O’Keeffe: Keep it green while you travel


Kushagra Gupta/Observer

Recycling and garbage cans at the Tinkham Veale University Center. Decisions made concerning the enviroment can be made in more places and more often than generally thought.

While eating my way south of the Mason-Dixon Line on spring break, I couldn’t help but realize the waste and excess traveling incurs.

Between linens, fuel, Styrofoam to-go cups and soda bottles, the vacation lifestyle quickly racks up environmental costs.

Taking trips is fun, basking in the sun is relaxing and traveling provides education well beyond the scope of any classroom: Thus nipping our vacation plans in the buds in the name of “going green” is impractical.

However that doesn’t limit us from reminding ourselves to think sustainably and take small actions during a trip to reduce our environmental impact while we splurge on ourselves.

One of the easiest ways to be environmentally friendly while traveling is to forgo daily linen washing. Cleaning towels and sheets for every guest, every day quickly adds up to massive energy and water consumption. Simply hanging up your towels, making the bed, and asking housekeeping to not replace your linens results in impactful environmental savings.

Many hotels have begun implementing such practices: World famous Caesars Palace in Las Vegas saves roughly 30 million gallons of water per year (roughly $200,000) according to NatGeo. The EPA reports that in the first eight years of these practices, the hotel industry has saved upwards of 487 billion gallons of water. (That’s “b” for billion.)

Finally, with fewer washes and cycles through the dryer, linens are able to last longer, reducing the need to purchase more. That’s what I call a win-win.

Toiletries are another big source of environmental waste. The cute soaps, shampoos and lotions often move into landfills after you check out. Reduce your use of these complimentary toiletries by only opening one soap per stay and leave as many toiletries untouched as possible. Better yet buy and refill your own travel-sized shampoo bottles and pack your own soap.

In recognition of the waste created by toiletries, Clean the World, a nonprofit that recycles used soaps and plastic bottles, was born. Global hotel chains and bed-and-breakfasts have partnered with Clean the World: The hotel collects their used toiletries for Clean the World, who in turn re-process the soaps and donates them to communities in need throughout the world.

Since 2009 over 30 million bars of soap have been distributed to over 100 countries. The next time you book a reservation, consult cleantheworld.org to see if your prospective hotel participates in this great initiative. Our campus neighbors, Courtyard by Marriott and the Intercontinental, already participate!

Travelling to your destination is another culprit on increased carbon footprint during vacation. The car versus airplane debate has been long and confusing: Many studies make apples to oranges comparison between the resulting emissions per person of cars and airplanes. Additionally, the fuel efficiency of airplanes is increasing in leaps and bounds as airlines try to reduce emissions and spend less money on expensive fuel.

The general consensus is that when traveling between short and moderate distances, driving with at least two other friends is the more environmentally attractive option. For just two people, the fuel efficiency between driving and flying is a wash, but for every friend or family member you add, driving becomes significantly more efficient.

To be most efficient, consider hopping on a Greyhound or Megabus (every college student’s best friend for intercity travel). Once you’ve arrived at your destination, soak in the surroundings via foot or pretend to be a local and utilize public transportation.

This summer, when the school year is over and we embark on backpacking trips or family vacations, consider these easy, practical practices to reduce your environmental impact while you explore new places and take much-needed time to relax.

Splurge on yourself decadently, but remain mindful of environmental costs.

Heather O’Keeffe is a fourth-year student studying biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. Her favorite vending machine dinner includes Rice Krispie Treats and Nutter Butters.