris to London by train
  •         London to Manchester by train
  •         Manchester to Cardiff by train
  •         Cardiff to Pembrokeshire by car
  •         Pembrokeshire to Swansea by car
  •         Swansea to London by car
  •         London to Paris by air
  •         Paris to Bangalore by air

I took for granted how many opportunities there are in the course of one vacation to create trash.  Airplanes alone are a huge pitfall.  The beverages are almost always served in plastic cups, with paper napkins, any food and snacks are served in plastic or plastic-fused-with-metal packaging, and the plastic cutlery is packaged in a plastic wrapper.  So essentially, if you don’t bring your own food and beverage on board, you’re going to create a small mountain of trash just by accepting the free meal that’s offered you.  On a 10 hour international flight, this creates a challenge.  Though I did bring snacks for Mat and me, hunger for something substantive motivated me to partake of the airplane food which was 1) nutritionally not the greatest and 2) left me feeling pretty guilty about the amount of waste I left on the tray which I passed back to the flight attendant. 

Train travel was also beset with opportunities to make waste.  It didn’t even occur to me to bring my own food on the many trains we took.  I had planned to fill my water bottle before we boarded, but the water fountain, the only source of filtered water in the station, was broken, so I had to buy a plastic water bottle to quench my thirst. The only food options on the train were all packaged in plastic, and again, probably not the healthiest choices.  Let this be a lesson to me to always plan ahead and bring food on train journeys so that I’m not forced to buy nutritionally devoid, plastic packaged foods, and to always fill my water bottle when I have the opportunity.

On our flight home, I was determined not to eat the airplane food.  I stopped at a healthy takeaway restaurant in Charles de Gaulle airport and bought a bulgur wheat salad, which came in a plastic tin which I brought home, washed, and stored with the rest of my Tupperware (yes, it’s plastic, but it’s better than sending it straight to a landfill, right?).  I bought an apple (package free!) and some yogurt in a glass bottle which I have also washed and will reuse.  I was given a paper napkin and plastic cutlery, which I brought home with me and sorted into their appropriate recycle piles.  I also bought an orange juice in a plastic bottle, which sadly I left behind on the plane and is probably headed to a land fill.  I brought my apple core home and added it to my compost bin. 

The flight attendants looked at me like I was nuts when I said “no thank you” to the free dinner, but I felt better for having eaten something healthy, and for knowing where the waste in front of me was going to end up. 

So I improved my habits from our outbound journey to our inbound one, but on our next trip I will be even better prepared with (more of) my own food from home, and my own cutlery.