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Top 5 Tips for Packing Sustainably 

When it comes to packing sustainably the key is to think light, durable and minimal. Lowering your carbon footprint throughout your travels will help protect the environment and the health of local communities.

The following tips are a great way to start incorporating more efficient ways to prepare for an upcoming trip whether it be a short jaunt or a lengthy stay abroad.

Think Big

You might think small containers are lighter and more minimal, but you may end up needing more to fit your toiletry needs, which means more single-use (often not recyclable) plastic.

 “Go big or stay home,” advises Condé Nast Traveller. “Those dinky mini-version shampoos and creams small enough to squeeze into your hand luggage are tempting, but they’re a nightmare from a disposability point of view.”

Instead, invest in refillable bottles (which come under the 3.4-ounce mark if you’re flying) and fill up from what you have at home. If available, choose biodegradable, reusable bamboo or ceramic airless containers.

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The Merino Wool T-Shirt Hack

If you are a savvy, seasoned sustainable traveler, you’ve probably heard all the ways to pack minimally and efficiently. Well, there’s a new craze surrounding ethical merino wool t-shirts that offers yet another answer to packing responsibly.

Merino wool is known to be breathable, odor-resistant, temperature regulating and to keep moisture at bay, so the idea is that you can pack three shirts for an entire trip, rotate each without washing and never have to worry about stinking or feeling uncomfortable.

It’s important to opt for sustainable brands like IceBreaker, which only uses merino wool fiber that is naturally renewable, recyclable and biodegradable (never made in a petrochemical lab). The company also partners with growers who must adhere to a five-point animal welfare guideline system, protecting the health and happiness of the sheep. 

sustainable toothpaste tabs

Opt for Planet-Friendly Toothpaste  

Ah, the toothpaste dilemma. Often forgotten during those crucial moments of packing, these plastic tubes that never die fill landfills every year in alarming numbers. As a responsible traveler, it is your duty to not only remember to pack the toothpaste (so you don’t have pay extra to buy it at your destination) but to choose teeth-cleaning options that are sustainable.

Many companies are offering alternatives to the tube, like toothpaste tablets that you swirl around in your mouth like a mint and aluminum and glass packaging that can be recycled when empty. Well + Good put together a great list of eco-friendly toothpaste options.

Use Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Travelers spend a lot of time outdoors – and use a lot of sunscreen – on holiday, especially if you’re vigilant and follow the application recommendations by the American Academy of Dermatology.

But did you know that the chemicals in certain sunscreens can be harmful to the health of marine life, including coral, fish and dolphins? Some of the sunscreen you apply inevitably gets washed off when you swim or shower, affecting the water system it flows into.

So, while you’re out enjoying your beach vacations and sun-filled cruises, be sure to use sunscreen products labeled “reef-safe,” which usually means they do not contain the UV filters oxybenzone and octinoxate. It’s also recommended to read through all ingredients to ensure that the whole product is environmentally safe.

The company Babo Botanicals is a great option as all its sunscreen products are made with mineral-based ingredients that will not impact coral reefs.

Pack Plastic Free. Period. 

It’s no secret that plastic is a huge contributor to landfills and ocean pollution.  According to a new report by the Organization for Co-operation and Development, “The world is producing twice as much plastic waste as two decades ago, with the bulk of it ending up in landfill, incinerated or leaking into the environment and only 9% successfully recycled.”

So, when preparing to pack for a trip it’s good to get into the habit of eliminating plastic altogether. This means no plastics in clothing, toiletries, sanitary products and single-use food packaging or products. Some countries like Rwanda have decided to ban travelers from bringing plastic bags and over 80 countries now have a full or partial ban on single-use plastic bags.

If we truly want to do our part in lowering our travel footprint, eliminating plastic needs to be a major priority. 

How do you pack sustainably? Add you tips in the comments below.

AAA’s sustainable travel series is written in partnership with Kind Traveler, a women-and-veteran-owned sustainable travel platform empowering travelers to make a positive impact in local communities, and contributing writer, Maria Russo.

One Thought on “Top 5 Tips for Packing Sustainably 

  1. While avoiding plastic containers for small amounts of toiletries is a great goal when shopping NEW, use tiny plastic containers you already own, over and over again. Choose wide-topped containers which are easy to reload with shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, mouthwash, even toothpastes you already have at home in large containers. Make sure their tops screw on tightly, put them in Ziplock bags you can also reuse to reliably keep your other suitcase contents clean, and you can use these same little containers the rest of your life! Just label them, and keep refilling! All commercial containers are already labeled with the amount of product they can contain, so you can stay within airline limits.

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