In my perfect #zerowaste, zero pollutants world, airplanes would emit nothing but good vibes into the air. But in reality, you gotta get to where you’re going somehow, and for many, flying is the best option.

Living your best zero waste life is about realizing that not every industry is perfect, but it’s about doing what you can within restrictions to lessen your environmental impact.

When it comes to flying, there are so many conscious decisions and steps you can take to be as kind to the earth as possible.

Book direct flights if you can.

During the flight, fuel is emitted most during takeoff and landing. The less flights you take, the less takeoffs and landings, the less fuel emissions that are seeping into the air.

Also, here’s a helpful guide to fuel efficiency broken down by airline.

Offset your emissions.

Some airlines – Delta, United and JetBlue to name a few – offer you the option to purchase “carbon offsets” that essentially take the carbon dioxide emissions you’ve contributed to as a passenger out of the air through a variety of ways such as planting a tree.

Take note though, airlines don’t always make it obvious or offer the option during the ticket buying process. You may have to navigate to a separate sustainability program page after purchasing a ticket – but a little extra internet browsing is definitely worth lessening your carbon footprint.

Pack lightly and efficiently.

The more cargo a plane is carrying, the more fuel it will need to use, emitting more carbon dioxide into the air. Though the majority of the weight of the plane is from the plane infrastructure itself, every little bit counts. Most of the time we pack up to what we’re allowed (raise your hand if your suitcase is often sliding in at 49.5 lbs), even if we don’t need to bring that many items with us. Make it a goal to get everything you need into one carry-on suitcase, and one personal item.

Here are some packing tips to help you:

  • Pick a neutral color palate for outfits. The goal is to bring items that can all be worn with each other as to maximize the amount of outfits you can wear with as little clothing. Sticking to a palate of black, white, tan and gray is a great way to ensure this. 
  • Bring layering items. Wearing a thin t-shirt under a sweater will allow you to wear the sweater more often without it getting smelly.
  • Don’t bring anything you don’t wear on a daily basis. If you don’t wear it at home, you most likely won’t wear it while traveling.
  • Wear your bulkiest clothing on the plane to make room in your carry on.
  • Bring “dual purpose” items – a scarf that doubles as a blanket, a coat that doubles as a pillow, etc.
  • Say “no” to travel-sized items if you can. Try these alternatives instead:
    • Use a shampoo bar and/or bar soap in a tin travel case instead of mini bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash. 
    • Try reusable cotton poufs and olive or coconut oil (which can easily be borrowed or purchased when you get to your destination) instead of single-use makeup remover wipes.
    • Make some toothpaste ahead of time (here’s my recipe) and bring it in a small glass jar or steel container instead of a mini tube of toothpaste.

A day or two before you leave, go through your perishable food.

If you’re leaving for a week or more, scan through your fridge and pantry for perishable items and see how you can preserve them.

  • Lots of veggies? Roast a big batch of them and then freeze them.
  • Fruit? Peel, chop up and freeze for smoothies in the future. Make sure to compost any peels or scraps.
  • Meat – wrap in paper and freeze for eating later.
  • If you have anything else left, give to your roommates or neighbors who might be sticking around.
  • Compost anything else.

Put your home “to sleep” before leaving.

Unplug anything in an outlet. Even if it’s not “on” – for example, a lamp with a switch – simply by being plugged in, energy is being pulled from the outlet. Give yourself time to scan your whole home.

During the colder months, it’s recommended to not turn the heat completely off as to avoid your pipes freezing and bursting, but to set your thermostat to 50 degrees to conserve energy, and save you money on your heating bill.

Pack snacks for the flight + bring a reusable water bottle + reusable coffee cup + travel utensils.

Airport food is notorious for being overpriced, and many snacks will come wrapped in single-use plastic – avoid this by bringing your own zero waste snacks. It’s not hard, all it takes is a little preparing! Produce bags filled with pastries, fruit, bulk snacks like nuts or granola or a sandwich are a great option. 

Don’t forget to bring a reusable water bottle – make sure to drink the contents before going through security or keep it empty. Fill it up right before your flight at a water fountain or if you can pop into an airport bar and kindly ask the bartender to fill it up for you. That way, you can stay hydrated during your flight without having to drink out of a plastic water bottle on the plane since there won’t be drinkable running water. 

And if you’ve got a long travel day ahead and plan to grab a cup of coffee at the airport, bring along an empty reusable coffee cup in your carry-on to use instead of a single-use paper cup.

Don’t forget to bring along a travel set of utensils like these ones made of bamboo. They’re great if you’re staying at a hotel and complimentary breakfast only has plastic cutlery.

Wear layers for the flight.

The temperature of a flight is one of life’s great surprises – so come prepared for both extremes. Wear light layers and items that can double as pillows and blankets to avoid having to use an airplane pillow or blanket that comes wrapped in single-use plastic. I recommend a giant cozy scarf that can be compact, yet is made of a warm material so you can use it as a blanket. 

Go paperless for boarding passes + itineraries.

Download your airline or TSA app before your trip. Or make sure when booking to have your boarding pass emailed or texted to your phone.

When at the check-in counter, specify right away that you do not need a printed boarding pass or flight itinerary as many people will automatically just print one for you.

Avoid snacks on the flight + be selective about beverages.

If you’ve brought your own water bottle that’s full, you should be set on water, but you may still want another beverage. Ask the flight attendant for something in an aluminum can, and ask for the full can and bring it off of the flight with you to recycle. If they can’t do that for you, ask for your drink with no straw or plastic stirrer and bring the cup off of the plane with you to recycle.

Make sure first though to ask what kind of cups they serve beverages in as hot drinks like tea and coffee might come in styrofoam rather than paper.

Save this checklist for the day you travel.

You’ve got a lot to think about when traveling and certain things can slip your mind like grabbing your reusable water bottle. But lucky you, here’s a checklist we’ve created specially for the day you travel if you want to stay #zerowaste.

Planning ahead and being prepared for your trip will not only help you lessen your environmental impact, but it will also make your whole traveling experience more enjoyable. It’s a win-win for you and mama earth!

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17 comments

  1. hi Lauren! just wondering what you do about safety razors, since online many people say you can’t take the blade with you in your carryon? thanks 🙂

    1. I take the blade out of mine and then put a few replacement blades in different parts of my suitcase in the event that one gets taken out, but I usually don’t have a problem.

  2. Hi! I really like your blog! I write from Colombia, I do somenthing similar. I want to ask about the materials of your shoes. There are not many options waterproof, there is just leather or PVC. I want to know if you know or wear any other material for your boots.
    Thanks!

  3. I am curious about bringing your own snacks for a flight. Can you pass them through security without any problem? I wasn’t aware it was possible.

  4. Hey Lauren, great post! Really love both pairs of your black boots and am constantly looking for some at Beacon’s Closet and other local vintage shops but haven’t been in luck yet – what brand are they?

  5. I’m going to be working in a refugee camp in Greece this summer and I won’t have access to drinkable tap water to fill my water bottle with… I have a Klean Kanteen that I bring wit me everywhere here in New York but not sure how to swing plastic free water while I’m there… Any suggestions?

  6. Great posting! One more thing, a small towel is handy to avoid using paper towels. Very common to have your own towel with you in Japan.

  7. Hi, I just wanted to mention that in lieu of traveling with just snacks (especially for longer flights), I have traveled with a full meal. I usually travel with a rice and a cooked veggie dish in a reusable container. You can do the same with sandwiches, meats, etc. Use your judgement and make sure not to pack things that would be considered liquids (like soups, chilis, hummus, etc). A really great check is to visit the TSA site and make sure that what you’re thinking of bringing doesn’t violate the 3-1-1 rule.

    Also, you can check the types of containers you plan to use so that you don’t have to discard your items. As long as your food containers fit in your carry on or personal bag, you can have it go through the x-ray machines without any issues. When I get to my destination, I wash the container and can use it for take out foods at my destination. If I travel with homemade sandwiches, I wrap them in old newspapers, then compost the paper.

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