Zero-waste backpacking tips


As a Westerner, backpacking is easy…. We arrive, we make friends, we eat cheap food, drink cheap beer and sleep in cheap beds. We sit around discussing the places we’ve visited with relative strangers over a Chang or a Bintang, and next week we’re in a different place…

We eat Pad Thai on the street on the infamous Kao San Road, spicy noodles in Hanoi, and binge on tacos in Mexico City.... and then we leave.

We leave, but the waste stays. Backpacking is indeed easy… but the sustainably of backpacking is hard. It seems so inconvenient that we tend to convince ourselves that it’s impossible, and in turn grant ourselves immunity from any responsibility about thinking consciously about our waste.

What happens to the Pad Thai forks? The taco boxes? The water bottles?....Are we as backpackers responsible, or is it too much to ask of us to carry bamboo utensils and water purifiers?


The honest answer is, that I really don’t know…. Because I have in the past (and sometimes in the present) been guilty of the sin that is ‘backpacking waste’ myself, and it’s something that I am not proud of.

So the purpose of this blog post is simple. I can’t tell you what is too much to ask, but I can try to make that ‘ask’ a little bit easier by giving you some handy zero-waste backpacking tips based on my own experiences.

Number #1:

My biggest tip…. Travel water purifiers. The one I carry with me is by a company called ‘LifeStraw’ It is extremely portable and it literally allows you to drink from a pond (if you wanted to!). I do a lot of trekking, so it’s the perfect companion for me.

There are many variants available, so if you are going to be in a country where you know tap water is potentially ‘diarrhoea threatening’, buy a water purifier in the form of a bottle! They are compact, travel friendly and don’t cost a lot. If you consider that you’ll otherwise be spending at least £1 a day on water from local stores and wasting tons of plastic bottles in the meantime, then buying one goes a long way in reducing your single-use plastic consumption.

Number #2:

Make room for a travel food waste kit. Include food storage boxes, a reusable knife, fork and spoon, and of course a Jungle Straw Kit containing bamboo straws, cleaning brush and single straw case.

If you pack smart, a small kit like this will be tiny, and super easily to fit into your luggage. It gives you somewhere to easily put left-over food and you’ll never need to hold a street food container again. Simple. Easy. Zero-Waste!

My Final Tip:

Sit down for coffee. It’s estimated that we use over 8 million disposable coffee cups a day in the UK. What’s the problem you ask? Coffee cups are paper, aren’t they compostable?

Well, in order to make coffee cups air tight they are lined with plastic polyethylene… this makes them very difficult to recycle and in the end less than 1% of cups are reused.

Avoid the disposable coffee cup, sit down and enjoy some sipping time in the morning with a reusable version instead. My favourite is this one by BioGo. It’s a little larger than some that are available, but it’s eco-friendly and made from rice husk fibre. It’ll be as good for you as it is the environment!

By Jamie Skinner - Guest post for Jungle Straws