Traveling can be harmful on the environment. But with a few thoughtful travel products, you can reduce your environmental footprint and make your suitcase more eco-conscious! Every week we give you advice on environmentally friendly alternatives for your packing list.
With every purchase you take influence on the future you want to live in. For your travel packing list, whether clothing, shoes, toiletries or electronic devices, this means that selecting the material used, the amount of resources needed to make it, the use of potentially harmful additives, the biodegradability of the final product, and last but not least, the production process and its safety and social standards – all these factors have an impact on the environment in which we live! As a consumer, you can help support manufacturers who value environmental and socially responsible practices.
Don’t be discouraged by the number of alternatives you might find: There are manufacturers who seek to offset carbon emissions, and other who use environmentally friendly packaging, some produce as locally as possible, others pay fair wages, use renewable energy, rely on recycled fibers or support social projects. In the end, you have to decide for yourself what is more important to you. There is hardly a product or a manufacturer that is perfect in every way. Instead, it’s about making an attempt to consciously seek greener solutions.
This blog does not want to encourage you to get rid of the travel equipment you already have. Rather, we would like to provide suggestions about environmentally friendly alternatives for new purchases. You can start little by little and slowly transform your travel equipment over time.
Did you know that textiles take up the most space in landfills and take hundreds of years to decompose? The only way not to harm the environment with the textile industry is to stop buying new clothes. This is probably not a realistic alternative for most of us. So how can we make a difference that benefits the environment, without sacrificing comfort and style and overburdening our budget?
Rethink every purchase of clothing and decide whether it is really necessary. A good way to consciously buy less is to switch to timeless designs which you can wear for a longer period of time. Multipurpose articles such as e.g. dresses that can be worn as sweaters are convenient and space-saving when you travel.
What kind of clothing do I really need to travel?
- Long sleeve shirts
- Pants (long, short)
- Sportswear (top, shorts or pants)
- Suitable clothing for your internship or volunteer position
- Multifunctional article: e.g. dresses that can also be worn as skirts
- Sarong / Pareo (big, airy beach dress)
- Leggings (for wearing under dresses and skirts in culturally sensitive regions and countries)
When choosing your clothes, please consider cultural features in your host country as well. In many conservative countries or rural areas, it may not be appropriate to dress too revealingly. Avoid shorts, low-cut t-shirts and transparent materials in these areas.
Which fibers and materials are currently being used for eco-friendly clothing?
Cotton: Cotton is the most commonly used fiber in all our garments. Conventional cotton, however, needs large amounts of water, herbicides, insecticides and pesticides that pose a threat to the health of farm workers and our ecosystem. In addition, cotton depleches the soil heavily. Organic cotton also needs a lot of water and contributes to the degeneration of the soil; but at least no chemicals are used in its cultivation and in production.
Bamboo: Bamboo fibers are one of the biggest current eco-trends. This is no surprise as the plant has many eco-friendly features: bamboo is not only the fastest growing plant in the world, but also cleans the air during cultivation, contributes to the recovery of the soil and requires no chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In addition, the water consumption is much lower than for cotton. The conventional conversion of bamboo wood into bamboo fiber requires several toxic chemicals. However, manufacturers can also resort to ecological treatment techniques. Whether this is the case is usually indicated on the product website.
Hemp: Hemp requires little water and only takes a few weeks to grow. Because hemp is naturally resistant to pests, it does not require pesticides and insecticides. Hemp fabrics are stronger than cotton, hardwearing and comfortable. The more you wear the fabric, the softer it becomes.
Linen or flax fiber: Both are biodegradable, do not require chemicals during cultivation and have strong fibers. When worn, they absorb moisture, feel cool on the skin and easily withstand high temperatures.
Tencel: Tencel is made from eucalyptus trees. The plants do only need little water and do not need pesticides or insecticides. Make sure the wood comes from a sustainably managed forest. Tencel is soft, lightweight, breathable and durable.
Lenpur: The basis for this plant fiber is cellulose, which is obtained from the pruning of trees in forestry. Therefore, not a single tree or bamboo must be felled for the production! Clothing from Lenpur is soft and feels like cashmere. It has a heat-regulating and odor-neutralizing effect.
Recycled materials: Clothing can also be made from all types of recycled plastics, from recycled polyester to fleece and cotton yarn. For example, recycled plastic bottles can be mixed with cotton or other materials to obtain a soft tissue. Recycled cotton yarn can be recovered from T-shirt factories and be spun again. On the one hand, it’s a great way to reuse the material you’ve already produced, saving valuable resources. However, the chemical treatment of the materials is problematic, which contributes to the microplastic problem with every wash.
Which outdoor gear should I pack?
- Rain jacket / windbreaker / waterproof jacket
- Fleece jacket
- Hiking pants
Outdoor gear needs to be waterproof, durable, lightweight and quick drying. With most outdoor items these features are met by using PFCs (polyfluorinated chemicals). Studies showed that PFCs evaporates from the outdoor gear in the air and has already been found in secluded mountain lakes and snow. The chemicals can then accumulate in living organisms where the long term effects to the human body are yet unknown. Many brands have already switched to PFC free technologies and are using other eco friendly alternatives such as recycled polyester, recycled rubber for shoes and dye free membranes among others.
- Flip flops
- Possibly hiking shoes, if you’re planning to be in the outdoors a lot.
Soles of shoes and their cushioning system are usually made out of synthetic rubber which is a petroleum-based material. Furthermore, the production of shoes for example in Asia is prone to unfair social and dangerous production standards. Luckily, the choice of responsibly made shoes could not be greater. Look out for brands which are working under the fair trade certification or any other independent social and environmental assessment bodies. Material wise you have plenty to choose from. Instead of using synthetic rubber, shoes can be made of natural rubber which is harvested by tapping into the bank and removing a milky sap while the tree continues to grow. Comfort and quality wise the shoes come with the same characteristics. Other alternatives for the sole especially for flip flops and sandals are cork, hemp, natural bamboo grass, seagrass, corn-based soles and Pinatex which is a fiber made of pineapple leaves. In the category of reused material used for the soles, you can find shoes made of recycled rubber, plastic from the ocean, tires, wine corks, industrial hoses, polyester, post-industrial foam and fabric. Watch out also for all natural dye and non-toxic ink.
Next week we will give you more tips and advice for your eco-friendly packing list!