Is it Possible to be Plastic-Free on the Road?

Trash (L)After reading Eco-Warrior Princess’ post “Could You Live Plastic-Free?” a response to living without plastic in order to stop polluting the oceans, I had to ask myself if I could do the same thing. Living a life in transit and temporarily moving home, I thought it might be possible. However, after seeing the plastic packaging from groceries and having limited options for plastic alternatives in a small town, I began to think otherwise. Then, an answer arrived when Jennifer Nini of Eco-Warrior Princess announced the Plastic-Free July. Immediately, I signed up, the day before my family’s epic road trip to see National Parks and Historic Sites in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Originally I planned on giving up the top four: plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway coffee cups and straws. Unfortunately, I signed up the day before I left, which didn’t enable me to make many adjustments ahead of time, but I still felt determined to give it a shot. Here are a few things I’ve learned about plastic and my future plans for handling this material:

Bowtie Pasta (L)Plastic, I found, is incredibly difficult to avoid while traveling. Plastic provides convenience, a concept I found as I stored each of my jewelry projects I brought in individual small Ziploc bags. Although I was able to avoid takeaway coffee cups and straws pretty well and had my own reusable water bottle, plastic bags were the hardest. Even though my family was fairly good at using our supply of fabric grocery bags for storage and shopping, a small amount of plastic bags still made their way into our travels. I also found recycling is not always available everywhere you travel to, making it hard to find where to recycle those plastic cups of iced coffee while at a pit stop.

Dog copyI’m not alone in realizing how much plastic is integrated into our lives. According to the Plastic Industry Trade Association, the plastics industry is the third largest manufacturing industry in the United States. The plastics industry also accounts for more than $374 billion dollars in annual shipments. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) points out that in 2013, 33 million tons of plastic waste were generated and only 9% of the waste was recovered for recycling. During this year the United States also made 14 million tons of plastics as containers and packaging, about 12 million tons as durable goods such as appliances, and almost 7 million tons as non-durable goods.

So, what can be done to reduce plastic waste while on a road trip? Here are a few ideas I had:

  • Use individual cloth grocery bags to separate recycling from trash and recycle when you find a place on the road or return home.
  • Keep cloth grocery bags stored in your car so you can use them for all kinds of shopping (grocery store, market, restaurants, etc.)
  • Know what plastics you can recycle. The numbers on plastic materials indicate the type of plastic. Numbers 1 and 2 (soda and water bottles, medicine containers, detergent and shampoo containers, coffee cups, plastic cutlery) are easier to recycle. Numbers 3-6 are less commonly recycled plastic items (wrapping, grocery and sandwich bags), so check to see if the local recycling center takes it. I’ve also read reports that Number 6 is also the most difficult to recycle and is unsafe for the environment, which you can read about HERE.  And last, Number 7 or no number usually means the item is made of plastic that is the hardest to recycle and most likely not accepted at recycling centers. Do your best to purchase items with plastic that is easier to recycle.
  • If a restaurant or store gives you a package of plastic cutlery, clean and keep all of the used and unused plastic silverware for later.
  • Pack utensils so you won’t have to use plastic. My mom found a great way to store a cutting knife in a box of crackers so that we could store and use it to cut apples, cheese, and other snacks. We continually washed and cleaned it to use over and over again.
  • Find a reusable drinking bottle to fill up with water instead of buying bottled water at stores or gas stations along the way.
  • Carry an insulated mug to refill and hold your coffee throughout your trip.

These are only the beginning of a few ideas. I’m not sure it is possible to completely have a plastic-free road trip, but with a few conscious steps to reuse and recycle the plastic items I do have, I can reduce my plastic waste.  In the meantime, I’ll be researching more options to reduce the use and waste of plastic while I travel.

For more information, consult Plastic Free July’s website and “How to Recycle Different Types of Plastic” from Earth Talk of About News.

What suggestions do you have to reduce the use and waste of plastic while traveling?

This post is a part of Sustainable Sundays hosted by DIY Danielle and Just Plain Marie.

Join me on Sustainable Sundays! #sustainablesundays


  1. Agatha

    My hubby and I were discussing this too. We were on a road trip in Asia and (due to water quality issues) decided not to bring our water bottles but to buy bottled water instead. If we were travelling in the US then I don’t think it would have been an issue!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I can see why you would purchase water bottles, and I’ve done so when I’m traveling in many developing countries. I have seen water bottles with specific filters, but I’m sure they’re unfortunately not available everywhere. So, I guess you do the best you can and recycle the bottles you do buy. Hopefully there will be more options throughout the world for re-useable water bottles with filters or another answer will be available.

  2. Jennifer Nini

    What an informative post! I will have to share this because so many of my eco friends are travelling at the moment. I love my KeepCup and it comes with me everywhere as well as our reusable bottles. It really is all about being mindful and vetoing any plastic offered to you and planning ahead and ensuring you have your own items with you. My partner and I have picnics and this is what we do, just bring our own food in reusable containers, picnic rug and utensils from home and we can just enjoy the day hanging out. No waste, minimal eco footprint 🙂

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Hi Jennifer,
      I’m glad you enjoyed my post. I know there is still a lot to learn about alternatives to plastic, but as you said, it’s about limiting use, planning ahead, and making sure to re-use plastic you do have. Even food containers for things like sour cream, butter, or other items can be cleaned out and used over and over again for food storage. Although my water bottle is a plastic Camelbak, I continually use and will see if I can recycle it once I can no longer use it. One suggestion also mentioned sending back plastic containers to manufacturers to let them manage it. I’m not sure if that will be effective, but it’s a thought.

      Thanks for visiting and sharing my thoughts! Please let me know if you or any of your friends have additional ideas. I can’t wait to hear what you’ve found during Plastic-Free July!

  3. ming

    This was an interesting post. It’s not something I think about, but I can say I definitely notice when places don’t offer recycling, so maybe I think about more often than I realize. I wish more places offered easy opportunities to fill up your reusable water bottle. I also have been noticing how much food is wasted in travel. Often we order too much and can’t take leftovers with us. Something to be conscientious of to avoid just throwing things away.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I definitely agree about wasting food! There’s places I’ve stayed that don’t have refrigerators and like the rest of my family, we all hate to throw away left overs. Having smaller portions in restaurants would be helpful not only for health reasons, but environmental as well. Great ideas!

  4. Skip The Bag

    This is very timely! My husband I will be traveling next week and I hope to minimize our trash/plastic waste while we travel. Thanks for sharing the good ideas on the #sustainablesunday linkup!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      You’re welcome. Let me know how your travel goes and what you learn about reducing plastic waste while you’re on your adventures!

  5. Taylor-Made Homestead

    Ugh, I’m with you – plastic is so hard to eliminate from your home. I’ve recently started thinking about the trash (plastic or otherwise) that seems to follow when one is traveling. Those “breakfast is free’ hotels are our faves but that breakfast is usually pretty trash heavy. I’ve started bringing two cloth napkins wrapped around two forks & spoons for RancherMan & me to use when we’re on the road. And of course we use our insulated mugs for coffee & juice. But I no longer use their complimentary bottles of lotion, shampoo & conditioner and instead bring our favorites from home to use. There are sometimes many ways to cut back if you just think outside the box. Love this post, Thanks for sharing! (Stopping by from the Sustainable Sunday Blog Party)

    ~Taylor-Made Homestead~

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I’m so glad you enjoyed my post and shared several of your own tips for not wasting and over-using plastic. I’ll keep what you said in mind too! 🙂

  6. Danielle @DIYDanielle

    Great tips! We try to bring our reusable water bottles everywhere with us, particularly on airplanes. Thanks for linking up to #SustainableSundays!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      After participating in Plastic-Free July, I saw how easy it became to always remember to take reusable water bottles. It’s such an easy step to incorporate and makes such a huge difference!

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