Are you familiar with the concept of zero-waste? Tiffany and Nicolas, a couple of french travellers in their thirties certainly are! In February 2017, they decided to leave their life in Paris for a zero-waste trip around the world. After traveling through 12 African countries, Russia, China and numerous countries in Southeast Asia, they decided to lay down their hat one month in Cambodia. We met them at Babel Guesthouse in Siem Reap, where the couple was staying, to discover more about their zero-waste journey.
It was in 2013, while Tiffany was doing an internship in a small NGO in India, that she noticed the amount of of trash everywhere in the country. She then realized how critical the situation was as the mass consumerism worldwide led to an overproduction of waste that mostly ends up in the streets, landfills or oceans. This issue does not only concern Southeast Asia, even though it is more noticeable there. Tiffany herself said that it is not because in Europe you don’t see that much trash in the streets that it is not being produced. It just means that in Europe the governments provide services to take care of the waste. Tiffany thus started trying to be less wasteful by taking on “small” actions, like making her own cosmetics.
When Tiffanny came back to France, she did not only bring back a tan and a lot of memories. She also brought her wish to enhance her zero-waste lifestyle with Nicolas, her partner. She started to research on the subject and read Zero-waste home by Béa Johnson, the zero-waste pioneer. “It completely transformed the way I was thinking” declared Tiffany about the book, as she previously had still in mind the consumerism way of thinking even while wanting to go zero-waste . The couple’s zero-waste journey started with a strong focus on not buying anything in plastic. But their real zero-waste journey truly began when they started to plan their trip.
In 2014, the couple started to think about traveling. They then embarked on a whole minimalist lifestyle, recognizing that they had “too much stuff ”. They gave a lot to their friends but also to thrift shops, charities and different initiatives. But they also needed to buy the equipment needed for their trip, which they bought second-hand. Although it can take some time, they assured us that it was neither more difficult nor more expensive than “normal” shopping. In fact, it was clearly cheaper ! They also used a lot of things they already had, instead of buying all the new and latest zero-waste items such as bamboo cutleries, etc. Finally, the departure for the big adventure was set: February 2017.
It took Tiffany and Nicolas one year to prepare their trip, but they assured us that each travel is unique. Just because it took them this much time to prepare does not mean that it should be the same for everyone. It depends on many things: the length of the travel, the budget, the equipment you need, how quickly you find all this equipment, etc.
We often hear that going zero-waste is expensive. So one the questions we asked them was about the cost of their trip. Surprisingly, the couple told us that it was actually cheaper to be zero-waste. Indeed, Tiffany and Nicolas did not buy any plastic bottle, and almost never paid for water. For the food, they always went to local markets, which are usually less expensive than supermarkets, even though they admitted that it can sometimes be complicated to know the exact prices in Cambodia. As Nicolas concluded, there is really no reason for it to be more expensive, unless you’re always buying the new set of bamboo knives and forks instead of using a knife and fork that you already had in your house.
When asked what their favorite items for zero-waste travels are, Tiffany and Nicolas showed us their essential to travel while being zero-waste.
Tiffany and Nicolas told us that before going to a country they always read a guidebook like LonelyPlanet. They can then easily look up for eco-friendly place or activities mentioned. Otherwise, they just booked online while taking into account the comments left by previous visitors. In Siem Reap, they were glad to find Babel Guesthouse, an eco-friendly accomodation. By coming here, they enjoyed not thinking about saying no for straws or single-use items as the accomodation do a lot to reduce its impact.
As they told us, “even if it’s a bit more expensive, it is worth it because it is for a good cause”. But as it might not be possible to afford such places all the time, the couple also went to cheaper and less environmentally-conscious places, where they hoped to have changed (or at least encourage) the way of thinking of the people living there.
Even though traveling zero-waste is actually cheaper than “normal” traveling, it is unfortunately not easier as Tiffany and Nicolas told us.
Tiffany remembers that more than once when eating out, the waiter/tress would serve them a drink with a plastic straw, even though they did not ask for anything. Their tip in this case is to learn basic sentences/words in the country’s language (that they look up for online beforehand), including “Can you put it in my box?”; “No plastic straw”; or “No plastic bag”. In addition to making yourself better understood, this also creates a contact with the seller/waiter which is much more enjoyable.
There were also other unexpected packaging such as the plastic bag in which the laundry is folded in. As Nicolas said, “it is impossible to anticipate everything, there are things that you just don’t know”. In this case they always tried to find another use to these unexpected items. The laundry bag would have a second life as grocery shopping or cloth bag for instance. And despite this, they kept their waste amount very low as showed on the list created by Tiffany with all the trash they created during their travel!
It might be quite tricky to encourage people and business to lessen their impact, as such comments can also be taken quite negatively. Tiffany and Nicolas told us that they tried to explain as much as possible what they do and why they do it, but always with respect and without aggressiveness. Sometimes people understand, sometimes they don’t. Tiffany compares it to “sowing a seed” : if you are just saying to a seller “no plastic bag, I don’t need it, it is bad for the planet”. Maybe the seller will remember it next time someone tells them the same thing. Gradually, this behaviour may even become more normal.
They also told us that they also told as much as possible their appreciation when coming across sustainable initiatives. After eating in a zero-waste restaurant in Hanoi, the couple went to talk to the manager and told her how impressed they were with her work. This simple action meant a lot to her as it was difficult for her to find support when running a zero-waste restaurant. As Tiffany beautifully put it “sometimes you can feel so alone, like you are a little tiny island of resistance against the whole world. And I know that if I was doing that kind of thing I would like people to come and tell me that they really enjoy my place and that I am doing a great job”.
In two years of traveling, Tiffany and Nicolas only hoped on FOUR planes. When they left France, they actually had no plane tickets booked. Unfortunately, unexpected events, such as borders being closed due to Ebola in Africa, made them book their few flights. And when they had to take a plane, the couple prioritized direct flights (even though they can be more expensive), as take-off and landings generate a significant part of the total emissions per flight.
To book their (rare) flights, Tiffany and Nicolas used Kiwi. On this website, you can choose to look for direct flights to reduce your CO2 emissions. You can also widen your area of departure and landing. For instance, instead of searching flights from Paris to Siem Reap, you can search from Europe to Southeast Asia and be flexible with the dates. This will probably help you find direct as well as cheaper flights!
When you go zero-waste, you might feel that you need to buy a lot of items, such as a bamboo straw, bamboo cutlery set, a cup, etc… But this is a misconception! According to the couple of travelers, you can just use a bowl or cutlery that you already own, instead of buying new bamboo ones. And if you don’t have these items, you can probably find them in second-hand stores online or at a local shop. On top of that, secondhand shops are now easy to find, even online, as there is now Facebook Marketplace where you can find really cheap stuff. For instance, Nicolas bought a bag there for 50€, when it is normally worth 200€.
Tiffany told us that in all the hostels they have been in, there was always a drawer or a cupboard in the kitchen overflowing with plastic bags. Indeed, most visitors do their shopping, bring back plastic bags, and just leave them there. So if you need a plastic bag, you’ll probably can always find one that has been used in the kitchen area. And if not, then use your reusable bag 🙂
Another tip given by our travellers is to be suspicious when it is written “Eco” or “organic” for tours or guesthouses. Indeed, in many countries, there is no regulation considering those terms. They recommended to check on internet and read through the comments left by previous visitors. You can also write your own comment if you thought the place did not align with eco-friendly thinking.
After more that 2 years on the road, Tiffany and Nicolas are now ready to go back in Europe as their trip ends in 3 months. Here at Clean Green Cambodia, we hope that they will enjoy their last months of travel. And we wish them to achieve their future project!.
If you want more information about Tiffany and Nicolas’s waste-free wandering, don’t hesitate to check their facebook page: Let’Snail It Sustainably. You can also check their MyGreenTrip profile. MyGreenTrip is a community of travelers who are motivated to clean up the planet, for which Tiffany and Nicolas are writing articles.
Did you like this article? Do you have any thoughts and tips about being a zero-waste traveler? Don’t hesitate to share them in the comment below ! Or check out our article about Zero-waste in Siem Reap