zero waste living tipsWe’ve recently become aware of the sheer amount of waste we produce and this came about right before we packed up in minimal packing for a two week trip in Europe. While on this trip, we realized even more, how little you can live on and how much you really need. 

We packed for our trip to Iceland and Norway with two backpacking backpacks, two small regular sized backpacks and a small purse.We literally carried everything we needed for two weeks on our backs:  backpacking packs on the back, smaller packs across the front of our bodies. It can be done, folks. We’re living proof of it. 

But, when you do something like this, you become acutely aware of just how much stuff you have and you get really careful about what you buy. You literally feel the weight and consequence of your stuff. It’s been a great reminder to us as we go home to a mindset of reducing our waste.

A few weeks before our trip, we were exposed to the knowledge that most of the recycling in our area doesn’t actually get recycled, and so, we’ve started getting more serious about how to be responsible with waste. You can read more about that here, but the point is, we’re trying to lighten our load.  

Here are a few zero waste living tips we were reminded about, or learned, while backpacking in Norway and Iceland.  (Some of these will also save you money.)

  1. Dry your clothes on a drying rack. We were fortunate to have washing machines at two of the airbnb’s we stayed at, but in Europe, usually that’s all you’ll have. They don’t always do the industrial size washer AND dryer. BUT, each place had a simple metal drying rack that folded up very flat and was perfect for a full load of clothes. The clothes all dried pretty fast too, so it really wasn’t a nuisance.   
  2. Bring a grocery bag. We were charged in some places for the plastic grocery bag used. You know what? That one plastic grocery bag was used throughout the entire trip multiple times.  
  3. Reusable Water Bottle. When you’re on the road, it’s easy to just buy water bottles and soda everywhere you go. However, bringing our water bottles made it easy to just fill up anywhere we went. It was an extra bonus that we went to places where it was safe to drink the water (even directly from the glacial streams!), but even when we’ve gone to places like Mexico, they often have water jugs that are in the kitchens for drinking. 
  4. Don’t buy cheap crap. When you are carrying everything you need for the trip on your back, you get picky about what souvenirs you purchase. You buy things that have meaning and will be something you keep. There’s no room for cheap (often plastic) junk that will probably not last. 
  5. Buy only what you need. We got selective with what stuff we bought from the grocery stores and simplified our meals. We knew we had only a few days in each spot, so we would buy enough eggs for just those few days. We bought just enough milk to last us, just enough cereal, etc. Obviously, you don’t always get this one right, but over time you learn how much you need and learn to not go crazy at the store.
  6. Wear things twice. When you pack just a few things, but know you’re going to be gone for two weeks, you learn to wear your pants a few times before you call them officially too dirty to keep wearing.  Ironically, we learned that we could get by with even LESS clothing that we packed because of this and the fact that we had washing machines at our airbnb’s. Had we not had washing machines available, we would have actually packed pretty well. 

All of these things are habits we can stay in when we get home. They’re not earth-shattering things, but they will save us money AND be a responsible way of using only what we need. If we don’t need to run excessive electricity for drying clothes all the time, should we? If we don’t need to get bottled water each time on the go, should we? Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. This trip was a good reminder of that!