By: Rachel Skeen
Photography: Rachel Pressley, @rachelbpressley
Working as a Field Marketing Specialist for Merrell means 80% of my life is traveling around the Carolinas. Everyday waste can pile up fast when you’re eating out for every meal so, when I started this job, I wanted to make sure I was creating as little waste as possible.
One way I do this is by trying to avoid single-use items. It doesn’t have to be plastic to refuse something that is only meant for one-time use!
Shopping on the Road
From retail to grocery stores, I bring my own bags. When I forget and need to use a plastic bag, that’s my trash bag for the week!
The zero-waste community has unintentionally turned into a guilt trip blackhole, where each “wrong” decision makes you feel worse. It’s not about feeling guilty every time you throw something away, even if it is plastic. The sustainability movement needs to move away from the guilt trip system and focus on the positive impacts our small swaps can make. That’s why I’ll never claim to be zero-waste. I’m just striving to have less of an impact than I did yesterday.
Footwear: Women’s Gridway
Staying Hydrated on the Road
My reusable water bottle collection was the easiest swap. Now I carry one wherever I go and can easily fill it up at gas stations or rest stops.
Sometimes the long drives between accounts hits me so a coffee run is needed! I have an insulated tumbler that stays in my car always. Not interested in the extra expense? A mason jar can work the same! Just throw a sock over the bottom to protect your hands from the heat.
Occasionally, I’ll take the time to sit inside a coffee shop and use an in-house coffee mug. This gives me a chance to relax and read a book before hopping back on the road for a few hours.
Eating on the Road
For my constant snacking, I buy in-bulk to reduce packaging or make snacks in advance. I have a huge container of trail mix that just sits in my passenger seat and lasts for several days! And don’t even get me started on shopping bulk for dried unsweetened mangos. Game-changer.
I also make peanut butter energy bites for longer road trips when I expect to stop for hiking breaks. For these trips, I also prepare sandwiches and other snacks to bring along so I can stop at parks and rest stops instead of restaurants and gas stations.
These snacks usually get stored in mason jars or reusable snack bags so I can avoid one-use plastic baggies. When I do stop at gas stations, I’ll bring my own steel tin and let my sweet tooth take over at the donut station!
Footwear: Women’s Gridway
Since I work so many hours on the road, I eat out for almost every meal. To minimize waste, I take a few minutes to Google to find a local restaurant that serves food on real plates. The extra time it takes to look for something that isn’t on the exit sign will not only help reduce waste but it also gives me the opportunity to try local restaurants and maybe even some new foods!
For the times when I can’t finish my meal, I keep a small 8 oz. container in my bag. This helps me say “no” to Styrofoam to-go containers that are only being used once.
Before I bought my cooler, I had to get creative with how I kept my food cold in non-fridge hotels. How else would I have discovered that my Nalgene container fits perfectly in the hotel room ice bin? So, to avoid wasted food, I keep a cooler in my car and use hotel ice because, well, it’s free.
I also keep Dr. Bronner’s soap and a small scrubber in my toiletries bag so I can clean any of my reusables in the hotel sink.
Some road trips have time-sensitive destinations or I just don’t want to get out of the car, so the drive-thru is inevitable and, honestly, welcomed. I’m a sucker for Taco Bell. The bonus is that a lot of their food is wrapped in paper packaging so it’s also compostable!
Composting on the Road
Charlotte, NC has a composting program called Crowntown Compost that allows me to fill a bin with anything and everything compostable. I typically keep this in my car and will use it for packaging, dye-free paper towels, as well as food waste from events I work for Merrell. I use a bin with an airtight lid, so any potential smell doesn’t leave the container!
If your town doesn’t have a widespread program like this, you can contact community gardens or local farmers to see if they would accept it for their compost system.
Jacket: Women’s Entrada Insulated Jacket
Sleeping on the Road
Personally, I prefer staying in Airbnb’s. Not only do the home owners give great local recommendations, they’re usually more affordable and aren’t as wasteful when it comes to washing towels, hair care products, and the use of cleaning chemicals.
But when you work on the road, hotels are hard to avoid. From keeping my “do not disturb” tag on the door to bringing my own shampoo, these little things help minimize the impact I have during my stay. Granted, a lot of hotels are required to throw away the mini samples regardless of whether they were used. Wasteful, right?
Well, there are also companies like Clean the World that recycle these soaps to people who need basic self-care items. It’s not going to keep the plastic bottles out of the landfill, but it’ll ensure the products don’t get wasted because someone in need gets access.
It’s not about living a zero-waste lifestyle or having no impact whatsoever. We’re all going to have an impact on the environment, regardless of how hard we try. Instead, it’s about intentional, everyday choices that help us reduce our waste.
There is no one right way to be sustainable or eco-friendly.
It’s about going beyond your consumer choices and the single-use swaps to also realize that living low waste is about being present, living with intention, becoming an informed voter, and just doing the best you can every chance you get.