Reflections on Low Waste Traveling

Earlier in October I had a great opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon for a few days. I’m working at an observatory in southern Arizona for the fall, and we had a long weekend, so a road trip up north felt like an excellent way to spend it. Reducing my personal waste has been on my mind a lot recently, so I tried to be mindful and minimal about this during my trip–especially since I’d be in a national park! I’ve come to realize over the past few months that a lot of waste is generated via “conveniences.” And while traveling (especially road trips), those conveniences tend to be more prevalent.

A few easy no-brainer actions that I took to reduce my waste:

-Packed and used my reusable coffee mug.

-Used my own reusable produce bag for bringing snacks and fruit on the road and into the park

-No plastic, one-time-use, water bottles: There are actually none of these sold in the park, which was great to see! I brought and used my own water bottle while hiking and walking around. They had small, reusable bottles made from recycled plastic that you could buy for $3, larger Camelbak bottles for sale, and easily accessible water spigots.

-Brought a few extra tote bags: Like most of the US (but unlike Santa Cruz county), plastic bags are prevalent everywhere in Arizona. I packed a few extra cloth tote bags for groceries, shopping, and even simply for my dirty shoes.

A few “unavoidable” wasteful instances that I encountered:

-I bought a bagel in the park, and it came in a paper wrap, inside of a bag. I asked the cashier to not use the paper wrap, but it was busy, and I don’t think he processed my request, so I ended up having to throw it away.

-My cousin goes to school in Flagstaff, so we met up for breakfast. The restaurant used disposable napkins and coffee creamer came in those small plastic containers. I was so excited for the coffee and seeing my cousin, that I used the creamer anyway and forgot to be mindful of my waste.

-Receipts: I love it when a cashier asks if you want your receipt because it’s easy to simply say ‘no, thanks!’ However, more than once on this trip, the receipt was printed despite my protests, and it was thrown into the trash by the cashier.

-Take out packaging: I ordered take out from a restaurant to eat in my hotel. I knew that I’d receive the styrofoam packaging that the food came in, but I specifically requested no additional plastic bag, no napkins, no silverware, and no packets of salt, pepper, etc. Unfortunately, they packed all of these things “just in case!” The Minnesotan in me was too nice to leave it behind, since it was obvious the waiter was genuinely trying to be considerate.

I’m finding that once I pay more attention to the trash and waste that I generate, life becomes both easier and more frustrating. It is extremely simple to generate less waste and trash, it just takes a little bit of foresight. There are so many opportunities to make zero-waste choices. On the flip side, there is so much “convenient” waste and trash built into our daily lives that trying to eliminate it seems like unnecessary work. The default needs to be zero-waste. How ridiculous is it that I felt rude and out of place had I declined the excessive take out packaging?

On a related note, I was really excited to see shuttle buses for getting around the south rim of the park. It was so easy to park my individual car then take a shuttle to a trail head or an outlook with lots of other people. Public transportation and ride sharing is one of the absolute easiest ways to reduce the use of fossil fuels, so the availability of it was great to see. I hope in the future all the buses will be electric!

And with that, I wanted to share with you some pictures of the Grand Canyon! I took an approximately 3.0 mile hike into (and out of!) the Canyon on one of the days, and it was beautiful!

It’s really motivating to care about preserving the planet’s resources when you’re surrounded by something as beautiful as the Grand Canyon. I think that’s one of the challenges we face when it comes to affecting environmental change–some people only think of it as “saving nature,” when it’s really about so much more. And with many of us living in cities, we don’t encounter nature on an everyday basis unless we’re paying attention. Seeing climate change as a more massive problem than just saving trees or being eco-friendly while you’re in a national park is really crucial to solving it. We need to hear more about it, more about what we can do, and more about the initiatives right in our own backyard.

Related reading:

“Landfills Have A Huge Greenhouse Gas Probem. Here’s Whet We Can Do About It.”

“10 Reusable Items Which Got Me Through My Zero Waste Challenge”



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