The ethical traveler

For Australians concerned about their carbon footprint, a trip to Italy presents a few problems. The international flight alone is problematic in terms of environmental impact, so by the time you get there you’ve already got a debt to repay to mother earth.

Italy is also a mass-tourism destination, meaning that there is money to be made from our visits and every measure is taken to get us in and out as conveniently as possible!  

Unfortunately this means that some of the beautiful sites we go all that way to see are being destroyed by the masses. But what if, instead of contributing to its demise, we could leave Italy even better than we found it? Employing a few ethical travel habits could really make a difference, and leave you with some unexpected benefits.

1. Consider your transport options.

If you used air travel to get to Italy, your carbon footprint is already significant. Once you are there, though, there are plenty of green options for getting around. Take advantage of Italy’s trains. So they might not be on time, but who cares? You’re on holidays! Sit back and look out the window at the magic of Italy.

Once you’re at your destination, consider hiring a bicycle. If pedalling to the top of the historic centro of your chosen town seems a bit daunting, why not make it an e-bike? There are plenty of these available for hire all over Italy.

2. Be conscious of your accommodation choices.

For the adventurer on a budget, WOOFing and work exchange opportunities are many in Italy. This is a great opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience on an organic farm, and learn about the production of olive oil, wine, and much more. If manual labour isn’t part of your holiday plans, the Agriturismo (accommodation in an agricultural setting) is a travel concept that has been in practice in Italy for many years.  When you choose this rural, often picturesque accommodation option, it means that instead of lining the pockets of a hotel chain, you are supplementing the income of an Italian farmer. You’ll be doing your bit to keep Italian food local and amazing, and you’ll have a more peaceful, authentic experience too!

3. Reduce your waste.

Zero waste is a philosophy where the aim is to eliminate the rubbish we generate on a daily basis, the vast majority of which comes from food and product packaging. The movement is based on the 5 Rs. Refuse (unnecessary packaging), Re-use (whatever you can), Repair (instead of replacing) Rot (food waste to make compost) and Recycle (as a last resort).

You probably don’t want to be thinking about making a compost heap during your Italian vacation, but the other steps are suprisingly easy if you come prepared.

In Italy, wine, oil and beer on tap are readily available. It’s common to buy bottled water in Italy, but there is no need to. The tap water is drinkable, a stainless steel water bottle is easy to rinse out and refill for free at public water fountains. If you prefer filtered mineral water, there are plenty of dispensers around where bottles can be refilled inexpensively.

Most towns will have a weekly market, where unpackaged products can be placed directly into reusable produce bags.

Bars and cafes (especially in beach kiosks and tourist areas) have begun to serve drinks in single use plastic cups. Take your keep cup and refuse the plastic.

A huge amount of plastic ends up in the landfill every day in Italy. In mass tourism areas in high season, council workers are unable to keep up with bin emptying, and a lot of waste is blown away, ending up in forests and beaches.

Your contribution to the problem can be avoided with a small kit of reusable products that could fit into a small backpack. Consider taking: A keep cup, a pack of reusable produce bags, a canvas tote, a stainless steel drink bottle, and a Tupperware container.

4. Learn to recycle- the Italian way!

Recycling is complicated in Italy! Recyclables are divided into vetro (glass), carta (paper), organico (Compost), metallo (Metal), and plastica (plastic). Everything else is indifferenziato.

Italy, and the Earth, will thank you for your ethical travel. But there are some other benefits to this type of travel. The first is that it requires more interaction with the people around you. Asking for a plastic-free lunch is a great way to practice your Italian and start a conversation with the locals! But if that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will: many of these suggested travel habits will save you some Euros. So why don’t you kick back with a glass of local wine and watch the sunset over the piazza for an extra couple of nights?