Zero waste travel: Milan
New York. Paris. Milan. I’ve seen a hundred different tee-shirts boasting these cities, in this order. It’s also the order I happen to have visited them in. This isn’t a travel blog, so I’ll keep it brief. Milan surprised me, and it was absolutely beautiful.
While you’re walking through the piazze, eating gelato, and reveling in the sights and sounds of Milan, take note of the following suggestions to cut back on your waste while touring in this city. Of course, check out my zero waste in Venice post for some general travel tips for reducing your waste traveling in Italy.
From here on out, I’m going to recommend you try the Trenitalia app for your train tickets. You can purchase tickets and view train schedules from the app and then show the ticket on your phone. That is, if your ticket gets checked (it doesn’t always happen). I used my phone for all four train tickets I needed to get to and from Milan.
Milan is the fashion capital of Italy, so I have to mention fashion. Since it’s a metropolitan city, in Milan you’ll have access to some great vintage clothing. While I didn’t shop for clothes while in Milan and don’t advocate shopping for the sake of shopping, if you’re in the market for some fashion, try vintage. As always, secondhand is sustainable, and the resource that already exists is the most environmentally friendly.
I stopped by Negozio Leggero the evening I arrived in Milan, and I was in awe. This store is zero waste heaven. They had everything from wine, to beans, to cleaners, to cookies and spices. I’ve never had access to package-free liquids, such as dish detergent or even facial oils (yes, they had this) and I was so impressed by their selection. What was supposed to be a trip in for a picture and a purchase ended after a 40-minute conversation in Italian with the clerk and me using every bag I brought with me. She knew so much about the products and explained to me why “sfuso”, or package-free, is so uncommon in Italy. Essentially, there are laws that make it difficult to sell without packaging in Italy. From my own experiences, I know that supermarkets are plastic nightmares, where people are required to wear disposable plastic gloves in the produce section and bag all fruits and vegetables in plastic. Plus, you have to pay for each plastic bag you use.
The store sells reusable cloth bags and allows you to bring your own—they’ll also tare them for you! Available as well are paper bags that can be recycled with the paper “carta” products. They also have a program for products like jam that can’t be sold in bulk where you can essentially pay a deposit and return the jar afterwards and get another.
Even if you’re in Milan for a day, go with your cloth bags and pick something up, even if it’s just some cookies or granola as a snack. It’s well worth the stop.
The three biggest tourist attractions in Milan (according to the blogs I’ve read) are Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, il Duomo di Milano, and Castello Sforzesco. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is open to the public, so no need to buy a ticket. To visit the duomo, you can purchase tickets from your phone, which is even encouraged in the ticket office to help cut down the lines. There is a charge of about 2 euros to use the service (unfortunately) but the lines get long and it might be worth it to purchase the tickets from your phone to avoid the ticket line and then the entrance line. Keep in mind that you're expected to be covered from your shoulders to your knees, so dress that way to avoid being required to wear billowy white covers in order to enter; I'm not sure if they're considered disposable or reused. For Castello Sforzesco, it is possible to purchase tickets online and the options for presenting the ticket include Stampa@Casa (print at home) and Passbook, using the Wallet (formerly known as passbook) on your Apple device.
Be sure to bring your reusable water bottle, because there is public water everywhere in Milan! Walking around the city, I came across fountains faster than I could drink water. There are also water fountains located in and around some of the most popular destinations.
The metro: if you’re going to Milan as a tourist, you probably won’t be there more than two days. Based on my experience and most travel blogs, there aren’t that many sights to see in Milan. I loved using the metro in Milan—it was like the best parts of the underground trains in New York and Paris. The trains worked (Paris) and there was air conditioning (New York).
If you plan to use the train more than once, considering getting the 24 or 48 hour pass. You can have one ticket for multiple uses instead of various single-use tickets.
There’s a Lush in Milan. While going to Lush alone isn’t zero waste by itself, if you happen to forget anything on your trip or lose your soap, it’s an easy way to ensure you can get (nearly) package free beauty products. For the sake of bring redundant, it’s just another resource for you. Bonus: it's located between the duomo and Castello Sforzesco, so you'll probably pass it anyway.
Package free anything is easier to get from individuals rather than big corporations or companies. Fruit is one of the easiest snacks for on the go, so when I travel I find it's much easier to grab an apple and keep moving than find somewhere to sit and stop completely. If you want to go to a local market, check out this great resource with information about various markets for different days of the week! As always, asking nicely doesn't hurt. If a vendor is hesitant to use your bag, you can always ask that they weigh them 'naked' per say (without any bags) and then put them in your bag afterwards.
Enjoy your trip to Milan! I’ll make one final suggestion, but I’m not a travel blog (I swear)—go check out the Cimitero Monumentale. This cemetery is huge, breathtaking, and full of public water fountains.
If you’re interested in more ways to rock zero waste travel in Italy, check out the following posts: