I bought a car for the first time in my life earlier this year. This big purchase allowed me to finally make plans to check off a lifelong bucket list item — road tripping across America.
After posting a picture of my cute new car (a fuel-efficient Honda Fit) on my social media accounts, my heart fell when an environmental activist friend commented, telling me to get rid of “that monstrosity.’’
I wasn’t about to sell my car or cancel my trip, but I realized that my personal carbon footprint would escalate quickly on a road trip. Viral videos and documentaries about global warming, ocean pollution, and deforestation have always depressed me, yet I never really thought I could do anything about it. On a trip to Asia last fall, the problem became more real to me when I saw piles of burning trash and straw-littered beaches in real life.
After getting publicly shamed about my gas-guzzling, I decided to make an effort to reduce my impact, instead of just swallowing my guilt. If we all make small adjustments, it can add up to create wide-scale change.
1. Green Gas
Right after buying my car, I learned about the Green Gas Movement, a Somerville-based nonprofit founded by a trio of Northeastern alumni. The Green Gas Card is a free, secured debit card that links to your bank account and donates 10 cents per gallon of gas to certified clean air projects, including tree-planting charities and clean energy initiatives. The company calculates the additional charge for your gas based on the national average. Gas prices fluctuate so much anyway that I didn’t notice the difference.
2. Reusable drink containers
In the past, I always mindlessly bought tons of bottled water and drinks in disposable cups with plastic lids while traveling. The waste adds up quickly. For this trip, I purchased a stainless-steel water bottle as well as a vacuum-insulated cup. To help eliminate the need to buy drinks on the road, I also brought a 2.5-gallon water tank, several types of powdered drink mixes, and I made cold-brew iced coffee in a large rubber-sealed glass jar.
3. Stainless steel straws
Plastic straws are not recyclable, so I ordered a pack of stainless steel straws that I kept in my purse and used with my travel cup. The straws came with a handy pipe-cleaning brush. I also tried to use my own straw when buying drinks at restaurants; however, servers often delivered drinks with an already-open plastic straw. I was disappointed that creating unnecessary garbage was outside of my control, but my steel straw also helped me start many conversations with servers about how they could reduce their waste, too.
4. Collecting litter
When walking in a beautiful urban park in Richmond, Va., I was saddened by the piles of trash that had gathered in the nooks between large rocks on a river. Because of my green-travel goals, I decided to do something I’ve always considered but never acted on — I started picking up litter. I was annoyed that I had nowhere to put it or easily carry it out. After that, I decided to keep recycled bags in my purse and daypack so I could pick up any trash I found along the way; it was an excellent way to reuse ice bags and other unavoidable plastic waste that I accumulated. It’s also easy to find a littered plastic bag to use to collect and carry out refuse.
5. Eat green
It’s hard to eliminate waste from packaging when you eat, especially on the go. I avoided Styrofoam at all costs. I also tried to avoid takeout, opting for cooked meals whenever I could with my friends and family who hosted me, at hostel kitchens, or on my camping stove. I chose snacks packaged in cardboard whenever possible. I bought a bunch of nuts and dried fruit in bulk and made trail mix. I stored it in resealable bags that I had saved from previously purchased packaged food. I also bought produce that travels well and didn’t come in plastic packaging. Loose carrots, bananas, and apples are my top picks. Summer is the best time of year to eat locally grown while traveling, which also reduces the carbon footprint of shipping food long distances. I took every opportunity I could to stop at farmers’ markets and roadside farm stands.