Low Waste Travel (Mottainai)

*all photos by    Nicole Morrison

*all photos by Nicole Morrison

Earth Day is right around the corner! These days, I try to practice the essence of being kind to the Earth every day. I grew up with a long-standing, low-waste mentality that is rooted in everyday Japanese practices and Shinto Buddhism, where everything has energy, and even inanimate objects have spirits. It is the concept of mottainai, which roughly translates to “do not waste.” There is no literal English translation, but the word itself, mottainai, sounds so much prettier than saying “don’t waste,” doesn’t it?

Nourish Co. Journal | Low Waste Travel

I’ve had this drilled into my head since I was young, especially when it comes to food! The idea of wasting nothing, to take nothing for granted, is one of the oldest ideas hailing from the island country of Japan. I think some of this also stems from my dad’s upbringing in Hawai’i, as islands have so little resources to begin with. I now practice mottainai at home, and have created this as my guide! Now that I have a system, it’s much easier to stay low-waste at home.

But when it comes to traveling, it’s often really hard to be low-waste. We went to the South last year, and I was shocked to see how environmentally behind the cities were (we are definitely in a bubble in San Francisco!) We didn’t plan ahead and were horrified at all the waste we made (plastic bags! styrofoam! plastic bottles!) I’ve tested out packing these tools on a few trips and can now vouch for them being tried and true, and simple!

Nourish Co. Journal | Low Waste Travel

How to pack to stay low-waste everywhere:

This small but mighty water filter has prevented us from using dozens of water bottles! Here’s some info about what it filters out and how.

  • Bring a chic reusable water bottle

  • Reusable coffee/tea mug for coffee shop runs. Most cafes are happy to reduce waste and pour your drink into your own mug if you just ask!

  • I usually bring my own matcha and whisk it in the mug with this whisk.

  • Bryan uses a collapsable coffee filter and we bring paper filters with us! Not all hotels have the best coffee and we’re a bit spoiled from living in San Francisco!

  • I pack snacks, a hearty salad, fruit and hard-boiled eggs in these containers. When you’re done using them, they go inside each other like little Russian dolls to save space! Depending on the country, you can sometimes take your leftovers home in these, which saves some plastic containers.

  • Reusable utensils— I’ve been blown away by what a big difference in waste the simple act of bringing your own utensils can make, especially at more casual restaurants.

  • Take your reusable shopping bags and produce bags to pick up snacks or groceries along the way

  • Library books and books on audio from the library

  • Visiting farmer’s markets are a great way to support the local economy, and to weave in some healthy snacks and meals! I like to find out which farmer’s markets are closest to where we are staying, and find out their hours before going on the trip so I can plan ahead.

  • Natural foods markets are another great way to stay somewhat healthy and waste free while traveling! Extra points if they have a good bulk section, where you can stock up on snacks minus the plastic waste!

  • Small glass containers for toiletries (instead of purchasing “travel size” items) and caps to make them travel-safe.

Nourish Co. Journal | Low Waste Travel

If you found this post helpful, check out my tips on how to stay nourished at 4,000 feet!

*If you find objects here that speak to you or resonate with your own sense of style, I would greatly appreciate you using my affiliate link (it’s already there when you click on an item!) to purchase. Doing so allows Nourish Co. to benefit from a percentage of the purchase, which allows us to continue sharing guides, rituals, recipes, and stories that connect us to our communities and heritages.