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I recently returned from a three-week vacation and my first experience in trash-free traveling.  Although it was frustrating at times along the way, my pre-planning and touring fairly “green” places ended up paying off.  Overall taking the trash-free lifestyle on the road wasn’t that difficult.  And I actually returned to Hawaii with a few new items to make the trash-free lifestyle a little bit easier.

Essential Trash-free Traveling Items:
Because they are trash-free essentials at home, I also brought napkins and Snack Saks on the trip.  

bags and napkins

Trash-free traveling essentials

I only brought five napkins, but they were really easy to wash along the way.

Washing napkins in the hotel

I also threw a collapsible cup (X-Mug) in my carry-on for plane ride beverage rations. (I carry a water bottle, but sometimes it is nice to have a ginger ale when at 30,000 feet).

Traveling cup

Traveling cup

Although I felt good about using my cup, I noticed the attendants separating out the regular plastic drink cups when they collected trash from passengers.  Although I didn’t know it at the time,  Alaska Airlines actually has a great in-flight recycling program, and do recycle the beverage cups when they have a participating airport that will take them.  I guess the X-Mug wasn’t completely necessary, but whenever possible, reusing is always better than recycling.

Planning for Snacks:
Traveling involves a lot of wandering around in new territory where you may not know where you can get a trash-free, non-packaged snack.  I need to eat snacks throughout the day, so rather than get stressed out and waste time looking for these spots on my trip, I made snacks at home to take with me.  I thought about packing a bag of nuts and raisins, but decided that they would be too heavy to cart around.  Instead I chose to use a great granola bar recipe given to me by a friend a while back (thanks, Katie!).  I made two batches before I left, packed them in three plastic containers, and put them in my carry-on backpack.  A small Snack Sak filled with these granola nuggets would last me an entire day.

granola bar making

Making granola bars for the road

Baking granola bars

One batch of granola bars just out of the oven

Ready for travel

Granola bars ready for traveling

The granola bars were hearty but lightweight, and were made of ingredients that did not need to be refrigerated (primarily peanut butter, oil, oats, oat flour, honey and raisins).  They lasted two of the three weeks which worked out perfectly because by the time we were out of granola bars, we were in a big city, Seattle, where bulk food snack items were a plenty.  The newly empty containers also proved to be great for storing compost.

Here is the recipe:

Granola Bars from “Running Times”
makes 1 9×13″ pan, or about 18 bars

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup grated coconut
1/4 cup wheat germ or oat bran or rice bran or okara
1/4 cup butter or margarine (I substituted oil for butter)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup honey or barley malt (for slightly less sweet bars)
1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1 cup extras (raisins, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts, puffed rice, etc.)

Preheat oven to 325.

Combine oats, coconut, wheat germ and any nuts or seeds you wish to toast for the bars in a 9×13″ pan. Toast for 25 minutes. Remove pan and turn oven up to 350.

While the oats toast, combine butter, sugar & honey in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted and sugar dissolved. Add the peanut butter at this time and stir in thoroughly.

Dump the toasted oat mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add any additional extras. Drizzle the syrup over oats and stir until they are all evenly coated. Return everything to the 9×13″ cake pan and press mixture in to form an even, solid mass.

Bake at 350 for 12 minutes (4-6 minutes longer if you like crisper bars). Remove pan to cooling rack and let cool completely before cutting. Bars will keep for well over a week in a plastic storage container, or freeze for later use.

Where to put the waste?
I did accumulate recyclable and compostable materials throughout my trip…and a little bit of trash.  I was lucky that one of our stops was the very green city of Seattle where I found a food court near our hotel (Marion Court, 823 3rd Ave.) with a complete recycling/compost station.

waste station

Marion Court waste station

Each bin was labeled and included very detailed signs with good examples of what to put into each bin.

Compost bin sign

What can go in the compost bin

What can go in the recycling bin

What can go in the recycling bin

What is considered trash

What is trash

After two and a half weeks of traveling without throwing anything away, this place was a fabulous find.

My last hurdle, however, was dealing with post-car camping recycling and compost waste from the final leg of our trip, camping at Mt. Rainier.  Whole foods and the many markets of Pike’s Place allowed us to get ingredients for meals that were not pre-packaged, which prevented a lot of trash.  I even found a mini cheese wheel I used for sandwiches.

Mini cheese wheel

Mini cheese wheel

The cheese guy at the store would not put the cheese in my own container due to health codes.  After a lot of convincing, however, he finally gave it to me in an unbleached paper bag usually used for bagels.

I bought a lot of non-packaged perishable items like fresh corn, cherries, and other staple vegetables for the camping trip knowing that I would be accountable for any compost waste.  I did this assuming that if I found one compost station in Washington, it would be easy to find another.  This was not the case, however.  There were no compost stations at the campground (probably for good wildlife reasons) nor at Whittaker’s Bunkhouse where we stayed our last night of the trip.  And as we were driving to the airport, I was having my doubts that I would find a place to dump the corn husks, left over cherries and vegetable scraps at the airport.  So, we pulled over and dumped this food waste in some bushes off a country road somewhere.  This was probably illegal, but technically it was better that the greens, all locally grown in the state of Washington, went back to the earth than sit and rot in a landfill.  (Sorry, no photos of the drop off.  It was somewhat of a rushed affair.)

Luckily the Seatac airport has a place to recycle the other stuff we had been carting around for a while: paper, cans, and bottles.

Recycling paper at the airport

Seattle airport recycling - paper

Recycling cans and bottles

Seattle airport recycling - cans and bottles

I did end up with a small bag of trash at the end of the trip.

Trash after three weeks of traveling

Trash after three weeks of traveling

The bag tags from our luggage were unavoidable.  Hopefully someday the airline industry will create something digital that can be reused to replace these.  I also got hit with another straw at a restaurant, drank a few beverages, changed my contacts, and bought some smoked salmon.  The last item was definitely a splurge and a knowingly non-trash-free item since I knew from experience with the cheese wheel that this Whole Foods would not let me use my own container to package the salmon.  However, being in the Pacific Northwest, smoked salmon is really hard to pass up.  When I got home, I did my best to minimize the “trashiness” of this item by soaking it in water and separating the plastic from the paper, so I could at least put the paper part into my compost.

Separating paper from plastic

Separating the paper from waxed paper

Trash-free Loss:
On a sad note, I lost one of my favorite trash-free tools during my recent travels.  I was using my “To Go Wear” bamboo chopsticks at a busy New York Chinese restaurant known for its soup dumplingsIt is a famous spot, so the place was packed and busy.  After finishing my four or so dumplings, and servings of Chinese broccoli, string beans and chicken, I placed my chopsticks on my plate.  The waitstaff cleaned up our table so quickly that I didn’t realize until it was too late that my chopsticks had also been swept away, lost forever to the trash.  My friend asked the waiter about my precious sticks and he looked at her as if she was crazy.  There would be no searching through the trash for chopsticks. 

Trash-free Gains:
On a brighter note, I came home with a few new trash-free tools.  The first item was left for me in our hotel room – a shower cap.

Shower cap

Shower caps are great trash-free finds at hotels

When I was growing up, my best friend’s mom, Kate, used shower caps, instead of Saran wrap, to cover open containers in the refrigerator.  She was a resourceful woman ahead of her times.  Since I started my trash-free experiment I have been looking for shower caps so I could do the same, but if you buy them at the store, they usually come in plastic.  This shower cap came in a paper box that I recycled in Seattle.  Because it has elastic, it can be used for various sized containers.

Shower caps make great reusable plastic wrap

Shower caps make great reusable plastic wrap

I found another trash-free tool at a store called “Fireworks” in Seattle: the “Eco Staple Free Stapler” from Made by Humans.

A stapler that doesn't use staples

A stapler that doesn't use staples

Rather than using metal to bind paper together, this stapler magically threads pieces of paper into themselves.

Paper fold replaces metal staple

Paper fold replaces metal staple

Finally, the third trash-free tool I found was something that I had previously heard about, but never looked into: toothpaste tablets.

Trash-free toothpaste

Trash-free toothpaste tablets

This product is created by the company “Lush.” Their Toothy Tabs fit perfectly with the trash-free lifestyle.  There is no plastic tube and you can easily recycle the Toothy Tabs paper container. I tried one of the tablets, however, and it didn’t taste very good or leave my mouth feeling minty-fresh.  Also, Toothy Tabs are not made with fluoride, which is a controversial chemical, but has proven to prevent cavities.  So, I am still not certain that I am going to make the switch.  If there are any other similar products out there like Toothy Tabs that taste better and do contain fluoride, I would love to hear about them!

Compost Update:
What happens when you leave your compost for three weeks without tending to it?

Compost after three weeks

Volunteer sweet potato plant and kukui nut sapling in my compost bin

In Hawaii you may find a sweet potato plant or Kukui nut tree taking root. Besides hosting these new plants, the material in my original trash can compost bin actually shrunk a half a foot while I was gone, and no longer has worms.  Perhaps it is time to harvest the rich soil and plant something…