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How to Have a More Sustainable Spring Break

With spring semester in full swing, one thing is at the forefront of UGA students’ minds: spring break. Whether your vacation has been planned for months or you’re still weighing your options, there is one factor that should factor into your plans: sustainability. 

On the whole, travel is not very green. All forms of travel result in some type of waste or harmful emissions. Even so, there are ways to reduce that carbon footprint as much as possible, resulting in a guilt-free, environmentally responsible vacation.

The Worst of It 

The first place to start in planning a sustainable spring break is to know what not to do. One of the most popular options for students is cruises, with hundreds of students booking cruises over spring break, often to Mexico.

On the surface, a cruise seems like a sustainable choice. There are thousands of people aboard the same ship, meaning that many fewer people will book flights to that destination. In an EPA survey, it was reported that a 3,000-person ship dumps about 150,000 gallons of sewage into the ocean each week, with over 1 billion gallons of sewage dumped by cruise ships each year. This large-scale dumping of waste kills marine life, strips oxygen from the water and poses a health risk to all who enter the water near the shoreline.

Though there is no sustainable way to cruise, some ships and cruise lines have taken steps to reduce their environmental impact. Friends of the Earth, an environmental charity, created a Cruise Ship Report Card, grading each cruise line and ship for its environmental impact, or lack thereof. The highest-scoring cruise line is Disney Cruise Line, with an A-minus overall. No other line scored higher than a C.

Compared to cruises, flying or driving to a destination reduces one’s overall environmental impact. The most difficult part of sustainable travel is deciding which method to use, as flying is often the fastest way to travel. Unfortunately, one round-trip flight across the country can produce as much as 20% of one car’s emissions over the course of a year. If more than one person is going on the trip, as is often the case over spring break, it is almost always more environmentally friendly to drive, as those emissions grow higher with every additional car on the road. While traveling by bus or train from Athens is inconvenient, if it’s feasible, those are the most environmentally friendly options.

If flying is the best or only option, there are ways each individual’s impact can be reduced. One of these is to buy a less expensive seat. According to a study from the World Bank, emissions associated with a seat in business class are three times as high as one in coach. If there is no way to reduce emissions, some airlines, such as Delta and United, allow customers to purchase offsets, meaning the airline will donate money to an organization helping to reverse the effects of climate change. If you’d rather donate to a different organization, there are carbon footprint calculators online that determine exactly how much one would need to offset a trip.

One of the most eco-friendly options for spring break is driving somewhere close by, like the beach or a music festival. Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival is held during UGA’s spring break in Okeechobee, FL, an eight-hour drive from Athens. The festival, which promotes sustainability, offers a cheaper ticket for those who carpool called an eco-pass, which can be bought on its website,

What You Can Do 

All these statistics may make it seem like there is no way to travel sustainably. The good news is that there are still small steps that can be taken to go greener—even on vacation. Matt Melatti works at the UGA Office of Sustainability through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, and he says going green while traveling should add to your vacation, not take away from it. 

“Many people look at vacation as a break from their daily chores. However, sustainability should never feel like a chore. It is an opportunity to do something great for our world and can add so much value to our daily lives,” Melatti says. 

According to Melatti, there are five primary ways waste can be reduced while traveling:

Bring solid toiletries: Solid toiletries are both practical and environmentally friendly. They come without bulky plastic packaging and can be bought in different sizes and quantities, depending on the length of the trip. In addition to shampoo and conditioner, solid perfume and toothpaste can help eliminate virtually all plastic in a typical toiletries bag. 

Buy organic sunscreen: Many popular sunscreen brands contain chemicals that are toxic for marine life, which is why buying organic sunscreen is a must if a trip takes you into the ocean. Additionally, organic or natural sunscreen can be gentler on the skin. 

Use a bamboo toothbrush: Bamboo is more sustainable than plastic in that it grows quickly and is biodegradable. Making a simple switch like this can help keep plastic toothbrushes that may never break down out of landfills.

Buy plastic-free food containers: Though reusing a plastic container may seem like a sustainable option, the reality is that plastic is often not recyclable and will still end up in a landfill. Stainless steel food containers are a more sustainable option and easier to clean.

Bring a portable water purifier: In some popular vacation spots, the water is not safe for consumption. Instead of buying a case of plastic water bottles, buying a portable, rechargeable water purifier will not only save money but help the environment, as well.