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Zero Waste Traveling Tips: Flying and Airports


Last Updated on January 23, 2024

Flying and zero waste in the same sentence is kind of an oxymoron. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t take strides to make it less wasteful.

Remember, it’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices, and I will echo it again and again and again. 

Zero waste traveling tips, flying and airports from #flying #travel #zerowaste #ecofriendly #gogreen #sustainable

My original travel post was great for a weekend trip. But, when you’re spending 10 days somewhere you’re going to need a little bit more than just a mason jar and a cloth napkin

I absolutely think we should try and limit our emissions, and choose to fly less. Maybe try and opt for a vacation nearby or try a staycation – who knows, you might love it!  

But the truth is . It’s silly to think everyone will stop going on vacation, visiting friends and family, or going on business trips.

While the addition of zoom meetings and keeping up with loved ones through the internet is amazing and can certainly help reduce travel, sometimes it is nice to be there in person.

I also think traveling and getting outside of your normal routine is really important for developing a well-rounded personality. It’s important to experience other cultures to grow your world view, but maybe make these trips really intentional and meaningful rather than doing it constantly.

Basically, what I’m saying is travel less, but better and make it as meaningful as possible.

Instead of traveling frequently for short periods of time, opt for fewer trips for longer periods of time. This will help to cut down on emissions, and would create a really rewarding trip so you can sink into a new culture a bit more.

Beyond just reducing emissions, there are several small things we can do to make flying a bit more sustainable too. 

I have flown twice since going zero waste. Once for business and once to see family, and WOW I cringe when I think about the amount of trash created on a plane… all of the little bottles, cans, and individual snack wrappers – it adds up!

So without further adieu here are my top tips for reducing your trash when flying. 

1. an empty water bottle 

Empty is the very key word here. DO NOT try and bring a full water bottle through security. Do not bring a full water bottle into the car with you thinking that you’re going to drink it all before you get to security.

You’ll go through security. You’ll have forgotten about your full water bottle. You will get stopped in security. You will be unable to pour said water down a drain. You will have to choose between chugging it or throwing it in a trashcan.

Sticking to your zero waste principles, you’ll obviously have to chug it. Then you’ll have to re-go through security. You’ll be late for your flight forcing you into a middle seat.

You’ll have to pee so bad, but you’re trapped between two people and don’t feel comfortable getting up…. all of this could have been avoided if you just brought an empty water bottle. 

Obviously…. that was a purely fictional story…. I would never have done something that foolish…. 

So just, double check and make sure your water bottle is empty. M’kay. 

After you’re through security, fill up your water bottle. There should be water fountains by the bathrooms to fill up your water bottle. If not, just pop into a cafe and they can fill it up at their soda fountain. 

2. a cloth napkin

You know how I feel about cloth napkins. Most restaurants have real plates and real silverware, but not everyone has real napkins. Bring your own. 

It can double as a plate in a pinch, and you can wrap up delicious bakery treats in the airport or really anywhere on the go. 

3. a tiffin or mason jar

I covered this and the cloth napkin extensively in this post. This is also great for grabbing food on the go.

If you plan on eating out during your vacation you can use this to take home leftovers. Or you can use it to grab food to-go in the airport or if you don’t have time to sit down for a meal. 

I have a set of light-weight nesting tiffins. I bring them with me because they have so many uses. 

4. flatware:

Did you know 40 BILLION plastic utensils are thrown out every year in the US? That’s wild because it’s a really easy piece of trash to avoid if you just keep a fork on you.

You can’t take a knife through security, but you can bring a fork and spoon. My friends at Silvr have made the cutest, compact cutlery that’s super convenient to clean. It’s also been TSA approved.

Silvr is perfect to bring on your next trip so you don’t have to worry about getting plastic utensils from a local food truck, dive bar, or takout.

5. handkerchief

I know what you’re thinking. Can’t the napkin and handkerchief double? As a minimalist, I would love to tell you yes.

But, I can’t. At least not on an extended trip. I feel like these things should be separate because you’re not going to have the downtime to wash and dry them. 

You’re not going to want to wrap your croissant up in a snotty rag. And, they aren’t going to want to put your croissant in it. EW. 

6. a snack or two or three 

Doesn’t an airport feel like a stadium? Like you can’t bring food or drink inside? I know it feels that way but it’s not true.

Well except for the drink part – see number 1. But, you can definitely bring food with you on a flight. 

Also, what is it about flying that makes you want a snack? I feel like I’ve been conditioned to want a snack as soon as I sit on an airplane. 

I can go three hours without a snack on a normal day. Why is it when I fly I want one? So, pack your own snack. The last time I flew, I brought a small mason jar full of dried blueberries and nuts. 

7. quart-sized liquid bag

I want to highly dissuade you from checking a bag. I hate checking bags because so much can go wrong.

The only time I’ve ever checked a bag my bag wound up than a different country so I prefer to keep my bag with me. Plus, it takes more time in the airport, creates more weight which means more fuel = more emissions.

If you aren’t checking a bag, it means you have liquid restrictions. 

You’ll have to keep all of your liquids under 3 oz and they will have to fit inside of a clear quart-sized bag.

Now, you probably don’t have disposable quart-sized bags in your house anymore. So, they sell TSA approved quart-sized, clear plastic bags with a zipper. I have had mine since I was in highschool. Take good care of it and they will last. 

They typically come with three or four 3oz bottles on the inside. Use these and fill them with the products you already have. No need to buy travel sized bottles! 

8. entertainment

I try to hit the library up before I go, but I read pretty fast. The average flight time home is around 7 hours.

That’s easily two books. I would have to bring 5 books with me two for the flights there, two for the flights back, and one for the downtime in between/before bed. That weight adds up. I often times bring my e-reader. 

But, did you know libraries have a selection of e-books too!? You can download books on your e-reader and go to town without the weight. 

9. offset:

Now, I feel like one of the best things you can do is offset your emissions when flying!

If you’re interested in learning more about how to do this, I wrote a WHOLE post going over Where to Buy Carbon Offsets and Why You Should.

10. patience:

This is the most important thing to bring with you. Flying isn’t very enjoyable, so pack a little extra patience.

Things aren’t always going to work out exactly how you want them to. So take a deep breath and roll with the punches. 

I hope you find these tips useful especially if you’re heading home for the holidays. I’ve attached an easy checklist for you to reference in the future.

Have you flown since trying to reduce your waste? What are some of your tips? 

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  1. Great tips, especially not to strive for perfection. I bring a teeny metal pot (lip balm size) which I load up with solid facial balm (mine is Rose Beauty Balm from Neal’s Yard) and so doesn’t have to go in the airport baggie. It does for lip balm, face cleanser (bring 2 or 3 muslin cloths), hair defrizzer and even shoe cleaner and weighs about 10 grammes. Close to perfect! Merry Christmas and thanks for all the inspiration this year.

  2. These are such great tips, thanks!! I’ve never heard of a tiffin but clearly I need to pack a better zero-waste kit when I travel. One thing I’d add to the list is a reusable bag – I pack a Baggu bag with us for every trip, and we fill it with groceries and sometimes extra layers if it’s chilly out.

    I’d love to collaborate on some blog content soon – I’m over at, come say hi! šŸ™‚

  3. Great post!

    Having recently traveled to Mexico from the UK and tried to do it zero waste, i have a couple of further suggestions.
    – Reusable coffee cup. You can ask air hostesses to fill it up for hot and cold drinks instead of the disposable plastic cups they use;
    – Your own cutlery – i hate plastic cutlery but airlines seem to love them, so it’s good to come prepared;
    – Muslin cloth to remove make up – say goodbye to disposable wipes;
    – Soap tin – benefit, it’s not a liquid!

    Hope this helps! Also Cancun airport has no drinkable water tap which is shocking considering i managed to have my water bottle refilled in most places i went to in rural Mexico.

  4. I wish I saw this before I went on a trip to San Francisco recently. My friends and I failed at the water bottle part because we had forgotten to empty our water bottles! So I definitely laughed when I read "Do not bring a full water bottle into the car with you…" We ended up dumping our slightly filled bottles into another friend’s plastic water bottle (she didn’t want to bring her big reusable one because it was big) and then tossing that one :'( I don’t understand why they don’t just have canisters right there to dump liquids in rather than having to throw away bottles.

    I am amazed that you can go through 2 books in 7 hours!

    Thank you for this post. šŸ™‚

  5. Kathryn, my husband and I are traveling to Florida in less than a month before we try taking all 3 of our boys on their first ever flight after they’re adopted. We have 2 metal tiffins that are used every day for lunches for the kids. I know that you mentioned bringing tiffins and mason jars on the plane, but I’m concerned that they will be confiscated and then we won’t be able to replace them. I’ve read that the rules are different for bringing food for children, but I also read about metal silverware and other metal items have been confiscated when going through security. Have you had that happen before or seen it happen?

  6. So on the plane you don’t eat the food? As it’s wrapped in plastic and aluminium?
    What should you do on. 10hr+ trip? I know Bea Johnson doesn’t eat nd gets. Sandwich in her cloth bag. But isn’t it a bit unrealistic? What do you think?

  7. How do you wash your reusables? I’m on a conference trip and brought a water bottle and utensils and a straw but didn’t think to bring dish soap and hotels only have fancy bar soap which wouldn’t work. I’m giving things a good rinse since it’s a short trip but it’s kinda gross and would have washed them daily at home.

    Tip: I can borrow e books from the library and I always load up before a trip. I usually put books on my phone or Kindle (or both) but I assume that you can use like an device. I recently discovered that I can borrow magazines and put them on my iPad so now there’s free zero waste magazines!

    1. When traveling I actually only wash my reusables with hot water and its fine. You could also bring a little bit baking soda with you. Works wonder too. Or maybe even ask in the hotel of they could fill a small glass with dish washing soap for you šŸ˜‰

    1. I had never troubles with my stainless steel bottle (just need to be empty;) and I know a few people that even took stainless steel straw and cutlery with them on board (just no knives please). I didnt take my stainless steel fork with me, but a bamboo one, just in case…

  8. Oh Kathryn, thank you again for another great and reality check article. It is about limitation and about traveling conscious and eco minded. But stopping travel? That will never happen. Traveling made me who I am today. A plastic free living person. Traveling very conscious. But still flying. It is a highly sensitive discussion, like food (vegan, meat, etc..) but we should talk about how to reduce our footprint while traveling, rather than saying: No travel anymore! I would so love to meet you one day and talk about all this šŸ™‚ You are a big inspiration! Keep up the great work!