Friday, April 1, 2011

Living and traveling "Zero Waste"

Upon taking position as Zero Waste Coordinator for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, as of today I have made a commitment to not only help Steamboat become the first Zero Waste resort town in Colorado, but to also begin tracking my own waste, my family's waste, and the waste, consumption, and impact of my fellow humans around me, wherever I may go, whenever possible.

I currently travel frequently for work because I am coordinating a huge training project for Amtrak trains, educating 8000 employees on better handling customers with disabilities. My work with this travel market over the last five years has led me into much research and study of travel and impact of and on travelers and our planet, great experience which I hope to bring into the world of sustainability and our impact on our precious planet.

Yesterday while traveling back from Miami to Steamboat, I thought to begin my mission of tracking in this new capacity.

To start, I always travel with my own drinking bottles/mugs. To me this is one of the easiest changes I committed to with the greatest obvious impact. Whether I purchase coffee, tea or chai, or just drink water or something else, I have vowed to use my own receptacle and never (or close) take a wax-lined paper cup or buy water in a plastic bottle. So yesterday I purchased chai at the Dallas airport: one cup, sleeve, and lid saved!  (I will also be making sure I notice what coffee companies use local beans and have a lower carbon footprint, since I have no idea where my chai at this coffee place came from.)

But then I realized, sometimes I get drinks on the plane, sometimes I don't. Yesterday I made the choice not to drink anything on the plane that required a plastic cup from the airline, and to never do so again unless I am certain they will recycle it. Many of them collect the soda cans in a bag like they are going to recycle it, but I don't know for sure where those go, and I don't know if they recycle cups.  So I turned down the plastic cup and had the flight attendant put water in my own water bottle. I usually fill my water bottle at the fountain in the terminal anyway (and the water on the plane does come in bottles, albeit bigger ones), but yesterday the fountain at the Miami terminal D was out of order, so I had no other choice. Just think, if everyone on the plane did this, that would be 150 cups saved times how many flights per day in the U.S. alone?? Ouch.

On my second flight I had the flight attendant put tea in the travel mug I had used that morning for chai, so I saved another cup, but thought about the tea bag and sugar packets being not quite as zero as possible, and made note to buy loose tea and travel with it so all I'm taking is the hot water. 

I then reflected on my entire week in Miami and realized I could make better choices based on company practices- remember your consumer dollar is your voting power!  Does the hotel use reusable glassware/plateware/silverware for their breakfast or complimentary happy hours?  Do they heat their pool unnecessarily? Do they have some kind of wasteful water features (mine had a huge waterfall and coy fish pond that looked awesome, but might have been wasting water, and made note to look into that)? Do they have low flush toilets and encourage reusing towels and linens during your stay? Some hotels have a great feature now with their electricity- the lights in the room are turned on and off with your key card in a slot by the door. You can't leave without that card, so you always turn the lights out. AWESOME!

Last, I reflected on my own practices while I'm away... What of these do you do?
  • Do you turn the lights off to save energy even if it's not your energy bill? 
  • Do you wait a flush or two between potty visits (#1 of course)?  
  • Do you turn the AC on low or off when you're not in the room?
  • Do you travel with your own snacks in reusable bags instead of buying small packets of items you snack on? (Think of all that aluminum waste for peanuts that the airlines are now phasing out!)  
  • Do you take a to-go container thinking you'll eat it tomorrow and then let it sit in your hotel refrigerator for the maid to throw away? 
  • Do you find restaurants that buy local, compost, or have other green practices? 
  • Do you reject taking styrofoam when it's offered? 
  • Do you rent a high MPG car, take public transit, or carpool in taxis? 
  • Do you offset your plane gas with offset dollars?
  • Do you use rechargeable batteries for your camera? 
  • Do you read the newspaper online or make sure the hotel recycles them?

These are just a few things to think about when you're on the road... stay tuned for more on my Zero Waste tracking!

Stay green, stay happy!