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05 July 2019

Top Tips to Start Travelling Responsibly

And you may be surprised which is the most effective!

Today, in 2019, the tourism industry is predicted to grow by 4 per cent1 every year – so there’s no denying that we love to travel, and our wanderlust is only increasing.

However, with the recent onset of #noplaceforplastic campaigns, climate change protests, and David Attenborough’s compelling documentaries, a change is taking place. Our love of travel and our commitment to the environment are propelling a new interest in eco-friendly hotels, ethical supply chains, and animal welfare focused excursions.

On average, 24 per cent2 of an individual’s footprint in greenhouse gas emissions comes from tourism, so we at Yellow Zebra are keen to find a balance between travelling the world and respecting our planet at the same time. So, to help travellers reduce their carbon footprint and plastic waste, we’ve created our own ‘Positive Environmental Impact Score’. Below, we’ve calculated how small changes in daily life and on holiday can reduce your carbon and waste.

#1 Use ocean-friendly sun care

It’s estimated that 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen ends up in oceans and coral reefs every year, simply from our having a cooling dip in the sea.3 Oxybenzone is found in sunscreen and is one of the worst culprits. It poisons coral reefs in a similar way to how we see everyday pollution – bleaching the coral and disrupting growth and reproductive abilities.

Sustainable travel Ocean friendly suncare

Furthermore, sunscreen is mainly found only in plastic bottles. Brands such as Shade have created all-natural sunscreen in zero-waste packaging – choosing this over plastic-bottled sun care can help reduce your carbon footprint.

The average adult who wears factor 30 should apply at least six full teaspoons (approximately 36 grams) to cover the body.

This adds up to around four 200ml bottles per adult per week. Based on our previous calculations, this equates to 132.48g of carbon dioxide per person during a seven-day holiday.

#2 Use plastic free bottles

The average water bottle takes 450 years to decompose, and last year the average American used 167 disposable water bottles yet only recycled 38! In the UK the typical Londoner buys more than three plastic water bottles every week – a startling 175 bottles every year per person.4

Processing plastic resins and transporting plastic contributes to a bottle’s carbon footprint in a major way. Estimates show that one 500ml plastic bottle of water has a total carbon footprint equal to 82.8 grams (about 3 ounces) of carbon dioxide.5 Switching plastic single-use bottles to a reusable one will save 0.01449 tonnes of CO2 per year (per person!), lowering the contribution to plastic waste by 175 per cent.

Sustainable travel Do away with all plasticc bottles

The average person uses 10ml of shampoo to wash their hair, around three times per week. By switching to plastic-free shampoo and conditioner bottles, you could save 538.2g of carbon every year. This can also be applied to bars of soap over bottles of body wash – you could save 269g of carbon per year.

Tips for travellers?

Bring ‘solid’ alternatives to liquids such as bars of shampoo and conditioner and try not to use complimentary hotel shampoo and conditioner bottles.

#3 Swap your plastic bags for Ziploc bags

With this tip, we’re not just talking about plastic bottles! Visitors to countries such as Tanzania are being advised to avoid packing any plastic carrier bags in suitcases or hand luggage before embarking on a trip.

To help reduce plastic in the future, there will be a special desk at all the country’s entry points where visitors will be asked to surrender plastic carrier bags. However, the government’s statement notes that Ziploc bags (specifically used to carry toiletries) will be permitted as they’re expected to remain in the possession of visitors and not to be disposed of whilst you’re in the country.

Sustainable travel Adhering to single use plastic bans

Why not take Tanzania’s amazing initiative one step further and swap out as many single-use plastics as possible from your suitcase? Pack a steel straw for drinking, a couple of easy-to-transport food containers, reusable cotton rounds instead of cotton wool pads, deodorant cream, bamboo toothbrushes… the list goes on.

We can guarantee a reusable camping cutlery set will be perfect for street food bites!

#4 Reduce your meat consumption

New research shows that, without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland could be reduced by more than 75 per cent (an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union, and Australia combined) and still yield enough to feed the world. The loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

Sustainable travel Reduce your meat consumption

A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the environment, because it lessens not only greenhouse gases, but also global acidification, eutrophication, and land- and water use.

Vegans have the lowest carbon footprint at just 1.5 tonnes CO2E (carbon dioxide equivalent) per year, in contrast to meat lovers, who have the highest carbon footprint at 3.3 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.By reducing your meat or trying veganism intermittently you can actively help towards offsetting your own travel footprint.

#5 Shop for recycled sustainable swimwear

Sustainable travel Go sustainable wth your swimwear

With sustainable clothing becoming a much bigger, and vital, part of the fashion industry, considering how and where your swimwear is made, and what from, is a key factor too.

The good news is that there’s a growing number of brands and designers creating cool collections using a game-changing yarn. Econyl takes fishing nets and marine waste and turns them into a high-quality textile that doesn’t compromise on style. Compared with conventional fibres, sustainable swimwear offsets the use of new petroleum, emitting fewer greenhouse gases and conserving water and energy.

#6 Reduce your luggage weight

Why not save yourself both airport trouble and carbon emissions by packing lighter? Whilst in the West we’re spoilt with generous luggage allowances on airlines and other modes of transport, there are many parts of the world where customers are asked to be mindful of their luggage weight.

Sustainable travel Pack lighter

When taking light aircraft flights (particularly in Africa), luggage can be very restricted – even to the point where customers are requested to take soft bags over hard cases so that they can be squashed and manipulated to fit the smaller amount of space available.

The average baggage limit for the main UK airlines is 26kg.By reducing your luggage limit to 15kg10, 11 you can save up to 4 gallons12 of fuel yourself per trip. With just over 21.5 pounds of carbon dioxide13 emitted per gallon used in flights, you can save up to 0.039 tonnes of CO2 per trip simply by packing to a 15kg weight limit!

#7 Buy & eat locally

Sustainable travel Eat locally

Many global food chains centrally produce food, meaning food travels farther and carbon emissions are higher. A chain restaurant might seem like safe and familiar territory whilst abroad, but eating local food and helping small businesses will only have a positive impact. Travellers are encouraged to seek out restaurants that grow their own produce or shop at local farmer’s markets.

Although ‘food miles’ are difficult to quantify for different regions and cuisines, eating locally will cut your carbon and waste footprints considerably.

#8 Re-use your hotel towels

We’re often reminded to re-use our towels. However, we can take this one step further and opt out of housekeeping altogether. Some hotels now offer incentives to guests who decline housekeeping services. Skipping these services means less energy and water are used, and less waste generated.

Sustainable travel Opt out of housekeeping

In Africa, where water can become extremely scarce, many of the top safari destinations have clever hacks for minimising water waste.

These range from advising guests to take showers rather than baths to re-using towels. Some lodges even provide buckets in the shower to catch water whilst it is heating, and this water is then used by staff for cleaning and laundry services.

#9 Opt for small family run properties

Sustainable travel Choose smaller hotels

Eco is the new luxury! We can’t always find 100 per cent sustainable accommodation but choosing smaller hotels can help improve your carbon footprint, whilst supporting emerging businesses.

A large hotel room produces 13 tonnes of CO2 per year. Divide this by the average US citizen’s stay of six nights per year, and the amount of carbon created per person is 0.216 tonnes.14

By choosing smaller hotels where the carbon footprint is smaller, you can save up to 1.3 times the amount of carbon.

#10 Turn the power off

A relatively simple suggestion to adopt, this could soon become second nature both home and away. Things such as turning off the light and air con whilst you’re out are a great way of conserving energy during your holiday.

Sustainable travel Conserve energy that you dont need

Phone chargers, laptop docking stations, and other chargers on standby use energy whether they are charging or not because the voltage transformers on the plug consume energy.15 Although action has been taken to reduce energy used in standby modes, there are still many things you can do to reduce your energy usage around the home.

Other tips include washing clothing on a cooler cycle (if you’re lucky enough to have access to a washing machine whilst on holiday!), hanging clothes to dry rather than using a dryer, using blinds or shutters to help with temperature regulation, and giving your hair a break from heated hairstyling appliances.

How to calculate my positive impact score?

The score is calculated by working out how the changes applied would create a positive impact on levels of carbon emissions and waste. This is then tallied as a total positive impact score out of 20. The higher the score, the better the impact.

Now it's your turn

Whilst travel will almost always create a bigger environmental footprint than staying at home, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t travel. Thoughtful travel can provide many benefits to us and the communities we visit. We believe in flying to support the tourism that’s a real lifeline to developing countries. Making sustainable and manageable choices whilst we’re away will help us continue exploring the world before it is too late.

So, how do you measure up? For anyone scoring below 30, we’d recommend implementing some of the simple tips above. As the most effective measures include switching to ocean-friendly sunscreen and ridding your luggage of plastic bottles, you really could have an influence on your carbon and wastage footprint.



1 ‘Travel & Tourism continues strong growth above global GDP’, World Travel & Tourism Council, 27th February 2019.
2 UN Environment, 2018.
3 ‘What sunscreens are best for you – and the planet?’, National Geographic, 20th April 2018.
4 OneLessbottle.
5 Marie-Luise Blue, ‘What is the carbon footprint of a plastic bottle?’, Sciencing, 11th June 2018.
6 Perdita Nouril, ‘The truth about beauty packaging and the environment’, Stylist, originally published 16th January 2019.
7 ‘Americans will consume a record amount of meat in 2018’, Global Agriculture, 1st March 2018.
8 ‘Food’s Carbon Footprint’, Green Eatz, [no date].
9 ‘Check in Luggage Size and Weight Restrictions’, Skyscanner.
10 Don MacKenzie, ‘Park Your Ass In Economy Class’, Sustainable Transportation Lab, Washington University Blog, 26th August 2016.
11 A. Schäfer, J. Heywood, H. Jacoby, and I. Waitz, Transportation in a Climate-constrained World, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.
12 ‘Sustainability calculations and workings’, Google. 
13 Math! Hou much CO2 is release by and airplane?’, Small-M
14 ‘Calculate the impact of your travel’, Conservation International.
15 ‘Environment and Energy: Facts & Figures’, The Cambridge Green Challenge.

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