Blog #6: Smart Travel
While traveling, I often find myself having to say some iteration of #sorrynotsorry to my travel companions. It's usually necessary when I search a city’s cafes looking for places with a water fountain, or at the very least, scour them to find water served in a can or glass bottle, then carry empty water containers with me all day until I find a recycling bin. Unfortunately, I'm sure it is the same for many of my fellow eco-travelers.
For those that can justify the jet fuel emissions to take a jaunt abroad, the numerous environmental issues that are coupled with travel make site-seeing as a greenie (or with one) more difficult than it should be.
Since this is a blog about food, I want to focus on the issue of food and packaging in airports and on planes in this travel edition.
I recently found myself packed and prepared for a trip to Paris; I thought I'd done my eco duty by following my trip tips and tricks (enclosed below), only to be thwarted by the discount airline I chose and its flight attendants.
With local, organic, vegan wrap in hand, and my filled reusable water bottle and utensils, I boarded the plane. But when it came time for later meals, I saw no choice but to accept the plastic utensils, single-use plastic cups, and plastic-encased vegetarian meal provided.
Why, you ask? First, if I didn't accept my fated meal, then all the food and careless packaging would've gone to waste, solving no problems and leaving me hungry besides.
Second, plastic utensils were provided inside the meal. Inside the package with no way to return them. How then, could I refuse the plastic in any way without also refusing the food? The only solution I could see was to pocket them for "future use" to soothe my qualms with the second “R”: Reuse.
Third, despite my deliberate requests for water IN my water bottle, I was offered MINI plastic cups instead during my 10 hour journey. Every time I asked for water, the flight attendant proffered a new cup - per regulations. These rules are supposed to protect the health of other passengers, but filling a used cup feels no worse than getting a beverage refill at the soda machine. Am I right?
Fourth, the flight crew treated the waste like a necessity: cups are passed around, then collected, and dispensed. Repeat. In fairness about my point above, there was a water bottle filling station on board for use by flight attendants only, but not one of them mentioned this until I walked up to the galley requesting water from one that empathized with my quest.
This is hardly the first time I've encountered a flight crew's lack of wasteful woes. So, is it self-selection? Are greenies avoiding fields in which they have to encounter wasteful habits, only perpetuating the problem? Or are the flight crews remnants of former eco warriors made cold and demoralized in the face of such unavoidable and unsustainable waste?
I don't have the answer. But I do know that the quandary in which I find myself makes doing the right thing that much harder while traveling. And I think that needs to change.
You may not be able to tell one airline to stop giving out mini peanut packets in non-recyclable packaging; or another to stop using new mini plastic cups for one time use; or yet another to stop giving you a napkin every time you order a drink, but you can do a few simple things before any trip to add ease to your decision making and lighten your footprint.
First, buy those reusable bamboo utensils. You will not regret this (unless you lose them; then you'll definitely regret losing them). You might not be able to use them on the flight, but they will definitely come in handy when you find yourself at an adorable cafe or with baguette, cheese, and no knife. You can even use them to eat sushi because they come with chopsticks. Every time you use them you will be reminded that you are using one less plastic utensil. And even better, you will attract attention from most people around you, so be sure to tell them how much you love them and where to buy them. This is how to make every little thing count!
Next, go to a grocery store with bulk bins and go wild (with your reusable produce bags, of course). I like to make my own trail mix by mixing and matching items in separate bags and combining when I get home. With this, I reduce my packaging waste by not needing to buy that mini airport trail mix or accept that very mini peanut bag on the plane. I also reduce my food waste because I don't have to buy the premade trail mix with 6 nuts I like and 1 I really don't, meaning I leave them to the end, and I can't pass them off on anyone. I pack my trail mix in a larger container and bring a purse-sized one along with me for easy snacking during a museum day at the Louvre or hike to Sacre Coeur. Easy replacement for protein bars in non-recyclable packaging.
Next, I bring my reusable napkin with me. It will last way longer than those toilet paper-thin napkins they pass out with every meal and can double as a blanket if you get cold during the flight (probably not, but maybe).
Next, I always fill my water bottle before boarding. This is a must.
For shorter flights, pack your own lunch in a Tupperware. Not only will you eat exactly what you want while saving money and reducing plastic, you'll also have a handy storage container which is perfect for picnics or leftovers while on your trip.
Follow these tips and you'll rack up some easy eco points to carry you through your adventures.