Zero waste travel: Far North Queensland

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Recently, our little family of three (husband, toddler and myself) headed to Far North Queensland for two weeks.

It was the first proper holiday we’ve had since going zero waste and I knew I would have to be super prepared to ensure we stuck to our new routines.

When you immerse yourself in the zero waste lifestyle at home, it can be somewhat of a shock when you leave your little zero waste bubble.

Shock is certainly what I felt as I sat on the plane and I looked around at all the single-use plastic items being foisted onto passengers.

Dozens and dozens of single-use coffee cups, plastic cutlery, water bottles, stirrers, food individually wrapped in plastic; on that flight alone countless kilos of rubbish would’ve been generated. Now think of how many flights took off that day all around the world…

I knew zero waste travel was going to be tricky, but I underestimated just how many challenges we’d encounter. Here are the five ways we made zero waste travel work for us.

In transit

We were due to fly to Cairns at 9am, so the night before I carefully prepared my son’s breakfast and snacks for the flight in his glass containers, and added some fruit for my husband and I to a reusable bag.

Of course, in our rush to get out of the house on time I left them in the fridge, didn’t I? Not off to a great start!

This meant by the time we arrived at the airport said toddler was demanding some food. Very specifically, he wanted cantaloupe, which he’d spotted in one of the airport cafes (that unfortunately was in a plastic container).

I had a spare container in my carry-on luggage so asked the cafe if they could reuse the plastic packaging if I didn’t take it. Of course they couldn’t. I did at least remember to bring my KeepCup and a beeswax wrap so I was able to grab some toast and a coffee without the packaging.

We were already up one plastic fruit tray… and we hadn’t even left the state yet!

On the plane

As was to be expected, onboard the flight passengers were being offered food and beverages all in single-use packaging.

While in my pre-zero waste days I would’ve enjoyed a cup of tea (complete with takeaway coffee cup, plastic stirrer, paper napkin, coaster, single milk portion and teabag) and some cheese and crackers (in single-use packaging), my husband and I politely declined the refreshments and thanked our lucky stars we weren’t on a long haul flight.

(With Qantas launching the world’s first zero waste flight last month, we can only hope more airlines catch on.)

When booking our flights we paid for carbon offsetting, although these schemes do have their limitations.

While the money passengers pay for carbon offsetting is directed to carbon offset projects such as tree planting or renewable energy projects, it doesn’t eliminate the carbon dioxide produced by a flight from entering the atmosphere.

Even so, I still think it’s worth purchasing the offsets… every little bit helps, right?

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Accommodation

One of the easiest ways to stick to a zero waste lifestyle while travelling is to stay in accommodation with a kitchen and shop in a similar manner as you do back home.

That way you can control the food you consume, reuse leftovers and try to limit your food waste and packaging.

We stayed at an oceanfront, serviced apartment, which meant we could eat a lot of our meals in. When we did eat out, we took along our containers in case there were any leftovers (always the case with a toddler in tow).

Food

The week before our holiday I researched organic produce delivery in the area (we were going carless for the fortnight so I needed to have the food delivered to our accommodation) and discovered The Healthy Hub.

A bulk food store located in Cairns that sells fresh biodynamic and organic produce, as well as dry goods (like pasta, bread, nuts, etc), meat and dairy, according to their website, The Healthy Hub is “committed to sustainability and reducing the food miles and carbon footprint of the products we stock”… music to my ears!

After speaking with the store’s owner, Alison, about our zero waste needs, she assured me that everything would be sent with as minimal packaging as possible.

All of the fresh produce was delivered in a box without plastic produce bags, and items like oats, chia seeds, nuts, coffee, etc were in brown paper bags (which we later took home for our worm farm).

Unfortunately, the milk, bread and meat were in plastic. We would usually buy our milk in glass bottles, bread from the bakery using a cloth bread bag and meat from our butcher which we wrap in tea towels.

The fresh produce at The Healthy Hub.

The fresh produce at The Healthy Hub.

Toiletries

In my pre-zero waste days, whenever I was packing and worried about forgetting something I would remind myself that I could always just buy whatever it was I’d forgotten once I arrived at my destination.

Obviously, this isn’t as easy to do when you’ve committed to a zero waste lifestyle so I triple checked my zero waste beauty bag before zipping up the suitcase.

Pre-zero waste I also used to love using the mini sets of toiletries provided by whichever hotel I happened to be staying at (the Bulgari ones were always a fav).

This time around, I made sure to gather up all of the complimentary toiletries as soon as we arrived and left them at reception for housekeeping, so there wouldn’t be any confusion about whether they had been used or not.

Zero waste travel: How did we do?

All in all, I think we stuck to our zero waste lifestyle while travelling pretty well. Some things were easy (buying our daily ice cream fix in a cone instead of a cup!), others were harder (the hotel didn’t have a compost bin so our food waste had to be disposed of in a regular bin).

One thing that did strike me is how quickly old habits can feel completely foreign, and even unsettling.

It really pained me to throw out all of the food scraps that would ordinarily be going to our worm farm or bokashi bin, and I found the use of single-use packing on the flight super depressing. Only a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have thought twice about either of those things.

It just goes to show how adaptable humans are to new ways of doing things and gives me hope that as more people adopt a zero waste lifestyle, it will simply become the new norm.