My last visit to the US state of Arkansas was four years ago. I never imagined the next one would be part of a zero waste holiday.
When people plan those epic road trips across the USA, Arkansas is not usually a destination travelers would think to visit. It's considered a drive through. But for me, it's never left off the itinerary. For this Australian raised lady, Arkansas is my second home. Half of my family live in Arkansas, so I decided to invite my boyfriend for a visit to meet my southern relatives.
Arkansas is called the Natural State for the simple reason that it is full of national parks, rivers, mountains perfect for all types of outdoor actives. Now it was waaaaay to hot and humid (with no wind!) for us to really partake in any of them. It was the kind of heat that required us to have afternoons naps, then reappear in the evening when the heat is a little less intense, and the hum of cicadas fill the evening air. The Builder was able to see some of the Natural State when we visited places like Falling Water Falls and Petit Jean. I was a little bummed that I could not show him more of the national parks. Next time! Because it is a beautiful place to explore.
We did get to explore Little Rock, where we were based. We rented a home through Airbnb in Cammack Village close to my family, sharing the space with family visiting from out of town. Little Rock is a small city compared to Melbourne, but like most US cities is spread out. Public transport can be hard to come by, making a hire car necessary.
Zero waste was easy in Little Rock. With it being summer there was a plentiful supply of fresh vegetables and fruit that we picked up from farmers markets. We visited two, one in the River Market district (Grandma wanted fresh peaches to make the Builder a true Southern dish). The other market was held at Westover Hill’s Farmers market, not far from where we were staying. We filled our bags with locally grown tomatoes, aubergines, peaches, melons, cucumbers, eggs, zucchini, squash, snake beans, bell peppers and even tried pickled eggplant. We also picked up sunflowers from my Grandma. Both markets were a treat to visit and the produce was tasty. The food we bought served us well for breakfast and snacks. Except for one breakfast, where I dragged the Builder to Shipley’s Do-Nuts at 6:00am and we loaded up on Do-Nuts in our own cloth bags.
We did not have access to compost. My grandmother said it can be a little hard to compost as it attracts animals. So I got resourceful by simply chopping up the scraps into tiny (very tiny!) pieces and scattered them on the yard for the birds to enjoy. Taking it back to Australia was never a thought because of quarantine laws. I have since found out that there is a home pick up service for those in Little Rock to have compost collected and returned to you as soil.
I found a Whole Foods over on Bowman Road through the Bulk App that would have allowed us to pick up dry foods in our own bags and containers if needed. But we were so happy with the vegetables and fruit from the markets, we did not end up visiting the store.
The rest of our meals were eaten out because…you know…the Builder had to try some Southern dishes like catfish, hush puppies, burgers, fried chicken, BBQ and cheese dip. We always had our containers on us to scoop up any surplus food while we were out.
The Builder also found that whenever he asked for a coffee in his own cup, he would get a discount automatically. There was never a sign nor did we go to shops that advertised it. It was just something they did. Maybe that was just the famous southern hospitality :)
My favourite place to eat was The Root Café on SoMa (South on Main Street) and the neighborhood around. They champion local produce from Arkansas, with a focus on fresh and homemade. The portion sizes were perfect, plus the prices were not crazy like similar places can be. This area was not what it was on my last visit, so it was great to wander down the street. If you are in the area, I recommend a stop at The Green Corner Store for an ice cream. I tried the s'mores flavour. Deeevine. I also got to visit the place my parents were married. Was very sweet.
Little Rock also has a handful of local breweries. We visited Stone’s Throw and enjoyed a rather generous tasting tray. With all this new growth I wondered what the city will look like on my next visit.
A walk around The Big Dam Bridge awarded us beautiful sunset views over the Arkansas River. We also got busy picking up rubbish when we were down there. Recent flooding meant there was quite a bit.
The best part was just being with my family. Due to our locations, I rarely get to see them as often as I would like. It was nothing short of lovely to introduce my boyfriend to them and also part of my history.
After our time in Hawaii, we were ready for any straws and avoided them easily in Arkansas. Telling the person seating us was key to this process. This made Arkansas a straw free success for us! We always had our water bottles with us and would top them up before we left which they were always happy to do. Because it was very hot we made sure to stay hydrated.
We also visited Manhattan Beach in LA (close to the airport) on our way home. We rode bikes around to Venice and Santa Monica - taking it easy before our flight back to Melbourne.
Our flight back to Melbourne was with Qantas. It was a late night flight so we ate before we got on the plane and finished off some snacks we "acquired" from the hotel's buffet for breakfast. Taking our own ear phones, extra clothes for warmth, using a cloth bag and clothes as a pillow and our water bottles helped us avoid all trash on the flight and enjoy things like a Downtown Abbey marathon.
Here is our rubbish at the end of our trip including both Hawaii, Arkansas and LA. The main item were...receipts. Also in the trash are plane tickets, a wrist band (because apparently I look 18?!), two visitor stickers from the Clinton Presidential Library, plastic from the top of a wooden skewer, clothes tag from a second hand store shopping trip, receipt rolled up, broken elastic band, a plastic martini stick, two straws. Not pictured are two stryofoam plates and one straw. We created more trash from this trip versus our last one to the Philippines.
And I don't know why?! We did many of the things like take our own toiletries and we were way more prepared with containers for food. I think it was because for most of our trip in the Philippines we did not have to buy our own food as it was catered for during one of the weeks, so no receipts. I wish we had created less trash but lessons were learnt. It was nice to avoid the baggage tags, and I realised that I don't really need to pack that many clothes.
If I had to make suggestions or a list of what I learnt on this trip it would be the following
- Say No to Straws. Tell the person seating you that you don’t want any water. Then ask the waiter for a glass but with no straw. The waiter will sometimes appear with glasses of water with straws in them so its key to tell the person seating you.
- When you order a salad and would prefer no salad dressing, don’t ask to have it on the side. It will come in a plastic container. We learnt this from looking at other patrons…which leads me to...
- Look at the meals people are having and don’t be afraid to ask some questions on how things are served. We would always scan the restaurant/cafe to see how things worked.
- Give napkins back to the servers. I carry my own so we did not need them
- Having a kit on us at all times made it really easy. We were always prepared.
- Research where you are going, look for markets and bulk stores.