Zero Waste-ing Your Way Through Work Travel & Conferences

Happy Earth Month fellow waste warriors!

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be sent to one of the Nation’s leading organics recycling conferences, BioCycle West Coast in San Diego! While there, I gained some insight on how to "zero waste your way" around work travel and conferences. Here’s what I learned:


I don’t know about you, but when I stay in a hotel, I look forward to using the free amenities and items such as the fluffy towels and soft robes, free soaps and lotions, and continental breakfast… to name a few. As I’m trying to put a personal moratorium on plastic, I knew it wasn’t likely I’d be able to utilize the free soaps and hair care products as they often are in those teeny plastic bottles. However, I am an avid hand-washer and didn’t think to pack my own hand soap. The hotel-provided hand soap, in this case, was wrapped in plastic, and although I could’ve subsided on either my own shampoo or hand sanitizer I brought from home, I took the easy way out and used the plastic-wrapped hotel soap.

The interesting part was that although I’m three months into my zero waste year and am usually uber conscious about plastic, I unwrapped the soap without even thinking about it. It was instinctual to go straight for the soap when washing my hands. It didn’t occur to me until I’d broken the seal of the plastic wrapping that oh yeah, this is going to have to go inside my jar now. Whoops.  Lesson learned: bring my own hand soap when staying in a hotel, just in case.




Fortunately, when coffee is served at a conference held inside a hotel, there are often real cups and saucers offered. With this being the case, having your thermos on-hand may not be necessary, but here is where I had a leg up on everyone – because I had my 20 oz thermos, I could fill ‘er up and have a coffee supply throughout the day, and I didn’t have to be that person during a session making noise every time I put the cup back on the saucer. I also didn’t run the risk of spilling coffee on myself, because my thermos is closed with a lid, whereas a cup and saucer require both hands to consume and a certain amount of attention and awareness.. not the best situation when you’re scrambling for your cell phone or business cards. I could go on about the plethora of advantages of having your thermos at a conference. I am a self-realized coffee addict, I admit, so again, the thermos may not be necessary for all – but for me, this was key.


Although I packed homemade snacks and fruit for the trip, it was meals here that were a learning experience. Fortunately, the meals served at the conference were waste-free as all food was wholly consumable (no food scraps) and were served on actual plates with silverware. However, for dinner each night in an area where I didn’t know which waste-free take-out options were available like I do at home, I was forced to dine-in at restaurants. I suppose you could always ask the restaurant before placing your order what sort of take-out containers they use, but by the time I got to the restaurants each night, I was too hungry to play that game. The lesson here is to prepare your own food for snacks, crowdsource any friends you may know in the area for local waste-free take-out options, or simply opt to dine-in instead of take-out. Also, always bring a Tupperware container for any leftovers you may be unable to finish, and then you have a nice snack to pull out of your hotel room’s mini-fridge the next day!



Depending on the conference, you may receive a paper stick-on nametag, or the more formal paper-inside-a-plastic-sleeve option. Either way, I recommend bringing or re-using your own nametag. As you can see from the photo, I’ve kept every conference nametag I’ve received since entering the working world, including the one I received the last time I was at the BioCycle Conference, so I just re-used that nametag. Another option is to print out a general paper nametag and re-use a plastic sleeve you’ve received in the past.

There you have it! Some of the key takeaways from my recent work trip and conference experience now that I’m attempting zero waste. Hope these tips are helpful for you! Feel free to reply with tweets or Instagram posts the ways that YOU go zero waste during work travel trips.





P.S. Read more zero waste tip here

Madisen Gittlin