Seven reusable travel essentials to avoid disposable plastic

Travelling can be a HUGE source of disposable plastic, particularly when it involves flying. Everything food and drink is served in or with is mostly single-use disposable plastic — including meal containers, utensils, condiment packaging, snack wrappers, cups and bottles. And aside from the food, there are all the plastic-packaged accessories like headphones and blankets. But with a tiny bit of preparation and a few basic reusable items it is not that hard to avoid disposable plastic, both during your flight and the rest of your trip.

Probably the hardest part of travelling when it comes to avoiding plastic and waste is flying. When I last flew overseas 18 months ago I was the most aware I’d ever been about disposable plastic and had the opportunity to see where a lot of it ends up. Hawai’i is a major gateway to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and a lot of plastic waste washes up on its beaches. So from witnessing this plastic graveyard close-up to losing count of how many gigantic rubbish bags the flight attendants filled with single-use plastics during my flight, this was one of the most excruciating experiences I’ve had.

People just didn’t seem to get it — they were just throwing rubbish away right? (Ahhhh ‘away’ — that magical place we have NO comprehension of). But given the average passenger creates 1.4kg of waste PER FLIGHT, ‘away’ is creeping up on us and will soon be knocking on our door. This is a CRAZY amount of waste — it is roughly the amount our household creates in an entire YEAR! And as if that wasn’t bad enough, airline cabin waste is expected to DOUBLE in the next ten years.

The good news is all this waste CAN be avoided. While the airline industry is looking for solutions, as passengers we can also take more responsibility for our waste. And it’s really not hard at all!

Here are the seven ESSENTIAL reusable items you need to avoid single-use disposable plastics on your next trip:


Taking your own reusable bottle will mean you can not only avoid disposable cups/bottled water during your flight (ask the attendant to fill your bottle instead) but also avoid bottled water during the rest of your trip too.


  • Make sure you empty your bottle before you go through security. Once you are through you can refill (many airports have refilling stations).


A reusable coffee cup or tumbler can be used for any drinks during your flight that are normally served in a disposable cup. It can also be used during your trip for take-away coffee, smoothies, beer, etc. (pretty much anything!).


  • If you forget a reusable cup (like I’ve done in the past), keep the first disposable one you get and reuse it as many times as possible.


Reusable containers are great for taking meals or snacks with you on the plane, whether you bring them from home or purchase them at the airport. They can also be used for any take-away food you purchase during your trip as well as food for your return flight.


  • Pack your own food and snacks for the flight if possible (chances are it will taste better too!). If it is a short flight you may be able to just pack a few snacks, but if it is more than 4–5 hours and you need to eat a proper meal, take what you can from home. If you’re short of time you could buy a meal (or meals) from one of the cafes/restaurants at the airport. There are no restrictions on the amount of food you can take on board so pack all the meals you need if possible.
  • Choose cold meals like salads or sandwiches or if you prefer something hot use an insulated food jar. Remember to avoid liquid foods like soup due to restrictions on liquids that can be carried on board. For breakfast dry cereal, powdered milk and fruit are good options.
  • Take food that doesn’t require a knife to eat, as knives are prohibited in carry-on luggage.


You’ll need reusable utensils if you want to avoid disposable plastic ones. You can use them throughout your trip, from eating at the airport, to eating on the plane, to eating any take-away food you buy throughout your trip.


  • A utensil set is handy but make sure you pack the knife in your checked baggage due to security restrictions. Alternatively, if you can manage without a knife, a spork is a simpler option.
  • To clean utensils during your flight use a wet serviette or wash them in the bathroom.


Make sure you take reusable bags so you can avoid disposable plastic bags during your travels. You can use them for groceries, souvenirs and other shopping.


  • Choose a lightweight and compact bag like Ecosilk bags (GREAT for travelling!).


Unfortunately food is not the only single-use plastic packaged item you’ll encounter on your flight. You’ll also probably find a set of headphones on your seat. While headphones get reused the plastic packaging and ear pieces are disposable. You can avoid using the headphones provided by bringing your own (which you’ll probably be carrying anyway). These days it seems many airlines have a standard 3.5mm headphone socket but you may still need an adaptor for some.

Warm clothing

As well as headphones you may also find a blanket and socks wrapped in disposable plastic. While it may not be practical to carry your own blanket, there are ways you can avoid using the plastic-packaged blanket provided. While your travel destination may be tropical, keep in mind that the conditions on the plane won’t be, and make sure you dress appropriately, or at least take long pants and a warm sweater on board with you. A lightweight scarf or wrap is a great item for travelling (make sure you get one large enough to cover you and made from a light but warm fabric e.g. merino). Take some warm socks too so you can avoid using the packaged ones provided. Socks don’t weigh much and will hardly take up any space in your luggage.

With the right reusable items and a bit of pre-planning it is EASY to avoid disposable plastic during your next trip. All you need is a bottle, cup, container/s, utensils, one or two bags, headphones and clothing to keep you warm during the flight and you can say goodbye to the disposable plastic that normally comes with travelling!

I’d love to hear about your travelling experiences with disposable plastic — the good, the bad and the ugly!

Images via brands/Amazon

Sustainability educator & activist, founder @ Earth Ethic

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