The Challenge of Saying "No"

If you've ever read the blog Zero Waste Home, you'll know the writer's motto of waste reduction: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot (and only in that order). The first step to reducing waste, according to this model, is refusing to partake of wasteful products to begin with. We do this by finding products free from packaging, by not using convenience items (think bottled water and disposable coffee cups), and by generally refusing to bring waste into our lives. We also do this by avoiding all the seemingly innocent freebies the world is always trying to give us.

This week I am attending a work conference in Denver again. I have written about this before, but at these conferences, people are constantly trying to give you freebies. From the moment you arrive, you are collecting a mass of bags, toys, pens, business card holders, note pads, highlighters, and other products designed to advertise products and services to you under the guise of "free stuff!". Generally these are delivered with the feeling of a personal favour the person is doing for you. Now I have a pen! Thank goodness I stopped to talk to this person!

And you know, it's really hard to explain to someone why you don't want their free stuff. The expectation is that you should want it. It's free, right? How could you have a problem with that? But of course, these free things are usually plastic and serve no useful purpose in your life. They're low quality and break easily, they end up in your junk drawer, or they go straight in the trash. They're a waste of resources destined for the landfill.

So this year I'm saying no, and it's not easy. It's awkward. But so far it's going well. Since I got here, I have:

  • Refused the registration "gift bag", which contained a note pad, a pen, and a plastic business card holder.
  • Refused the Styrofoam boom-a-rang they were giving out at the registration table. This one puzzled me. I can't imagine why they think anyone wants a Styrofoam boom-a-rang.
  • Refused all freebies offered to me from vendors in the networking sessions.
And that's just the first day. I have, however, accepted some paper printouts from vendors, which can at least be recycled. I also accepted the On Site Guide for the conference, which is also paper.

As part of trying to reduce my waste while travelling, I have also done, or am doing, the following:
  • Turned down food and drinks on the air plane ride, avoiding wasted plastic cups and snack bags. My flight was short so this was really no difficulty.
  • Immediately returned the hotel toiletries to the house-keeper's cart so I didn't contribute to those wasteful little bottles.
  • Put out the Do Not Disturb sign on my room, so no housekeeping will be performed until I leave. I've never understood why people need their rooms cleaned up for them on a daily basis.
  • Prepared my recyclables from meals to bring home to recycle.
  • My hotel uses bag-free garbage cans, so technically I wouldn't feel bad using them, but still prefer to take my garbage to public cans that get heavily used anyways.
  • Drink only tap water from reusable glasses, which are available in my room as well as at the conference.
So far, so good. Certainly my trip has not been waste-free, but I am happy at the amount of waste I have avoided so far. I will be even happier when I come home without any more tote bags, pens, and plastic doo-dads.

Do you have any tips to reduce waste while travelling? Leave a comment!


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