7 Simple Tactics for a Trash-Free Road Trip

Notice I didn’t use the term “zero-waste” in the title. I would feel a little ridiculous writing about a road trip to Tahoe—an entire tank of fossil fuel away—and then saying, “Look at me! I brought my own fork!” I think twice before I travel these days and I haven’t flown this year, although I will fly to Canada in August to see my mother and take my daughter MK back to university.

When you do travel, you can take many steps to eliminate your trash pretty easily, especially if you travel by car.

1. Make icegiant ice blog

Whether you camp or Airbnb it, you’ll need ice. Avoid plastic bags of ice by making giant blocks in a stainless steel bowl. Let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to melt a teeny bit before sliding it out. A large block takes longer to freeze—and longer to melt—so plan ahead and make your block early, perhaps when you book your lodgings. The block in this pic lasted an entire 4-day camping trip last year. We needed ice for the road only this past weekend, so I made ice cubes in advance and used those. Simple.

2. Bring your pantry with you and eat out less

bring the food 1

We cooked breakfast and dinner at the house we rented and ate lunch out. I brought a bunch of jars of food from home (steel-cut oats and toppings; loose-leaf tea; granola; olive oil); produce in my reusable cloth bags (I did buy some apricots at Whole Foods with stickers on them rather than at the farmer’s market, sans stickers); a way-too-large watermelon; prepped vegetables in glass; homemade hummus; sausages I bought in a container; a bottle of milk; and a few bottles of homemade kombucha. For more on zero-waste shopping, check out last week’s post.

3. Compost

Just because you’ve hit the road, doesn’t mean your compost pile’s resident critters should go hungry. If you brought a bunch of jars, once empty, they double as compost transporters home. I intended to take a pic of my compost jar before I dumped it but felt too bleary-eyed by the time we arrived back home Monday night.

4. Borrow stuffborrow stuff

We don’t camp or travel that much and in our 960 square-foot home, I avoid wasting space storing a bunch of gear we rarely use. I borrowed this cooler for the trip. This past Christmas, I borrowed ski gear. You can rent just about anything you need—bikes, tents, roller blades, cars for that matter.

5. Bring reusable water bottles, utensils and napkins

The lack of water fountains just about everywhere makes you wonder if Nestlé, à la GM and streetcars, has paid retailers to tear out all fountains in order to force us to buy their bottled water. When restaurants and cafés do provide water, they also generally provide only disposable plastic or plastic-lined-paper cups to go with it. Reusable water bottles are a travel must. We didn’t run into any plastic utensils on this trip.

6. Go easy on the souvenirs

cookie monster

7. Plan ahead for bringing home what you don’t use

plastic fail

For some reason, I thought five of us would polish off a 20-pound watermelon in a weekend. I suppose I could have strapped the toddler-size, 16-pound remaining melon into the back seat, but I really would have needed a baby seat and with the baby now age 14, I haven’t owned one for years. So I wrapped it in a plastic bag my friend had brought and put it in the trunk. I think wasting a giant watermelon (and all the water consumed to grow it) trumps the plastic waste. I hate situations like this. When we go to Calaveras Big Trees State Park later in the summer, I’ll bring a very small watermelon!

The bike path at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe
The bike path at Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe
Calaveras Big Trees
I’ll continue to refine these practices on our next trip to the Big Trees later this summer

13 Replies to “7 Simple Tactics for a Trash-Free Road Trip”

  1. Great tips! I love being able to make breakfast when I travel and then eating out for a lunch/dinner type of meal, though I never really considered bringing my own ice or bringing napkins and utensils. Hope you enjoyed your trip 🙂

    1. Thanks Chris. The trip was great. I like being able to make breakfast too. It’s easy to do, tastes delicious and costs less.

  2. 🙂 How is the drought situation up there? I am wondering about the high Sierra, between Mount Whitney and Yosemite. I love those mountains.

    1. Hi Aggie, we had a couple of downpours while we were up there. The rain is probably welcome but I don’t think it helps the ice pack this time of year, and that’s what’s most important from what I understand. Are you near the floods? I hope not!

  3. in what type of container do you do your iceblock when tipped out of the stainless steel container………thank you for telling me.
    andrea from the Old House in Kingsland B&B Hereforshire UK

    1. I just plop it right into the cooler and arrange things that should stay dry (like glass containers that might not be leakproof) on top of things that can get wet (like bottles). Food that can’t get wet and doesn’t need to stay cool can go into a cloth bag or another cooler without ice.

  4. We do most of this already – although I don’t carry our compost home, as the smell can be an issue. I have several reusable ice packs I like to throw in the cooler in lieu of ice, so that we don’t worry about ice on the way home.

    1. Oh, I hadn’t thought of ice for the way home. I made everyone polish off my kombucha because I didn’t have ice for the cooler. I’ll have to make it when I arrive next time. I had those reusable ice packs years ago but I’m not sure what happened to them (or my cooler). We were gone for only a few days, so the compost didn’t have a chance to get smelly 🙂

  5. Great post! I love the idea of bringing pantry items when you travel! Growing up we always went out for breakfast on trips, but now I make fancy oatmeal while we camp on trips and everyone gets excited for the new flavors we come up with out of the cupboards!

    1. Thank you! That’s such a smart way to cook whether you’re on the road or at home. I ate steel-cut oatmeal on this trip for my breakfasts. I stirred in a spoonful of almond butter and topped it with all sorts of goodies. No two bowls are alike! I had it easy though, I was in a rented house. Next time I go camping, I’ll try making it over the campfire. Thanks for the idea 🙂

  6. […] me suis inspirée de quelques articles, mais surtout celui-ci (en anglais) : « 7 trucs faciles pour un voyage sans déchets». Équiterre a également rédigé un article avec des exemples concrets de démarches pour réduire […]

  7. I think the the t-shirt says cookie monster 🙂 The 7’s are o’s and there’s two of them below cookie where the o would be, the = are e’s

    You’ve all probably figured this out in the year since this post though :p (I’m working through your whole blog and really enjoying it)

    1. Thank you for the translation Mandy (makes sense!) and for working through my blog. I’m happy you’re enjoying it 🙂

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