How to Make Your Conference & Travel as Low-Waste as Possible

Sharing is caring, and it is crucial to connect with educators around the world, but have you considered the carbon footprint conferences leave behind?
How to Make Your Conference & Travel as Low-Waste as Possible

Making a conference and air travel as low-waste as possible is probably not the top goal most educators have when going to a conference, but seeing all that waste on my last conference was pretty devastating.

Being selected to speak at a conference is a very rewarding thing. Now imagine that you are selected to speak at a conference on another continent. That’s even more rewarding. As soon as the feeling of joy and pride starts to flatten, there’s this feeling of flight shame.

It’s not a new thing, a lot of people have it, but experiencing it so strongly was a new thing for me. I was ready for EdmodoCon 2019, packed my bags in a low-waste style and went to Miami.

How to Make Your Conference & Travel as Low-Waste as Possible

I love sharing cars – it is cheaper, and it is more sustainable, so I arranged a ride from my building to the airport through BlaBla car. The chat in the car was great – the man is going to work every morning, and he wants to cut expenses by taking someone with him.

The Plastic Flight

The flight was really terrible when it comes to garbage. There was a pile of garbage. At one point, I wanted a refill – just one more cup of water. I held out the cup and asked for a refill, and the flight attendant smiled and said ”there’s no need for that sweetie”. She took the cup and gave me a new one. Again, FILLED WITH WATER. I was speechless. Why can’t you refill it? You are already pouring it from the bottle. Apparently, she wasn’t wearing gloves, and she didn’t want to touch the cup someone held. Strange, but ok, maybe it’s because of hygiene, maybe it’s the company policy – I don’t know.

Let’s do some elementary math. If 100 passengers are on a 13-hour flight, they will likely drink water, juice, or alcohol around 5 times. 

5*100=500 – not very low-waste

500 hundred plastic cups because they don’t want to refill. Don’t get me started on breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Nothing on the tray was washable except the tray. After finishing the

The return trip was a bit better since we at least got metal utensils.

Since that was my first time in the U.S.A., I wanted to make a treat box and bring tons of candies home for us to eat together. That was a problem – if you buy cookies, there is a cardboard box, then a foil and then a plastic container inside. Seriously, no one is going to hurt the cookies. If you go to the recycling bin in the hotel, or in the airport you will see mixed waste, most of it being contaminated in the first place. Why can’t we be more low-waste?

When you think about it as long as I did, you will conclude that no matter how much you try to eliminate waste, it will always be there, especially if you select air travel as your means of transport.

How to Make Your Conference & Travel as Low-Waste as Possible

Here is my tested out low-waste conference & travel list:

  • Book direct flights if you can – if you are traveling to another continent, that’s virtually impossible, but if you are not going that far, you can book direct flights.
  • Pack lightly – the more cargo a plane has, the more fuel is spent, simple as that.
  • Use ground transport if possible – I love trains, and when it comes to traveling in Europe, I always consider traveling by train first. It’s not always possible since it takes a lot of time to get there, but the travel itself is a special experience!
  • Avoid all disposables on the plane you can – this is probably the hardest thing to do since the waste keeps popping up at every single corner.
  • Try to avoid eating take out and single-use plastic – go to affordable restaurants, and eat local cuisine with reusable dishes and utensils. Why should you eat at McDonald’s if you are in Greece?!
  • Go paperless with your check-in – this is sometimes not possible – it depends on your flight, who purchased the tickets, etc. You can usually board just with your passport, so try to check-in online whenever you can.
  • Dry your hands on the dryer – you don’t need to waste 57363 paper towels. I’ve seen a lot of people take kilometers of paper towels at the airport – it’s just ridiculous.

BYOS – Bring Your Own Something

  • Bring your own refillable water bottle. You will not be able to bring water through the check-in, but you can ask the flight attendant to fill in your bottle when you board.
  • Bring your own snacks – this is a good idea if your flight is short. I was on a 14-hour flight on my way to Miami, so I had to eat on board, but when I went to Sweden, I had my own snacks, since the flight lasted for 1 hour and 45 minutes.
  • Carry an extra tote bag for shopping – I do this regardless of where I am. There is always something that needs to be carried.
  • Eat street food – I tried empanadas in Little Havana – they were DELICIOUS! Also, I had the most amazing quesadilla in my life! My mind was blown by the quality of the food in a food truck since we do not have them in Serbia.
  • Avoid straws. I have metal straws at home since we love to drink iced coffee and cocktails, but you can simply say no to the straw.
  • Bring your reusable period pads – yes, you heard me. If you know that your period is coming soon, be ready for it. I love bamboo pads, and I always carry at least one with me.
  • Bring your own toiletries. Use small bottles (every woman accumulates small deluxe size bottles for toiletries) and fill them with the products you use at home. I always do that, and I keep reusing the small bottles I have had for years.

A few more low-waste things…

  • Don’t use the toothbrushes and samples that are often left in your hotel room – just leave them there to be reused by the next visitor.
  • Use the ”eco” option at the hotel – request that the sheets and the towels get changed after your check out. You don’t need your room cleaned every day. I did the same in Miami, and I even had unused towels at the end of my 8-day visit because there were so many of them.
  • Shop in second-hands or locally! – Many people hate going to a second-hand store when they travel, but I love it! I always buy local hand-made souvenirs to gift to people. I built my English library by purchasing almost new books at second-hands worldwide.
  • Use public transport at your destination – this is a whole new experience. It’s a chance to see the place you are visiting as a local. Ubers and taxis just transport you, while public transport works as a cheap sightseeing bus. I used public transport a lot in Sweden, and I saw so many beautiful things on the way!
  • Spend your money on experiences! – This one is probably the most valuable of all low-waste travel tips. I spent my money on local food, a tour on the hop on hop off bus, and visiting Miami Beach. It was truly amazing.
  • Try to buy recyclable packaging and put it in recycling bins. I always check the back of the packaging when I’m shopping. Try to avoid certain packagings that never get recycled. Plastic marked with 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 cannot be recycled in Serbia, even though 6 can also mean it’s biodegradable.)
  • Think about the sponsors and the free things you may be offered at a conference. When you are a presenter at a big conference, there are a lot of random goodies you can get. I always politely reject to take tons of pens, flyers or things I know I won’t be using at all.

To conclude

This is not a very innovative list when it comes to low-waste traveling, but people still create insane amounts of waste during their travels. Educators should empower youth to be environmentally friendly, but first, they have to be environmentally friendly themselves. If they are not, those are just empty words and meaningless activities once a year on Earth day.

And finally – share your email and create contacts. Meeting other educators is worth more than anything. This is why you are there, to network, and learn new things.

Have you ever tried to make your conference and travel environmentally friendly? How can you travel and maintain the low-waste lifestyle? Write in the comments, I would love to hear your opinion about low-waste!

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About Alice Glass

Alice is a 27 years old preschool teacher (Pre-K) with a B.Ed. She is currently enrolled in her Master studies, with a double major, one of them being English teaching methodology. She is also an online ESL teacher and blog writer for British Council. Last but not least, she is a mother of a very energetic toddler.

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