How To: Zero Waste Road Trip

I generally dislike road trips. Driving makes me sleepy, and I often have stiff legs by the time I reach my destination. Rest stop bathrooms can be gross and I get tired of seeing the same fast food advertisements again and again. (I’m looking at you I-5.) But road trips can be made zero waste. With a few simple switches and some planning, your road trip will be more eco-friendly and less stressful. 

I’ve taken many road trips from Southern to Northern California and one trip where my family and I visited 6 states in 2 weeks. Therefore, I’d like to call myself an expert in mini road trips. My trips from Southern to Northern California usually take me around 7-8 hours to complete, depending on traffic and weather conditions. This is what I do to make my road trip zero waste.

Make Meals Ahead of Time



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Since I am only one person, I only have experience preparing food for myself. I usually make one or two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, wash an apple, and put bulk nuts in a small container. Try to anticipate what kinds of foods you will be craving on your trip. I often get sucked into buying fast food because I’m craving something warm or something sugary. If you have similar cravings while on the road, I recommend buying bulk chocolate or candy before you leave. No, it’s not healthy, but at least you aren’t producing any trash. Just make sure to keep the chocolate out of the sun! Warm food is a tough one. If you’re only traveling for one day at a time, then it could be useful to buy a thermos for soup.

For liquids, I fill up one water bottle and one travel mug with water. I’m always preparing for the worst. If my car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, at least I have extra water! Sometimes I’m unable to prepare drinks, so I stop at Starbucks to buy tea for my reusable travel mug and have them fill up my water bottle (for free).

If, for any reason, you’re unable to prepare anything at all and need to get fast food, I recommend trying to eat vegetarian. I don’t trust fast food meats, and the last thing you want is to be sick while driving. I’ve ordered baked potatoes and garden salads from Wendy’s, and I’ve never had any issues. Generally the baked potato fills me up, but I don’t feel too heavy because I’ve eaten some greens as well. However, you should know that those two items come in their own separate plastic containers. So, while they are vegetarian, they are definitely not eco-friendly.

Rest Stop Solutions


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I’ve been to many rest stops across California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Arizona. Most of them have hand dryers. Some of these hand dryers are faulty. When I run into a bathroom without an adequate hand dryer, I’ll either wipe my hands on my jeans and run to the car to finish drying my hands on a towel, or bring a napkin/towel into the bathroom and just use that. To dry the towel/napkin, you can spread it out on the passenger seat, on the dashboard, or over your bags if you feel like the water could damage your car.

As for soap, most of the bathrooms are well stocked. In the off chance they aren’t, you could bring in a small soap bar and use that.

I try to go to the bathroom at rest stops as much as possible. Why? Convenience marts and gas stations can be very tempting if I’m craving chips or a candy bar but don’t have any food with me.


Road trips, unless done with an electric vehicle, are inherently wasteful. Car emissions pollute the environment, so let’s try to mitigate the amount of emissions your car produces.  Generally, cars get better gas mileage when they are going at a consistent speed and are going less than 65 mph. When possible, utilize cruise control and set your speed to the lowest possible mph. The speed limit is 70 mph on the I-5, so I usually set my cruise control anywhere between 70 and 75, depending on traffic and weather conditions.



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Whether you’re someone who likes to stop along the way or someone who wants to get to their destination ASAP, it’s always beneficial to bring your own bag. If you plan on stopping at fruit stands or local markets along the way, then you can use your bag to carry any produce you buy. Similarly, an extra bag can come in handy after you reach your destination and need to buy food or souvenirs. It’s a really mundane thing, but it can save you from accumulating plastic bags during your trip.


I hope these tips help you make your next road trip zero waste! If you have any other zero waste road trip tips, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to know what you do to make your travels more eco-friendly.