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zero waste travel: tips at the airport

zero waste travel: tips at the airport

Written by Local Time

This is the third post in a five-part series on how to travel zero waste.

Airports are waste powerhouses because they are geared toward zero inconvenience, not zero waste. This doesn’t mean zero waste is inconvenient, but that convenience usually means more waste.


In an previous post, this is what a travel wellness revolution looks like, we noted why Norway’s Oslo Airport has amassed accolades for having the world’s ‘greenest airport terminal’ (soon to be the first energy positive airport city). Now, we’re witnessing a hopeful trend toward airports willing to go plastic free: Dubai’s International Airport and World Central Airport pledged in June that both locations would eliminate single-use plastic by 2020. Meanwhile, 16 airports in India went plastic free in 2019, including the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, which annually receives some 70 million passengers.

Until this sustainable trend becomes the standard, cultivating a zero waste mindset at the airport requires summoning this trio of zero waste mantras: Reduce, Refuse & Recycle. Here are some helpful tips to habituate when you’re facing down a layover.

When you’re checking in:

  • Refuse a printed boarding pass (yes, again!). As soon as you approach the check-in counter, specify that you do not need a printed boarding pass – because you have yours on your phone. Airline staff will often reflexively print tickets if you check a bag.

When you’re thirsty or hungry:

  • Refill your water bottle at a water fountain or refill station after passing through security.
  • Refuse a cardboard or Styrofoam coffee mug – instead, ask your server to pour that hot drink in your reusable mug.
  • Refuse single-use plastics such as straws, stirrers, sauce packets, sugar packets, etc.; choose the reusable option; or go sugar/sauce free if you can manage.
  • Refuse the extra paper napkins – thanks to your pre-trip prep [link to blog 2] you can use that reusable hand towel.

When you make any purchase:

  • Refuse receipts if you don’t need them. Remember receipts are covered in a plastic BPA film that is a carcinogenic and hormone disruptor – they’re bad for the planet and our bodies.
  • Refuse the plastic or paper bag for your purchase in favor of the reusable bag you’ve stashed a reusable bag in your carry on.

When you need to pass the time:

  • Refuse the urge to buy that magazine, get online instead and subscribe to the digital version.
  • Refuse to buy that language book; instead download the Duolingo app and start practicing the local language spoken at your foreign destination.

And of course, when you do have to throw something away, make sure it ends up in the right bin! Most international airports now provide separate bins for recycling, compost and waste.

*Extra savvy zero waste traveler tip: If you have a favorite restaurant that you notice over-packages its food, write them an email or tag a social media post asking them to offer more zero-waste solutions!


Up next in our zero waste travel series: your in-flight how-to guide

Stay tuned for the next tips guide in our five-part series, posting next week. In case you missed it, view the first posts in our series:

1 zero waste travel: how to create a zero waste mindset

2 zero waste travel: how to pack for any adventure