Each year, millions of tons of plastic end up in the ocean — it’s the terrifying reality. But it’s not too late to make a difference, both at home and while traveling. While air travel, in particular, is one of the more environmentally problematic modes of transport, it’s oftentimes unavoidable.
So, the travel and tourism industries are taking steps to reduce the use of plastics — especially single-use plastics. For example, hotels around the world have gotten rid of plastic toiletry bottles and airlines have emphasized reducing the amount of plastic used to wrap headphones and blankets.
And travelers themselves can do their part to reduce their plastic use too. In fact, it’s easy to take action with a few key tips and tricks. Here are some of the best ways you can use less plastic when traveling and the best items to help you do so.
Keep your hands clean with a refillable hand sanitizer
$25 at Nordstrom
Hand sanitizer is a must when traveling, but those tiny plastic sanitizer bottles aren’t great for the environment. Enter Noshinku’s refillable hand sanitizer set: a large, eco-friendly pouch of sanitizer with a small, TSA-approved refillable spray bottle. Use the pouch to refill the smaller bottle whenever needed. The paraben-free sanitizer, which comes in scents like Lavendula and eucalyptus, is made from 70% organic sugarcane derived from alcohol, which keeps your hands clean, soft and healthy.
Travelers who are extra dedicated to sustainability can participate in the brand’s Terracycle program by mailing six or more empty products back to Noshinku (or via the Terracycle bin at participating Nordstrom locations) for 20% off their next purchase.
Brush with a biodegradable toothbrush
$12.99 $8.99 at Amazon
Brush your teeth with ease knowing that keeping your smile fresh and clean doesn’t have to pollute the earth. Bamboo toothbrushes are sturdier and last longer than plastic options. In fact, this Isshah four-pack of brushes can last you a full year. And since they’re biodegradable, you know that once you toss this toothbrush, it won’t end up in a landfill for centuries. Even the packaging is biodegradable.
Pack your own cutlery
$14.99 at Amazon
Ditch all those plastic forks, knives and spoons that come with takeout and instead, travel with your trusty Boao Bamboo cutlery travel pack. Each piece of this four-pack comes with a bamboo fork, knife, spoon, pair of chopsticks, straw and trusty cleaning brush all wrapped up in a cute cloth storage bag you can tuck into a suitcase, carry-on or even your purse.
Using this set, you’ll never need to use plastic forks and spoons when you’re traveling. And if you’re ordering takeout from your hotel room, you won’t need to wait for the hotel to send you actual silverware either.
Save space in your suitcase with solid shampoo
$15.99 at Amazon
Savvy packers who also want to do their part to save the planet should consider Ethique solid shampoos. This small shampoo block can take the place of bulky plastic shampoo bottles in your suitcase. The vegan and cruelty-free shampoo bar comes in various scents and forms, from options for frizzy hair to oily hair, even shaving bars and unscented conditioner bars too. Each bar is good for up to 80 uses, meaning it can last you for several vacations.
And for the perfect holder to transport your shampoo or conditioner bar, you can pick up the draining Ethique bamboo carrying case too.
Take a reusable laundry bag
$11.95 at Amazon
Never bother with a plastic bag for your dirty laundry again with this reusable laundry bag. The Miamica portable laundry bag is tiny and can easily be packed up and fit in your suitcase when zipped. When you’re ready to fill it with dirty clothes, just unzip it and fill it with up to a week’s worth of dirty laundry using the drawstring closure. Once you’re home, throw your laundry — and the bag itself — directly into the washer.
Bring a silicone bottle set for toiletries
$25.99 $14.98 at Amazon
Forget all those tiny plastic travel bottles and instead refill these Teapile leakproof silicone bottles with your favorite products to take along in your suitcase. Using reusable silicone can help you avoid using small plastic bottles and also save space in your luggage.
The four small bottles, which are designed specifically to avoid spillage with a three-layer top closure, are made of soft, malleable silicone and hold up to 89 milliliters (3 ounces) of liquid. The bottles come with small labels so you’ll never forget which one has soap and which has shampoo, and all fit nicely into a special compact carrying case. The pack also has two toothbrush covers and three small jars apt for things like face cream.
Stop buying plastic water bottles
$36.95 $34.95 at Amazon
This flexible, shatterproof and leakproof reusable bottle folds up when not in use, taking up less room in your backpack or carry-on when traveling. Refill it whenever possible to avoid buying plastic water bottles. Or, if you’re in a destination with non-potable water, you can buy large jugs instead of smaller plastic bottles to refill your Nomander bottle.
This water bottle comes in several color options and has a sturdy lid with a spout cover. It also has a carry strap you can use to hold the bottle when open or attach it to a travel backpack.
Say no to plastic straws and use your own
$6.99 at Amazon
Plastic straws are thankfully becoming more difficult to spot on the road. While many restaurants and bars in sustainable destinations offer metal or paper straws (and you can always decline a plastic option), you might as well be prepared with your own, especially if you love to sip your drinks out of a straw.
Doboli’s collapsible stainless steel straws are made from sustainable materials, complete with a telescopic design small enough to snap onto your keychain or backpack when closed up. Each straw comes with its own cleaning brush long enough to reach even the furthest parts of the straw to keep it fresh and clean.
Tab instead of tube when it comes to toothpaste
$11.99 $7.99 at Amazon
Forget plastic toothpaste tubes. Instead, consider Hello toothpaste tabs. They're small whitening toothpaste tablets that do everything toothpaste does like remove stains, plaque and tartar, all while whitening teeth and freshening breath.
The tabs do all this without the waste of a plastic tube, coming in a reusable tin. Or slip just a couple of tabs into a reusable pouch when traveling for just a weekend, making this not only a sustainable and vegan product but a space-saving one too. Each tin comes with 60 tabs, which is enough for 60 brushes.
Avoid plastic bags
$19.99 $16.99 at Amazon
Many states — and even countries — have started charging extra for plastic bags at shops and stores. Some destinations have even banned them altogether. Be prepared with your very own tote, which can double as a camera bag, dirty laundry bag, carry-on luggage, diaper bag or anything else you might need it for.
BeeGreen’s six-pack of reusable tote bags are rip-proof and waterproof, easily folding up into small squares when not in use. The bags are also washable and can hold up to 50 pounds for those heavier purchases or larger loads of groceries.
Skip the face wash and use a wipe instead
$26 at Amazon
Skip the plastic bottle of face wash and instead travel with these biodegradable face wipes from Ursa Major to exfoliate, hydrate and cleanse your skin. These wipes will give you that added feeling of refreshment whether you’re on a plane, at the beach or in your hotel room.
Not only will you avoid carrying a heavy face wash in your bag, but you can also rest easy knowing that these wipes are free of parabens, fragrances, silicones and other harmful and toxic chemicals. They’re biodegradable and contain natural ingredients such as aloe to soothe skin, willow bark to hydrate and sugarcane to brighten your face for an all-around healthy glow.
Stay at hotels that work to eliminate plastic
Make informed choices about where you’re staying when you travel by choosing a hotel dedicated to reducing plastic. For example, Marriott and Accor Hotels have worked to eliminate travel-size toiletries. Accor is also working to use other materials besides plastic for things like key cards, laundry bags and cups. Hyatt Hotels has also reduced single-use plastic amenity bottles and water bottles.
Six Senses properties are working to become plastic-free by the end of 2022. Many boutique properties around the world have also worked to eliminate plastic use as well as commit to eco-friendly waste management or energy consumption. When it comes to selecting your hotel or lodging option, make sure to check if the sustainability commitment of your chosen accommodation matches your own.
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