Waste Free Holiday Travel

Last month our family of five travelled through Europe. We went to France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium by rail. We stayed in hotels, hostels, with friends,  and we also spent ten days camping (in a ready erected tent).

As we had made a conscious decision to travel by train  I was also determined to minimise our impact on the environment. I have been trying to reduce my consumption of single use plastic for a while as well as trying to follow some zero waste principles. It seemed that a rail holiday through some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe would be the perfect opportunity to put some zero waste ideas into action. This proved to be a great learning experience for us all.

Below are the things that worked for us – and didn’t

  1. Toiletries. Having discovered Lush last year when taking part in Plastic Free July I  returned to the store to purchase solid shampoo and conditioner bars plus a gentle body and face soap. I also bought my first ever compostable toothbrush:

Zero Waste toiletries: Lush shampoo and conditioner bars; compostable toothbrush

It turned out that, despite reading mixed reviews, the compostable toothbrush was great. This is the second holiday I have packed Lush products and, although they are small and have less of an environmental impact, we did find that they were fiddly to use and the shampoo and conditioner didn’t work well enough for me.

2. Picnic Set. I added to my Zero Waste Travel Kit with a small metal sandwich box and reusable bamboo straws. We also took sporks, napkins and (somehow smuggled through security) a small vegetable knife.

The picnic kit was invaluable. We could put all sorts of leftovers in the metal sandwich box (which had two compartments and a separate smaller tin). As most of our train journeys were at least four hours we got into a routine of buying food before embarking and then making up sandwiches, cutting fruit etc when on board. Some of the food came in plastic wrapping but by making up our sandwiches etc we did save some waste.


3. Water bottles.

Although made of plastic, our collection of water bottles proved to be one of the best buys. The girls each had one of these leak-proof bottles. The top unscrewed and became a small cup. My husband also had a foldable water bottle.

Images waste free travel: reusable water bottles


I used my trusty thermos-type bottle which is also great at keeping drinks cold. I also added some sprigs of mint to the flask to add more flavour.

Drinking out waste free

These were invaluable and probably the best thing we took. Public water fountains seem to be more prevalent in mainland Europe and we were able to fill up everywhere. When we arrived at the campsite in 38 degrees heat we made the mistake of buying a pack of plastic water bottles from the supermarket. But after this we relied totally on the standpipes, which meant we didn’t have to pay out for water at the supermarket or have to carry it back!

Waste Free Travel: refilling water bottles in Milan

4. Onya produce bags and other reusable bags

This was our most successful holiday for using cloth bags. We barely bought a plastic bag (and when we did these became rubbish bags). The Onya produce bags were great for buying fruit and vegetables at the campsite and at other markets. Although most shopkeepers weren’t familiar with them there was never a problem with filling and weighing them.

Plastic Free shopping: net produce bags

5. Recycling. While I’m more of a fan of pre-cycling, or refusing packaging in the first place, I was impressed by the number of recycling options there were on our travels. Having camped in France a couple of years ago where there was barely any recycling facilities I was delighted to see so many bins on our Italian campsite (apologies: I think I became a bit of a ‘bin bore’ on holiday). As you would expect the German trains had some great recycling options and, when staying with friends in Holland, I was amazed by the prevalence of recycling bins at the end of nearly every street.

While I would like to give the impression that we were waste free on our travels this wasn’t strictly true. I had two ‘fails’: when it came to using straws I completely failed to use the bamboo ones as I kept forgetting to take them with me. I also realise I need to get a reusable coffee cup to fit underneath coffee machines as my insulated flask does not do this.

In conclusion I  think we reduced our waste a little while on holiday, and am pleased with our use of cloth bags and water bottles. There were some situations where, due to the heat, children’s appetites and lack of time, we had to use disposable items. If you want to travel completely zero waste I think you have to really plan ahead and it’s hard to do this if you are travelling with limited baggage.


Zero Waste Week (Days Three and Four): Waste Free Food and Shopping

During Zero Waste Week I’ve been tuning into #zerowasteweek hour on twitter for some great tips and ideas on reducing waste. One of the most common topics has been food waste which got me thinking about our household.

I like to think that we are quite good on reducing food waste. I meal plan for the month so that I know what we need to buy. I’m still struggling with emptying all the contents of our veg box but now that we’re (almost) into soup season this should be less of a problem. I also have this very handy note attached to the inside of my cuboard door to remind me how much pasta or rice to cook for our family (originally from Love Food Hate Waste website).

Zero Waste Week: rice and pasta measurements

But there is definitely more that I can do to avoid an overflowing compost bin. So, as I tend to do one large supermarket shop each month, I sat down and meal planned everything (breakfasts, lunches incl packed lunches and evening meals). This meant I could order the right amount of food. Yet even when I know what food we have and how to turn it into meals there is still the problem of packaging.

For convenience sake (I don’t have regular access to a car, I try to stick to a strict budget) I order one large supermarket delivery every month, interspersed with fortnightly veg and fruit boxes, regular milk deliveries, some refills at local health food stores and small trips to the local shops. Apart from the first activity (which I try to order as waste free as possible) I have learnt to make the other shopping trips as packaging free as possible.

This week I was able to pick up fruit and veg from the local greengrocers as I had transport – and I tried out a new independent butchers so was able to get my meat from there (with far less packaging, but it would be great to re-use my containers for this). Because I use the brilliant Onya produce bags, and our greengrocers have paper bags my shopping haul looked like this:

Zero Waste Week: package free grocery shopping

I was also able to pop into Harvest Health Food Store in Bath and refill my washing up and laundry liquid containers:


I also decided to go all out this morning and do a massive baking session so that we can rely less on pre-wrapped cakes and biscuits. This is what my kitchen looked like afterwards (there was a lot of washing up so lucky I’d got by bio-d refills the day before):

Zero Waste Week: home baking

But the end result was: stewed plums and apples; plum flapjacks; oat and apple muffins; fruit cake; gingerbread dough (to freeze and make biscuits with at a later date) and fairy cakes (I always make a batch of simple fairy cakes when the oven is one – I just freeze them and the kids decorate at a later date).

Zero Waste Week: package free (and home baked) goodies

So we now have fully stocked cupboards, freezer and I hope we will have an emptier bin and compost as a result!


Supermarket Free Lent Days: Days 16-30

I have now gone past the half way point in my quest to shop without supermarkets for Lent. The last couple of weeks have been rather busy and chaotic. There has been a lot going on at home and, having very limited access to a car, means my shopping trips have been infrequent. I’m not sure this is something I can do long term as I’m beginning to realise that supermarkets are so much more convenient (hence their popularity). I’m not sure if they are cheaper as I plan to compare expenses at the end of this project. They certainly feel less expensive but this may be due to my limited choices and the kind of products I have bought.

Over the past 15 days I have shopped in the following places:

– Village Costcutters shop. This is very convenient but also expensive. I’ve struggled to buy supermarket free wine (I promise I’m not an alcoholic!) but this has been one place I’ve been able to buy from.

– Petrol Station. Technically speaking this is a supermarket as it’s a Budgens but it’s been very convenient when passing by to pick up those things I could only get from a supermarket (garlic bread, coconut milk, tomato ketchup).

– Garden Centre. This is usually one of the most expensive places to shop but I was delighted to pick up locally sourced meat here for a good price.

– Market. This week I was able to make it to the twice weekly street market in our nearest town. There were only a few stalls but I was able to buy different cheeses (which I’d been struggling to find), butter, bread and sliced ham.

– Ethical Superstore. I have been itching to try out this online supermarket and was very pleased with the order and delivery service. My goods arrived in one huge cardboard box (pictured), which had rather too much plastic packaging. I could track the delivery and the driver had no problem locating our house (which can sometimes be a problem as we’re off the beaten track). It was pricier as many of the goods are organic/Suma brand. I also made the classic mistake of ordering the wrong quantities for some things.

– I’ve also continued with my veg box, milk delivery and infrequent trips to local towns and their respective green grocers, health food stores and bakeries.

What I’m learning from this experience is that it takes time to locate supermarket-free sources for food. I have had some frustrating experiences (local butcher being closed on a Monday) but have learnt to adapt from my shopping list and meal plan. I have also been pleasantly surprised by some discoveries which I hope I will continue to make use of when Lent is over.

Plastic Free July: what I’ve been doing since

You may remember I took part in the Plastic Free July initiative and tried to reduce/cut out my consumption of single use plastic. This had mixed results and, in my last post on the subject here, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to commit to going plastic free for a whole month again. Now a couple of months have passed I’m able to take a step back and look at those things which I am still doing to avoid plastic waste:

1. Taking lots of reusable bags when shopping, refusing plastic carriers

2. I bought this brilliant leak-proof bottle from Lakeland. I took it on holiday and found it worked equally well for keeping cold drinks cool and – as we were in a wet and windy Scotland – kept hot drinks really warm. Also no leaks!


3. I’ve continued to get our milk delivered in glass bottles, but cancelled the orange juice as it was too pricey. I’m having second thoughts about our veg box as a lot of it isn’t being eaten in our house. I’m beginning to think that shopping at a local greengrocers where I can use either their paper bags, or none at all, may be a better (and cheaper) option.

4. I’ve really enjoyed rediscovering bars of soap. When in Scotland I bought some lovely handmade soaps from the Isle of Mull (I particularly loved the Lavender & Mint one).  I’ve also used Neal’s Yard’s Orange and Geranium soap and plenty of products from Lush, incl soap, body scrub, shampoo and conditioner. My latest discovery is from Faith in Nature. I’m using the tea tree one as a general hand soap and the grapefruit one in the shower. These are well made products and, so far, the soap has not fallen apart as much as the other ones did. I picked these up without any packaging in our local health food store, although I see on the website they come shrink wrapped in plastic, which is a shame.


Faith in Nature grapefruit soap, Lush containers of solid shampoo and conditioner

Buying soap this way is more expensive than a 99p plastic bottle of shower gel. However I love the fact that they produce no packaging (or the cardboard boxes can be recycled/composted). It’s also a nice bath time treat and I believe I’m smelling even nicer!!

Plastic Free July: the campaigning bit and final thoughts



Now that Plastic Free July is over there are a few things that this challenge has taught me. One of the biggest lessons is how taking part in something like this connects you to other bloggers. There have been some inspirational UK based bloggers who have really taken the no plastic message on board and through them I’ve picked up some invaluable information (and lots of encouragement).

Polythene Pam from Plastic is Rubbish alerted us to the plastic that is used in the manufacture of teabgs here. Since then there have been campaigning emails, tweets and phone calls  trying to get to the bottom of this issue. Westy Writes and Treading My Own Path have grabbed this by the scruff of its neck and it seems that no tea company has been left alone this month. For my very small part I have emailed Cafe Direct to clarify its use of plastic. Despite two emails, I have yet to hear from them.

When I received my over-packaged meat box from Riverford Organics I dropped them an email. My local suppliers contacted the butchery department who replied that the meat has to be kept in optimum condition and it is an industry standard to use the non-recyclable trays. However he said that he is looking for ‘greener packaging’. There is an interesting link here that explains Riverford’s research into different forms of packaging. However this didn’t really answer my query about why such packaging had to be used in the meat box. So I will just chalk that one up to experience and continue on my quest for less heavily packaged meat products.

After my disappointing Asda delivery with the plastic bottle of Filippo Berio olive oil  I contacted both the supermarket to ask them to change their online packaging description, and the oil manufacturer direct. I have yet to hear from the latter but Asda has called me to say they will change their website details. (I will keep an eye on that).

But I also wanted to be positive this month and thank companies. So my email to Asda also explained how useful I found the packaging information on their website (most of the time!) and mentioned those products I had bought that were packaged only in cardboard (ice cream, choc ices, waffles, veggie burgers). And I emailed Bottlegreen who produce some lovely cordials in really pretty glass bottles.


The past week has led to a few more failings in my Plastic Free quest. A trip to London on a very hot day when we left our re-usable water bottles at home meant we had to buy plastic bottles and I even failed in my quest to refuse disposable coffee cup lids. I have to admit I’m relieved the month is over and am not sure if I would take part again (or if I did be better at planning in advance).  But there are a few things I have taken on board and plan to continue with:

– keep up with milk in glass bottles (but ditch the orange juice at £1.25 per pint)

– continue to make home-made granola

– continue to refuse plastic bags, straws, plastic drinks bottles and dispoable coffee cups (as much as possible)

– keep on looking for minimal packaged meat

Now that August is here I shall enjoy a month with no challenges!



Orange milk?!

In my quest to purchase more products with less packaging I experimented with adapting my milk delivery. That is, I ordered more than just milk bottles from my milkman. Although it’s more costly I do try to buy milk this way as a) it always arrives very early in the morning, rather than me having to run out to the local Cosctutters in my dressing gown b) even when we were snowed in we still got our milk delivery while they were rationing milk supplies at the local shop and c) you can return the milkbottles.

With the latter in mind I decided to order a pint of orange juice which looked like this:


One of the girls did ask why there was orange milk in the fridge!

The thing is it went far too quickly and, at £1.20 per pint it was just too expensive. So I’m afraid I’ve gone back to supermarket tetra packs, which I am now trying hard to save for the next journey to the tip.

National Zero Waste Week – some thoughts

Last week I took part in National Zero Waste Week. This year’s theme was Food Waste and, as it’s the first time I’ve taken part, I tried to cut down on the food waste in our house. As I mentioned in previous posts we have a great compost bin. If I had been a real die-hard food non-waster last week, though, this would have been a very hungry bin. However we still seemed to generate compostable food waste in the form of peelings, teabags, egg shells and leftover cereal from breakfast. While I guess it would be good to tackle some of this in the future what really opened my eyes was the packaging of food that is our single biggest source of waste. This is the one thing that I am determined to tackle having taken part in Zero Waste Week.

So far it has only been baby steps but when shopping yesterday I went to the deli counter to buy ham, rather than pick up another plastic pack of pre-packaged ‘square’ shaped ham. The price per gramme was more expensive at the deli but the meat seems more substantial so we should be able to use less slices for sandwiches etc. It also came in a paper bag with a single sheet of grease-proof paper which is a big improvement.

I am also investigating getting a veg and fruit box which would cut down on all of that packaging. The greengrocers in our local town also offers paper bags for its veg and fruit so I could try that as well. In addition I am going to increase our milk delivery so that all our milk is delivered by returnable bottle. This is a more expensive way to buy milk though and it does seem to be more expensive to shop using less packaging which seems the wrong way round (surely the cost of packaging would be added to the price of a food item?).