How to Make Your Gap Year Plastic Free

Did you know it’s #PlasticFreeJuly? This challenge focuses on the behavior change needed to turn the tide on plastic waste. It’s especially important to minimize your plastic use on your gap time; many areas of the world don’t dispose of their waste properly, which increases the chances of it ending up in the ocean. Still, we all need to work together to reduce plastic waste, since studies show a ton of plastic waste is ending up in the oceans anyway.

Consider adding these items to your packing list so you can avoid extra plastic use on your travels:

Steripen: A Steripen is a genius invention that uses UV light to sterilize water in places where tap water needs to be filtered. This allows you to carry a reusable water bottle instead of buying single-use water bottles your entire trip. Over the course of several month of travel, this can save hundreds of plastic bottles from going into the trash!

Compostable toothbrush: Here’s a stat to blow your mind: every toothbrush ever created is still in existence somewhere. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it, since they are made from plastic and take at least 450 years to biodegrade. Making a simple switch to a bamboo or wooden toothbrush is an easy way to ensure that your toothbrush won’t outlive you. They are also super light and easy to pack for travel.

Stainless steel straw: This past Christmas, I gave everyone in my family stainless steel straws in their stockings. Straws are my ultimate environmental nemesis, and their use has gone unchecked in our culture until recently. Now, thanks in part to National Geographic’s plastic issue this spring, business are increasingly committing to going straw-free or at least straw-by-request. The granddaddy of them all – Starbucks – just announced they will be straw-free by 2020. The company estimates this move will eliminate more than 1 billion plastic straws per year! If you love using a straw, buy a stainless steel one and sip to your heart’s content.

Shampoo bar: It’s a pain to travel with tiny shampoo and conditioner bottles anyway, so why not travel with a shampoo bar and save yourself hassle and plastic waste? Lush and other companies make some nice products that are great for your hair and the environment.

Tupperware or Bee’s Wrap: Tupperware is always on my packing list because it’s surprisingly versatile. You can keep leftovers from getting squished in your bag, use it as a bowl, or use it as a packing cube for electronics. But a side benefit is that carrying a Tupperware will allow you to avoid creating unnecessary waste when saving half a sandwich from a café or storing some leftover fruit from the local market. Bee’s wrap is another amazing reusable product (manufactured here in Vermont) that can be used to wrap sandwiches, cover bowls and – best of all – can be composted at the end of its useful life.

Renewed travel clothing: No doubt when you are thinking about your gap year travels, you recognize the need to buy a few useful clothing items. Consider purchasing clothes from The Renewal Workshop, Patagonia or other ethical retainers committed to recycling clothing. Renewal Workshop literally repairs discarded clothing and resells it as “renewed.” Their stock includes travel-friendly brands like Prana, Toad&Co, Ibex and Mountain Khakis.

Beyond these tips, think about your choices when you travel. Choose to renew, reuse and repurpose whenever possible. Not only will it save you money (which you can then use towards experiences!) but it will help keep our planet beautiful. Oh – and don’t forget to buy carbon offsets for your plane ride 🙂

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