Plastic pollution is a huge problem around the world, even more so in developing destinations that lack sufficient recycling programmes or waste disposal facilities. From the moment you step through customs, it seems everyone is out to dump more unnecessary single-use plastic on you, from packaged aeroplane food to unnervingly tiny water bottles in hotels. Single-use plastic contributes up to 33% of all plastic pollution around the world, most of this can be avoided by taking a few easy steps.
When travelling in sensitive or remote areas reducing, or eliminating, the amount of plastic you leave in your wake becomes even more crucial. Something we as a company are ever more aware of when planning adventure travel tours, that by definition tend to explore more remote regions and fragile environments. We work with our local guides and ground staff to discourage the use of disposable plastics and promote sustainable alternatives, especially in areas where there is lower awareness of the negative impacts of plastic pollution.
As well as ensuring tour operators and suppliers are operating sustainably it is also consumers and travellers who can work together to reduce our overall plastic footprint. We aim to make this as easy as possible for you when on one of our trips, but to help you take things into your own hands we have also produced these 6 easy steps to help you on your journey to becoming a plastic-free adventurer!
6 Easy steps to reducing single-use plastic when travelling
1. Reusable Water Bottles
This is easily the number one action you can take to reduce the amount of plastic you use when travelling.
The worldwide stats on plastic water bottles are mind-boggling, suffice to say continued use is utterly unsustainable. People often think in developing world countries the only safe source of water is bottled, but this is not true. Although tap water is often not-suitable to drink directly it can easily be purified and often hotels, teahouses and more remote accommodation provide boiled, safe-to-drink, water. In addition to the environmental impact, cheap plastics used in bottled water also pose further health risks.
The simple solution is non-plastic reusable water bottles. My preference is for a stainless steel flask, great at keeping your drink hot/cold depending on the scenario. Most accommodation will provide drinking water that you can refill your bottles with, teahouses and other rural lodges will provide boiled water and on trek water can either be collected and purified from suitable streams or boiled at camp each night. I will also usually take some kind of water purification method (tablets, aquaprove or micro-filter). Usually, 2 one litre bottles are sufficient, so you can be purifying one whilst drinking from the other.
2. Be a hotel hero
Hotels can be a terrible place for the environmentally conscious traveller.
A throw-away culture of disposable plastic, everywhere from the bathroom to mini bar.
Choose hotels actively trying to reduce their impact (proactive hotels will be shouting about it on their website). Refuse the single use soaps, shampoos, lotions and other disposable toiletries on offer. Mention the problems of wasteful plastics on feedback forms and praise alternative solutions.
3. Pack-away reusable bag
Just like when at home it’s easy to be caught out on a trip to the local shops and end up carrying your meagre rations home in four hundred disposable plastic bags in a vain attempt to avoid having to simultaneously juggle your carrots and broccoli whilst balancing the chicken you intend to roast on your head. You may find your day pack full of other essentials (junk) as you travel, which is why it’s super-handy to carry a small pack-away bag for those impromptu trips to the food market or panicked last-minute souvenir runs.
Fancy outdoor/lightweight ones or canvas bags from your local supermarket all do the same job, the oceans will thank you!
4. Green your soap
From plastic microbeads to chemical nasties the toiletries you use in remote environments have a habit of finding their way into water courses and causing problems for local flora and fauna. As well as this, ‘travel sized’ toiletries take wasteful packaging to a new level.
Use natural, bio-degradable soaps and avoid all products containing microbeads (tiny plastic beads in lotions often used in skincare products to ‘exfoliate’). If using gels or shampoos use refillable travel tubes.
5. Remove excess packaging
We often buy fancy new gadgets or essentials for our travels abroad, whether needed or not, they are often encapsulated by a shield of plastic so impenetrable that mythical tales of fingers, toes or even eyes lost in the battle to gain access to our goodies resonate around many a gadget expo car park.
This packaging has mostly been produced with their source market in mind, where hopefully there is some kind of solution in place to attempt to reuse or recycle the plastic and often some kind of regulation as to how it is disposed of. This may not be the case in the country you are travelling to, where the alternative will be either landfill or open burning, releasing toxins into the environment.
Whilst we would always advocate looking for brands who are trying to minimise their non-recyclable packaging. If the packaging to your new travel gadget is unavoidable then at least leave it at home where it has a better chance of being appropriately dealt with.
If you are interested in finding out more information on how you can reduce your plastic footprint either when travelling or at home, there are lots of great sources online, below are some of our favourites:
Do you have any plastic travel stories or top tips to share?