Friday, 11 September 2009

Green Travel- Pack in/Pack Out

by Badhuman

Cape San Blas, originally uploaded by earthdancerimages.

While I (N.) would love to be able to convince my boss to let me expense an Airstream like the one above I really don't see it happening. I think if I crunched the numbers it would be cheaper to purchase it instead of paying for me to stay in hotels 5-10 nights a month plus I would get a free (to me that is) airstream after a couple years but it's just not "the norm." It would be green, well relatively, I mean I could eat local and organic in it, use homemade cleaning products, conserve water etc but it takes a bit of fuel to get that thing around and convincing them to spring for solar panels would be impossible :).

In the absence of my own eco Airstream I'm forced to travel in rental cars and hotels rather frequently. Many times I'm in different places every night so it's hard to minimize the waste I generate. Hard but not impossible. I want to talk about the camping principle of packing things in and packing them out. Now that I'm traveling more I've realized there are certain things I need to bring. I bring my own towel and washcloth, my own coffee mug, my own soap, my own battery charger and GPS. Each own of those helps me be a little bit greener and generate less refuse.

By bringing a towel and washcloth I can make sure I'm using one that hasn't been washed in harsh chemicals and screaming hot water. Eventually I'd like organic cotton or hemp towels but my current towels work just fine so I'll use them until they are worn out and then repurpose them. It also means I use one towel instead of dirtying five towels in five different hotels, the same with the washcloth.

At home I don't drink a lot of coffee but on the road it's a neccessary evil and while I suppose I could carry around my own coffee maker to garuntee I'm using fair trade organic that's not really practical. At least having my own mug means I can get my day started without the paper and/or plastic to-go cups. I rinse my thermos out with hot water right after I've used it and then when I go home give it a soap and water cleaning.

The battery charger is just handy. Most of my work equipment uses batteries and I don't ever want to be in the position where I need to run out and buy nonrechargables at the store. The GPS is another nice to have and it does prevent me from printing out pages and pages of mapquest directions while also preventing me from inadvertently getting turned around and wasting gas and emissions trying to find the right road again. (This is especially helpful since I lack any sort of internal sense of direction)

My new "toy" is a hand cranked flashlight. It's made of plastic and was a giveaway from an oil company... but hey it serves as a light in the car or the hotel room so I don't have to turn on a light to find the bathroom or in case the power goes out.

Soap is an easy one and most of us bring our own toiletries anyway. The key is to leave as many things as possible untouched. You don't want to use the plastic in your hotel or the local restaraunt or the gas station if you can avoid it. Because once you touch it you are responsible for it, or at least that's the approach I'm taking now.

I try to "pack in" light but smart. I also make sure to "pack out" as much as possible. In hotels it's pretty easy to avoid using anything. Most of us bring water bottles (which I forgot to mention) so you don't need to use the plastic cups and we've already talked about toiletries. What is a bit harder is what you eat and drink. The key is to eat in as many sit down resteraunts as possible because they will use glass, real dishes, and real silverware. You don't want to go to a place with plastic and cardboard and heaven forbid styrofoam. You can go a step further and find local places that use local and organic ingredients or a step further still and, depending on the duration of your trip, pack all your food and dishes. I won't lie, I'm too lazy for this. I do keep a small stockpile of healthy snacks in my car for "emergencies." If I don't have time for lunch or know I'm going to eat late I can eat one of these snacks instead of heading to the nearest fast food place or gas station for a jolt of sugar and empty calories.

The reality though is you aren't going to avoid waste 100% of the time. So when you can't you need to be smart. I look now at the type of plastics that I use because Philly only recylces 1 and 2. If I fall off the wagon and buy a bottled soda then the empty bottle spends the rest of the week with me until I can bring it home to recyle. The same with the daily newspaper at the hotel. I could abstain but then they would just throw it out anyway. I'd rather take it home to my worms or at least to recycle. I know the idea of schlepping around recyclables isn't fun but it will certainly motivate you to use less things and its really not that hard. You stick it all in a bag and at the end of the trip into the recycle bin it all goes.

If we all followed these simple steps we could avoid creating more waste and the majority of what we created could be recycled or composted. Just because we are traveling or on vacation doesn't mean we should abandon our green principles.