Liquids Surrendered At Airport Security: Is There An Afterlife?

Ever looked at the mountain of liquids (or, in my case, that luscious, unopened jar of dulce de leche, and countless yogurts) accumulated at airport security and wondered where they end up? Yeah, me too. I’ve always hoped they go to charity and the water bottles recycled, because I have a bit of an idealist streak beneath my jaded exterior.

Our friend Andy Bender over at Forbes helped get to the bottom of this tricky question, and the answers are somewhat surprising. Rather than being palmed by greasy-haired or hungry TSA agents (cause for immediate termination), large airports divvy up the booty by category and dispose of it accordingly, although smaller volume airports may just lump it as trash.

If you lie awake nights pondering the fate of your spendy conditioner or lotion, here’s the breakdown:

  • Liquids are sorted by type (sunscreen, shampoo, alcohol, contact lens solution, etc.) and emptied into hazmat barrels, which are then collected by waste management companies. They’re disposed of according to environmental regulations (Forbes reports that “water-based solutions are sent to a waste water treatment facility or waste energy recovery facility aka trash-to-stream plant.”
  • Alcohol ends up being treated at fuel-blending facilities because it’s flammable.
  • Large quantities of bottles are “chipped” and recycled, but not smaller volumes, which go to the landfill.

For more information on current regulations taking liquids in carry-on, click here. And here’s a tip: by carrying a refillable water bottle, you help reduce the 1.5 million barrels of oil required for U.S. plastic water bottle production each year.


[Photo credit: Flickr user stevendepolo]

How To Travel Plastic-Free

While we’ve written about how to have a more eco-friendly vacation, there is a growing travel trend of vacationing plastic-free. For example, backpackers Polythene Pam and Village Boy, who write for the site Plastic is Rubbish, focus on eliminating plastic from their lives completely.

“Plastic lasts forever and we are using it to make one use, throwaway items,” the duo say on their site. “We have created everlasting rubbish and plastic pollution is increasing exponentially. It is destroying the landscape, killing wildlife, poisoning the seas, and may well be poisoning us.”

In fact, there are many animals that die everyday from accidentally ingesting plastic, like camels, turtles, elephants, birds, whales and many more. The problem is that instead of biodegrading, plastic simply degrades without changing its structure. What’s also scary is that sometimes these fragmented pieces of plastic are so tiny, we can’t see them with the naked eye – although they can still be harmful. In humans, plastics have been found to lead to cancers and other health problems over time.When traveling, the backpackers recommend using natural toothbrushes and homemade tooth powder to clean your teeth, as well as making your own natural beauty products for your skin, hair and nails. When buying street food, they use tiffin boxes, which allow you to carry home your cuisine in a plastic-free, reusable box and string bags for carrying groceries and produce from the markets.

For travelers who like to document their trips, there are various alternatives to the usual pen and notebook. For instance, using a laptop can eliminate plastic pens, paper and constant waste completely. If you like keeping a journal the old-fashioned way, there are biodegradable pens, wooden pencils and sustainably sourced, wooden, pencil sharpeners.

Blogger Beth Terry of My Plastic-Free Life also writes about how to go sans plastic on the road. For example, she advises using travel mugs instead of plastic water bottles, especially since they are easier to get through airport security. Reusable utensils, homemade food and snacks in metal tins, stainless-steel drinking straws, using solid shampoo bars and putting personal care products like toothpaste in reusable containers are other recommendations. For tea drinkers, packing bulk tea in a tea ball or using eco-friendly Twinings teas are safe alternatives to the usual plastic-heavy tea packaging.

Taina Uitto, a Canadian blogging about living a plastic-free life at Plastic Manners, also shares tips on traveling without plastic. She makes a good point on her website, asking the rhetorical question, “Why is it that the second people leave their home, they become completely helpless and immediately cling to the crutch of convenience?”

If you’re going to be doing laundry on the road, Uitto suggests using soap nuts by dropping a few in a sock and putting them in with your dirty clothes. For personal care, using products like natural hairbrushes, a bulk deodorant bar and metal razors is a great way to reduce plastic use. And for booze nights, try to find beers with corks or reusable beer bottles and wines that don’t use plastics.

I also did some research myself on plastic-free backpacks and found organic hemp backpacks from Rawganique. The packs are sweatshop free from Europe, and feature metal zippers, hooks and snaps, hemp lining and hemp trims.

Does this all seem like a lot of work? It’s not easy making a quick switch from living a plastic-immersed life to completely erasing it from your day; however, you can try to make small changes to the way you travel. Little by little, everyone can make a difference, and travel in a more eco-friendly manner.

Do you have any personal tips for traveling plastic-free?

Five Things You Can Do On Earth Day To Save Natural Resources

Earth Day is upon us, and even if you’re not planning to celebrate our planet’s making it through another year (what global warming?), there are still some simple measures you can take to show your gratitude. Love your Mother, you know?

Whether you’re on the road or at home, the following are smart rules to implement every day of the year:

  • Do laundry at night, after peak electricity usage hours and only wash full loads.
  • Use a travel mug when you purchase your morning coffee and carry a reusble water bottle.
  • Stash reusable shopping bags in your car, purse or backpack and desk.
  • Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth, washing your face, doing dishes or shaving.
  • Switch to e-tickets, e-pay, and other paperless forms of commerce; add your name to no junk mail and catalog lists.

[Photo credit: Flickr user kevin dooley]

Recycled plastic island proposed as the solution to polluted oceans

Dutch architect firm WHIM has what it believes to be the solution to the growing amount of plastic trash in the world’s oceans. In their proposal, the plastic will be collected, ground up, washed and melted into the building blocks for an island the size of Hawaii.

The island will be 100% self sufficient, relying on agriculture to feed its inhabitants and renewable energy sources for power. Of course, the “recycled island” is currently not much more than a very basic sketch on how to deal with the growing amount of plastic waste circling the earth.

Last month, a similar project (on a much smaller scale) built a hotel in Italy – using nothing but the waste plastic found on the local beach.

To be honest, I’m not sure a recycled island solves anything – because the effort (and energy) involved in collecting all the plastic could also be used to bringing the plastic back on land, and recycling it there to make new products. Plus, a plastic island poses all kinds of problems, including the best way to anchor it. I’m also worried what will happen if a really heavy storm hits the island; having thousands of plastic blocks and buildings break free and roam the oceans is probably worse than the current situation.

The end of Nalgene bottles in Canada might be near

Canada might be the first country to declare Nalgene bottles toxic. Not just Nalgene bottles, but anything containing bisphenol-a, or B.P.A., a chemical widely used in plastics for baby bottles, beverage and food containers as well as linings in food cans.

Canada would be the first to make a health finding against B.P.A., which has been shown to disrupt the hormonal systems of animals, NY Times reports. United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program endorsed a scientific panel’s finding that there was “some concern” about neutral and behavioral changes in humans who consume B.P.A.

The public and industry will have 60 days to comment on the designation once it is released, setting into motion a two-year process that could lead to a partial or complete ban on food-related uses of plastics made using B.P.A.

The end of the popular Nalgene bottle as we know it might be near.