The Impossible Task of Zero Waste Travel: The Destination

Today is definitely the perfect day to post the third and final part of my zero waste travel series. There is currently quite a lot of snow here in Oxford so aside from wearing gloves while typing and hugging the tiny radiator under my desk, writing about much warmer times in Portugal seems rather appropriate. This is probably the post that I was most excited to write of all three in the series because who doesn’t love talking about The Destination:

No matter your reasons for travelling, you probably want it to be as stress free as possible so it’s important not to get too hung up on being perfect if it’s going to be difficult. This is especially true when it comes to being in another country, particularly if there’s a language barrier. If you packed smart then hopefully you won’t need much when you get to your destination but there’s always some things that you will need to buy like food and drink, and if you’re like me then there will inevitably be something that you forgot no matter how many holiday packing lists you made.

Living zero waste donesn’t seem to have taken off in the Portuguese countryside as of yet so some compromises were made. The most notable of these compromises was the use of bottled water, my parents house is a little out of the way and they haven’t yet gotten on to mains water which means that the tap water comes through a pump system in the garden which isn’t drinking water so they have to buy bottled water in large quantities. There is a pretty good recycling system in their area so but it still felt like a definite set back in my journey. Fortunately I found a lot of other ways to be eco on my trip and that’s really what it’s all about, exploring new ways of living and making a conscious effort.

One thing that I did find was how easy it is to get food in a sustainable way. Mainland Europeans love their markets, making locally sourced and packaging free produce really accessible. In my parents local town there is a market every Saturday with fresh meat, fish and vegetables plus grains, herbs and spices all sold loose. There is also no shortage of bakeries and patisseries, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that a plastic free store had opened where you can go to fill your own containers with various whole foods. It just goes to show that if you do a little rummaging, you can find plenty of options for keeping up your zero waste lifestyle even away from home. A more convenient option was also in the supermarkets where similarly to the UK (if not more so) fruit and veg were sold loose, as well as a bakery, meat and fish counters. I’m not sure how confident I am in my limited Portuguese speaking skills to be able to ask for things at the counter in my own containers but luckily I have mum on hand to do a little translating for me, I would be useless in any other country though so no judgement if you don’t do this! A couple of other really impressive supermarket innovations were dispensers for nuts and seeds to be sold loose and my personal favourite, an orange squeezing station where you can fill up your own bottles with freshly squeezed orange juice!

As I mentioned before, communication can be a huge barrier for a zero waster abroad so don’t worry if the waiter didn’t understand that you didn’t want a straw (this happened to me countless times, my Portuguese is terrible) or if you can’t explain to the cashier that you don’t need a bag. It’s hard work making a conscious effort in a place that doesn’t necessarily understand you or, in the case of being way out in the country, even understand the concept of no plastic so don’t let it ruin your good time. As always just do your best, try to educate others and stay positive. Every time I have to use a straw, or a trow away carrier bag, or a plastic bottle I feel bad but that’s good! As they say, knowing is half the battle so being conscious of what you’re using and noticing when you do something bad will ultimately help you make better decisions and be more prepared next time!


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