Minimizing Plastic Waste While Traveling

Beautiful Food display in India

Minimizing plastic waste is a relatively easy way to reduce your carbon footprint while traveling. Air travel emissions account for our families greatest environmental spend, so we are keen to find ways to reduce our impact and if possible improve the cities we visit.

Minimizing your carbon footprint will take commitment and rigor. In Asia, grocery stores LOVE pre-wrapping fruits and veggies in plastic film. If produce isn’t already wrapped in plastic and priced, the produce you select will be bagged in plastic, weighed, closed with plastic tape and given a price sticker (trash) at the produce counter before taking to checkout. In the United States, I mostly shopped the produce departments, but in Asia, I avoid them and instead visit trusted fruit vendors and small shops. Give yourself time to adapt to find work arounds and be patient with yourself.

Ways to Minimize Plastic Use While Traveling and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Around Town Zero Waste Kit
Around Town Zero Waste Kit

Carry a Tote of Tools

  • A utensil bag will help avoid using disposables and single-use items when eating out. My bag (See Black long bag in Picture) contains metal straws, small spoons, chopsticks and a napkin. Additional items in my bag include sanitizer, spare USB cable, and soap in plastic jar to avoid anti-bacterial soaps popular in Malaysia.
  • 2-4 reusable totes / bags (Baggu bags are my favorite. I’ve had a few for 10 years)
  • 1 or 2 reusable water bottles filled with water
  • A container for leftovers. I prefer stainless steel, but often carry a plastic container for leftovers to lighten my bag weight
  • Carry a mug, thermos or glass for coffee, chai or to go drinks
  • Produce bags or paper bags, if I have any, for reuse

Eating Out

  • When ordering a drink, request “No straw”. It will work about 50% of the time if that, but every bit helps.
  • Use your own container for leftovers
  • Try to not over order


  • If you do use the plastic produce bags, reuse them. Tie them off to avoid having the produce bags taped closed.
  • Choose items sold in glass jars or paper versus plastic packaging.
  • Shop local fruit stands instead of grocery stores produce departments. The prices will be better and you can shop plastic free. (Favorites in Kuala Lumpur: JY Fruits and Vegetables near Hock Choon Market and Jalon Alor Food Street)
  • Shop small, local stores and use your own containers for items like meat, cheese and ice-cream. A favorite in KL that lets us use our own containers: Bottega Mediterranean
  • Request no plastic bags and no plastic proof-of-purchase tape at the beginning of your checkout. Proof-of-purchase tape is often placed directly on purchased items, which must be removed by purchaser later before recycling.
  • Do a search for zero waste or bulk foods on Google and Facebook when you get to a new city
  • Search vegetable markets or farm to table delivery vegetable subscription boxes for longterm stays
Stainless steel items from India
Stainless steel zero waste tools from India


  • If your place has a kettle, boil water vs. buying plastic water bottles
  • Be aware of potable water refill opportunities
  • When eating out, remember to fill your water bottles with any unfinished filtered water


I’d love to hear your zero waste, bulk bin, or environmental friendly tips and stores in SE Asia!


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