Tasty Mexican food in Todos Santos

What I eat as a Zero Waste Backpacker

“This experience, I feel has actually helped me to become a better zero waster”


I’m one of those people that’s always thinking about food. Like always. When I’m eating a meal, I’m already thinking about my next one. And sweets; I just love sweets!

So, since I’m one of those people; when I arrive at a new destination, the first thing I generally do is to scope out the supermarkets and farmer’s markets, corner shops and delis. I want to know exactly how easily I can put my hands on a meal or a snack.

Food, for me, is also the area of my life where I create the most waste whilst I’m travelling. And because of this fact I’ve had to really adapt my diet to each new place I visit. As a backpacker on a tight budget, I prefer to cook for myself. Eating out is a great zero waste loop hole but is pretty much always more expensive. I’m not particularly good at cooking and this is mostly due to the fact that I actually don’t enjoy it. For this reason, I have previously relied heavily on being able to recycle. For example; foods such as spaghetti that came in a cardboard box and pasta sauce that came in a glass jar would be staples in my diet. However, during my travels I have learned how to make an easy tomato sauce with fresh ingredients and have generally only purchased pasta when I can find it in bulk (unless desperation strikes).

I’ve really had to learn to use different foods in place of others if a particular food in my diet is unavailable. While this sounds easy, for me, it has been markedly challenging and yet, also rewarding. I have learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of. I have also broadened my cooking repertoire which I never thought would have happened!


My zero waste food experiences so far


Since starting my zero waste journey at the end of last year, I have only visited two new countries (other than my home country of Australia) – The United States and Mexico. Both extremely different.

In The United States, for the most part, it was really easy to be a zero waster. Especially in California. Almost everywhere I went recycled and had composting systems set up. Many supermarkets and specialised shops also had bulk foods for sale and plentiful farmer’s markets. I never had problems purchasing a large range of foods to keep my diet varied and interesting.

Whilst in the United States, I mostly ate oats for breakfast and rice and pasta (I call these my filling foods) with beans and tomatoes for other meals. I would also eat a lot of salads and sandwiches and fruit. And of course a lot of chocolate, which lucky for me I could generally find in bulk. I would drink tap water with my reusable water bottles and I would drink loose tea which again, I could usually find in bulk and stock up.


Rainbow grocery
Rainbow Grocery, San Francisco


Loose teas at Kiva Grocery
The loose tea section at Kiva Grocery, Eugene, Oregon


moonflower bulk foods
Moonflower Natural Foods – a most unexpected find in Moab, Utah


Mexico, has so far, been much more challenging than the United States. And while I never back down to a challenge, it has definitely been a little disheartening at times. But with a few little changes, I think I’m on the right track.

I spent my first month in the south of Baja California, mainly in the Los Cabos area. It is beautiful, the ocean, the towns and the people. It is also a fairly barren area, no food is grown in the Baja area. They have to import all of their fresh produce. The Mexican supermarkets were quite well stocked with fresh produce but to be honest, the fruits and vegetables weren’t the best quality. And since I was there during low season, there were no farmer’s markets.
Another drawback was the complete lack of composting and very limited recycling. I’m not going to lie, I definitely panicked a bit in the beginning.

My first shop at a local supermarket in Cabo San Lucas was pretty woeful. I really could not find much of anything that I was used to and due to my panic, I completely lacked any imagination as to what to buy and cook. I hastily purchased products I would never normally buy like crackers.

This is what my first shop looked like –


First shop in Mexico


After a bit of exploring, I thankfully came across a recycling station which put my mind at ease and made my shopping excursions a little easier. I still made some zero waste compromises though and went back to my old faithful spaghetti in a box and sauce in a jar.


Recycle centre Cabo San Lucas


One type of food I never had a problem buying zero waste was bakery foods. It seems that in every supermarket, the bakery is the only section that sells its goods loose. And they taste really good! Oh and ice-cream, there are many ice-cream shops and it all tastes amazing!

So while my diet in the US had been quite good and healthy; my diet in Mexico had been reduced to donuts, pastries, pasta, some fruit and the odd salad.

I’ve now moved to mainland Mexico and I’m staying in Oaxaca for a few weeks. I’ve only been here about a week so far but it’s already so different here. The markets are huge and full of great quality and great tasting fresh produce. The supermarkets are similar to Baja, they pretty much only sell bakery goods loose but I have had to cut myself off cold turkey, my donut addiction was getting out of hand.


Market Abastos 2

Market Abastos 1

Market Abastos 4


I am yet to find any recycling stations and composting is also non-existent from what I can tell. So, I have done my best to tailor my eating habits to within these restrictions.

My diet now consists mainly of potatoes and sweet potatoes (as my filling foods), lots of mushrooms and nopales (a type of cactus), some beans and lots of salads and fruits. I have also been introduced to traditional Oaxacan pastries called Empenada de lechecilla (and oh lordy, they are dangerously good!) and as always, the ice-cream is plentiful and tasty.


Traditional Oaxacan Pastries


I have also been lucky enough to find an amazing tea house with over 100 varieties of loose tea for sale. It’s the small creature comforts like this that make my time abroad more comfortable and enjoyable.


Iris Tea House


I try to choose foods that will create the least waste, I don’t peel my potatoes but I do peel my mushrooms. I just do the best I can.

So, I’m back on track and my panic has subsided. I guess I’ve never really had limited access to good quality food since converting to a zero waste lifestyle and it’s obvious I didn’t deal with it very well. But I’m human and I’m always learning and I’m always doing my best to stay positive. I’ve added a few new recipes to my stockpile and I’ve added new foods to my diet (I almost never ate potatoes).


What I eat as a zero waste backpacker


This experience, I feel has actually helped me to become a better zero waster. My compromises are becoming less and less and I’ve expanded my way of thinking. I think I will definitely be much better prepared for the next time I’m presented with a limited food source.

And as my parents would say – “It’s character building!!”.

Love Kat xx



  • Mel Bates

    November 19, 2017

    Great article. We are also travelling have been for some time and 2 months ago i decided to try zero waste while going through small towns in western europe. This is made especially hard since we move every week making familiarity impossible and unfortunately we spoke none of the local language and they spoke little english. To be honest this so far has been a nightmare, actually worse than that it was impossible. Avoiding plastic bags for fruit in supermarkets ended with cashiers shaking their heads and mumbling (probably something like stupid tourist). Avoiding plastic bags at markets was a little easier but some people just insisted like, they were giving you bad service if it wasnt in a bag. ☹️. With only being in a place for short times finding bulk shops has only happened twice. So far this journey is not going well for me, but i will stick with it. I dont know if you have posted the recipes you use… but i would LOVE to see them. Keep up the good work and i will keep on trying too 🙂

  • Ana Orsolini

    January 29, 2018

    I’m travelling through Southeast Asia! Almost impossible to do zero waste here! 🙁

    • Kat

      February 2, 2018

      Just do the best you can do, that’s all anyone can ask 🙂 The best thing I ever did whilst travelling around S.E Asia was invest in a reusable water bottle with a filter. I could fill it up from anywhere meaning I stopped buying plastic water bottles and I saved heaps of money 😀


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