Plastic pollution is a global problem, and no matter where in the world you might be, tourists are responsible for the way they leave destinations, especially in locations where waste management infrastructure isn’t overly prevalent.
“Take only memories, leave only footprints” Amirite? SO! This is where the zero waste movement comes into play…
The whole purpose of the movement is to avoid waste from polluting the natural environment, ending up in landfill or being left for locals to manage, whilst also encouraging a circular and regenerative system. I know that ‘zero waste travel’ might sound overly daunting, but it’s definitely achievable with the right preparation and attitude. It’s not necessarily about “zero” waste, it’s more about “minimal” waste and reducing wherever possible.
Today I’m here to talk specifically about zero waste travel in Nepal. I recently returned home from a 2-week trip where I managed to successfully travel majority trash-free, and today I’m here with everything you need to know!
And remember, all of these tips can be applied no matter where in the world you might be… Let’s get started!
TOTAL WASTE PRODUCED:
In 2 weeks, the only plastic waste produced was 4 plastic straws (more on that below) and a couple of packets of snacks. This might not be perfect for some, but I don’t believe in perfection so it’s a huge success for me!
Here are the items that helped me achieve that:
MUST HAVE ITEMS
You don’t need to have a whole lot of products in order to master zero waste travel. These are the 6 items I had that helped me travel around Nepal predominately plastic-free:
You will probably have a few of these products around your home that you can use without buying anything new (remember re-use what you already have first), but otherwise, here are the brands of products that I carry with me on all of my trips.
Senda Essentials Stainless Steel Bottle and Wooden Cutlery Set, the LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle, theotherstraw Bamboo Straws, and a fold up tote bag and coffee cup from brands that are sadly unknown.
Fill up your water from water stations
Reusable bottles, water filters, purification tablets or boiled water are going to be your best friend!
Nepal sadly has some of the most polluted water sources in the world, and because of that, the majority of tourists resort to buying bottled water. It’s understandable, yes, but it’s not necessary!
I travelled around Nepal for 2 weeks without using a single disposable bottle, and this was done just by refilling my reusables in hotels and restaurants that had filtered water or a kettle. It might not be possible everywhere you go, but 95% of the time it’s definitely doable – even in the mountains!
If you are travelling remote and don’t have access to filtered water, investing in a filtration system or a steriliser is a great place to start. You can also use iodine tablets to clean the water too. With a sturdy purifier, a bit of resilience and determination, you will be able to travel anywhere in the world without buying plastic bottles.
Choose glass over plastic
If you’re craving a soft drink or a quick sugar kick, there’s a very easy way to avoid plastic waste… In Nepal, most of the soft drinks come in either a glass or a plastic option. The plastic bottles are sealed and disposable, and the glass bottles are sent back to the factories and refilled.
I know that may sound a bit sketchy, but honestly… I drank a few on extra hot days and could hardly tell the difference. If anything they just tasted slightly less fizzy, but still the same as expected. I also never got sick so you can trust my word on that too!
This will save endless disposable bottles and will encourage a circular system too; win-win!
Ask for ‘no straw please’!
Straws are the one thing that I struggled with the most. The language barrier made it understandably difficult, and often when I would ask for no straw, I still received one… And that’s ok!
If this happens to you please don’t get mad at the staff. That is incredibly rude, not helpful, and totally goes against what responsible travel is all about. When people don’t understand, remember your privilege, choose to let it go and just say thank you instead.
My method of reducing waste in this situation was by bringing the straws back with me so I could dispose of them responsibly. But you can decide what you do in that situation!
Hand over your reusable bag
Instead of trying to explain why you don’t want a plastic bag, the easiest and kindest way to communicate this is by having your bag ready and kindly handing it to the staff, or opening it up for them to place your purchases in. 99.95% of the time the locals will smile and hand you your belongings with absolutely no worry!
Bring your own toiletries
Avoid the complimentary mini toiletries that are supplied in hotel rooms and choose to bring your own instead. Regardless of whether you use shampoo/conditioner/soap bars, or fill up small containers with your own liquids, this will save a whole lot of unnecessary waste from accumulating throughout your trip.
Try to eat as much of your meal as possible
A simple and easy sustainable travel tip… When eating out in restaurants, reduce your waste by trying not to leave an abundance of wasted food on your plate. Who knows where it’ll end up? I certainly don’t, but I sure know it won’t be composted.
This is a difficult one for me, mainly because I have a small stomach and can’t physically consume a lot of food at once, but trying is all that matters, right? Do your best!
(Being Vegan in Nepal is another great way to reduce your impact, and it’s quite easy too.)
Take your trash home with you!
No matter whether you’re going on a tourist trip or trekking through the Himalayas, being mindful of your waste is incredibly important. Mount Everest has now been labelled “the highest garbage dump in the world” due to tourists carelessly discarding their waste and leaving without care…
So, if you live in a country that has a strong recycling/waste management system, my advice is to carry any of the plastic waste you produce and take it home with you. I live in Australia where our soft plastics can be recycled through the REDcycle program, so I carried home my small amount of plastic waste to be recycled rather than leaving it for Nepal to deal with.
This is obviously only possible for those that are actually going home and not to another destination. And if you’re a nomad that could be even more complicated, but hey… Try your best!
Book NO MEAL on the flight and bring your own food
It’s not as simple as just bringing your own food and asking not to have your in-flight meal… The meals you are given on the plane are made specifically for each passenger and cannot be used on any other flight. So, if you choose not to eat it, it’s just going to be thrown away; food, plastic and all.
If you would prefer to bring your own zero waste food, do ensure that you request NO MEAL prior to your departure. If that’s not an option, the best thing you can do is eat as much of the food that you can to reduce waste, and then bring home the single-use plastic to be correctly recycled. It might seem like a hassle, but I did it… And it took up hardly any space in my bag and didn’t add any extra weight!
Use your reusables on the plane
Flight attendants are generally very accommodating… If you hand them a reusable product and kindly ask them to fill it with water or a drink of your choice, they will happily do so without batting an eyelid! I was able to avoid all single-use cups by using my mug and water bottle, and I’m sure you’ll be able to do the same.
Zero waste air travel isn’t easy, but it can be done!
FORGET ABOUT PERFECTION
The biggest zero waste travel tip of all… Have a forgiving heart! Make sure you enjoy the travel experience without putting yourself or others down for the waste they produce. No matter whether you’re in Nepal or on the other side of the planet, there will be times where trash is unavoidable. Whether that be for the sake of your own health, or just because you want to… It’s more than ok!
Be kind. The fact that you’re aware is already an incredible start ♡
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