You won’t hear me saying that staying zero waste is the only – or even the best – way to reduce your environmental impact while traveling. (And good thing, too, because staying zero waste while traveling can be tricky). For example, eating most meals in restaurants can be a food waste bonanza, so I try to be realistic about what I order, even if I’m dying to try most everything on the menu.
Another saving grace for both my wallet and my conscience is trying to rely on public transportation whenever possible. Of course, not all locales have a good enough transit system to make this feasible, but many do, especially big cities: there’s BART in the Bay Area, trains and buses in Seattle, SEPTA in Philadelphia, MTA in New York, the Underground in the UK, the CTA here in Chicago, and so many others.
Most public transportation services give you the option to buy either a single-use ticket or a reloadable plastic card. The single-use tickets, while typically made of paper, aren’t always recyclable: they tend to be plastic-coated, are often printed on paper containing BPA, and usually have a magnetic or metal strip that makes them difficult or impossible to recycle into another type of paper. This may be one instance in which choosing the version made of plastic, which can be used again and again, is actually the better choice long-term.
Choosing the reloadable plastic card keeps all those individual paper tickets out of the landfill, but recently I’ve been taking things a step further and making an effort to hold on to my plastic card once the trip is over. There are some cities I return to again and again: New York, San Francisco. For these, keeping the card tucked away in a drawer and pulling it out again in a few years for my next trip makes perfect sense.
There are other cities for which the idea of going back before the card expires seems like a long shot. For this, my friend Ann recently texted me with a brilliant solution: lend those cards to friends headed to that city. As long as you haven’t connected the transit card to your credit card or bank account (usually done by registering the card online), your friend should be able to use it just fine, adding their own money at a kiosk once they arrive. And once they’ve borrowed it, it’s your call: do you want it back, in case you travel there again? Or do you want to ask them to pass it along to the next friend heading that direction?
If all else fails, you can look for a gift card recycling program for any extra plastic transit passes. But starting a little borrowing club among your pals or your local zero waste community keeps old cards out of the landfill, reduces the demand (however slightly) for brand-new cards to be made, and means that maybe you’ll get to use the remaining $5 left on your friend’s transit card that would otherwise be wasted.
Would you do this? Have you?