“Take only pictures,
leave only footprints”
but not carbon footprints…
Traveling offers endless opportunities to live new experiences, connect with different cultures and make memories that last a lifetime. We get a lot from the places we visit. But how much do you think about what you leave behind?
The maxim for many of us who venture in the outdoors is,
“Take only pictures, leave only footprints.”
Meaning, we should limit the negative impact we have on the places we go – especially when it comes to litter. But what about the impact of the carbon footprints we leave behind?
Typically, we associate carbon footprints with carbon emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels when we drive or fly; but our trash is also contributing to carbon emissions.
When we travel, one of our biggest waste contributions is packaging from the items we buy in transit.
Several years ago, I did a little experiment here in Chile: For 30 days I photographed all of the garbage I packed out from the wild places I explored. In those 30 days, I packed out nearly 2,000 pieces of trash. Guess what about 95% of the waste was?
In many ways, packaging waste can be inescapable; whether you’re strolling down the fashion district of New York City or cycling through remote villages in Indonesia, chances are you’re going to buy something at some point, and that something is very likely going to come in a package.
Package-free products always take the cake – fresh produce from a farmer’s markets, nut butters and dry goods bought in bulk with reusable jars and bags, unpackaged books and clothes that only come on hangers – yes to all of this and more please! But of course, it’s not always possible for products to be sold package-free; whether it’s to maintain freshness, ensure a longer shelf life, and/or to protect the product from damage, package-free options are not always realistic, especially in less developed countries where there is often less variety to choose from.
Here’s a few simple strategies to keep in mind for reducing the carbon footprint of your packaging waste when you’re in travel mode:
- Skip the single use serving size packs: These items are rarely packaged in materials that can be reused or recycled and are meant to go straight to the landfill.
- Avoid products with excess/unnecessary packaging: eg., choose the tube of toothpaste that’s sold as-is, rather than the toothpaste sold in a cardboard box. Or ever better, choose zero-waste toothpaste.
- Avoid the worst environmental offenders: eg., Styrofoam and PVC (check for the number 3 at the bottom to identify!).
- Consider the source of the packaging materials: If it’s cardboard or paper, is it FSC certified or made from recycled material? If not, its production could be contributing to deforestation of endangered forests. Learn about forest-friendly materials at Canopy Planet's Ecopaper Database.
- Know before you throw: Waste management systems vary vastly between countries, so even if a product is packaged in recyclable materials, the country, state or local municipality you are visiting may not be equipped to recycle it. Investigate how the waste systems work in your travel destinations to dispose responsibly. Helpful Apps include: iRecycle (USA), RecycleSmart (Australia), My-waste (Worldwide).
The packaging for products we love is mostly out of our control – but we can control what we buy and whom we’re supporting with our dollars.
In addition to making conscious purchasing decisions that reduce the waste we leave behind, we can look for ways to influence the companies making these products. It’s easier than ever to connect with brands and retailers to voice opinions and give feedback about the packaging they use.
We're seeing some hopeful signs that big players in the travel industry are listening – including hotel brands to airlines acting to curb plastic waste – which gives us further evidence that This is What A Travel Wellness Revolution Looks Like.
Do you have a product you love that comes in packaging you hate? Pause to write the company (this needn’t be a lengthy letter but a brief post on social media). Ask what they are doing to innovate their packaging to offer more options for reducing consumers’ personal carbon footprints. The most powerful way to influence broader change begins by caring enough to change our own behaviours first.
Learn more about Local Time’s journey toward low impact packaging, as told by co-founder Reinier Halbertsma.
Written by Greta Matos