Reducing your plastic waste can be challenging, especially when traveling. But in a world flooded with single-use plastic, everybody needs to be aware of its terrible impact on our beautiful planet. The amount of plastic found in the ocean is shocking, and it needs to change.
When my boyfriend and I took a trip to South East Asia, we were shocked by the amount of plastic and rubbish that was littering the beautiful beaches. It made us feel terrible because we knew that travelers and tourism were contributing to the problem and we also knew we had to change our habits.
Over the past few years, we’ve been learning how to reduce our plastic waste while traveling, how to protect our environment and how to travel more sustainably.
I know It can be challenging to avoid plastic, especially since it’s everywhere, but there are solutions.
I thought it would be more interesting to first give you an idea of how bad plastic is affecting our planet instead of just telling you that you should reduce your plastic waste while traveling (and at home). So in this article, you will find the causes and consequences of plastic in our environment, and solutions to avoid single-use plastic as much as you can.
How does plastic affect our environment and animals
It is no secret that more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean each year, forming huge garbage patches. You might have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest accumulation of ocean plastic in the world. This patch is located between Hawaii and California. In fact, there are 5 of these patches in our oceans!
Unfortunately, due to our over-consumption of plastic, many animals die and go extinct every day. Seabirds, turtles, and even whales die because they eat the plastic they find in the sea. This is a tragedy, and at the rate at which plastic is accumulating in the oceans, it is said that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.
And not only is it a tragedy for wildlife, but also for humans. First of all, because oceans are the most important ecosystem of our planet and also because if fish eat plastic, then it goes up the food chain. And who is at the top? humans.
Plastic is harmful because it is ‘Non-Biodegradable’. Plastic bags thrown on land release toxic chemicals and make the land less fertile, and end up being eaten by animals. When thrown in water, plastic stays in the sea for years and harms sea life.
How does plastic end up in the ocean
Well, contrary to common beliefs 80% of the plastic found in the ocean comes from land-based activities. Most of this plastic is landfills trash blown away directly into the ocean or into rivers. However, a lot of this plastic is microplastic from products like toothpaste and cosmetics. The remaining 20% is simply plastic waste being dumped overboard or lost by boats.
Holidaymakers also have their part of responsibility in plastic pollution. Indeed, travelers visiting beaches and leaving behind plastic bags, bottles, food packaging or cigarettes butts on the sand contribute to plastic getting into the ocean.
Tourism and irresponsible behaviors from travelers has led many countries to shut down their beaches to allow their rehabilitation like Boracay in the Philippines or Maya Bay in Thailand.
How long does it take for plastic to decompose
Have you ever heard the story of the friendly floatees? Back In 1992, over 25000 plastic bath toys fell off a cargo ship in the Pacific Ocean. Of course, most of those toys have washed up on shores all over the world or have been found frozen in Arctic ice, but not all of them. More than 20 years later, there are still bath toys floating the world’s oceans. This is how bad plastic is.
The average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is 450 years. In landfills, plastic can take up to 1000 years to decompose, can you imagine?
Only a minority of plastic is biodegradable, which is why so much of it ends up in the ocean and on beach shores.
How to reduce plastic waste while traveling: tips for eco-conscious travelers
Between the carbon footprint and massive use of single-use plastic, traveling doesn’t really tend to be eco-friendly. But there are many alternatives to single-use plastic nowadays, so traveling doesn’t have to involve that much plastic waste. Whether you want to reduce your plastic use at home or while traveling, these 12 ways to reduce plastic waste will give you ideas on how to start your journey.
Pack a reusable shopping bag
Some countries and cities have banned plastic bags, but others will still give you a plastic bag every time you buy something. Don’t be afraid to say no.
In Turkey, shops are still giving plastic bags every single time you buy something so I always carry a reusable bag with me. Reusable bags are washable, lightweight and easy to carry. I always leave one in my daypack to make sure I won’t forget it.
Carry a reusable water bottle
I always carry a reusable water bottle with me. It makes me save time, money and it’s good for the planet. They are cheap and you can keep them for years. Refillable water bottles are also perfect for everyday use when you are at home.
If you’re going through the airport security, bring an empty bottle and fill it up on the other side.
If you’re traveling somewhere tap water isn’t safe to drink, buy a water bottle with a filter and you’ll be able to drink any water no matter where you are. It’s especially handy when you go to countries in Southeast Asia or South America.
Buy a reusable cutlery kit
Reusable cutlery kits are another great way to cut down on your plastic waste.
Whether you want them in stainless steel or bamboo, this fantastic little kit is super handy on flights, camping, and backpacking trips.
You can easily find these reusable cutlery sets with spoon, fork, knife, and chopsticks online. They even come with a convenient case to store them.
Don’t use plastic straws
Plastic straws are one of the biggest sources of plastic waste. In some countries, every drink comes with a plastic straw, no kidding. And honestly, who needs to drink with a straw? I personally never use them. Just say “no straw” when you order your cocktail or drink, or it’ll automatically come with one.
If you absolutely need to drink with a straw, buy your own reusable straw. You can now buy stainless steel straws which are a lot more eco-friendly. They come with a small case, and a brush to keep them clean. They are reusable, easy to clean and good for the environment.
Say no to the comfort bag on airplanes
We all know flying is bad for the planet because of the carbon footprint. But comfort bags offered on airplanes are also a big problem. They are the free bags containing toothpaste, a toothbrush, socks, and an eye mask. Comfort bags just contain stuff that you already brought with you anyway, so instead of using those, pack your own toothbrush in your handbag, and get your own eye mask.
Another thing you always get for free on long-haul flights is single-use earphones. These earphones are made of and wrapped in plastic, and they will only be used once before being thrown away. If you have your own earphones, use those instead of using the airline ones.
Some airlines are trying to limit their use of plastic such as Alaska airline which became the first airline to quit using plastic straws in May 2018. Low-cost airline Ryanair has made the promise to be plastic free by 2023. Support those companies instead of the big companies that are still using single-use plastic on every flight.
Pack your own food in reusable containers
Carrying a reusable container is a little bit of a pain especially if you’re backpacking but on the long run it’ll save you money and it’ll help the environment. Think about all the plastic waste you’ll save by packing your own food in reusable containers. No more plastic waste from fast foods and takeaways, cook yourself some healthy meals and carry them in your reusable container.
Another big problem is airline food. Have you ever seen the amount of plastic that is being used to package airline meals? This is shocking, literally, everything they use is made of single-use plastic. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you not to eat on a plane, especially if you have a long-haul flight, but if you’re on a shorter flight bring your own food with you instead of buying food on the plane.
Invest in eco-friendly toiletries
Travel size toiletries (like mini toothpaste, shampoos, and shower gel) are convenient, but they are literally a single-use plastic nightmare. Instead, try to use shampoo, soap and conditioner bars. They are available in Lush, a very good brand that makes cruelty free and eco-friendly products.
Did you know that around one billion plastic toothbrushes end up in landfill every year in the US? Buying a bamboo toothbrush is a fantastic alternative. It is biodegradable and you can throw it into compost after a few months of using. Or you can even buy one with changeable heads to make it an even more viable option.
Try to avoid using cotton buds, as they are also a huge source of plastic waste and most of them end up in the ocean. Speaking of oceans, buy a reef-safe sunscreen from Sun Bum instead of using a basic sunscreen lotion that is harmful to coral reefs and fish.
If you use wet wipes, think about getting biodegradable ones. They are exactly like typical wet wipes except that they are made of natural fiber so they break down more quickly. I use the Combat Wipes, which are great for backpacking and camping.
Also, think about getting a transparent wash bag to store your liquids instead of relying on the single-use plastic bags handed out for free at the airport.
Switch to a menstrual cup
It’s no secret that menstrual products are a huge source of waste. A great alternative is to switch to a menstrual cup.
Menstrual cups are usually made of flexible medical grade silicone and even though they are not compostable, the material they are made of is not hazardous to aquatic and soil organisms.
Menstrual cups like Lunette or the Diva Cup can be used for an entire year before being replaced. It is even said that with good care, they can last a lifetime. So not only switching to a cup will help the environment but it will also save you money.
Wear good quality eco-friendly travel clothes
Plastic is everywhere, even in our clothes. Good quality travel gear tend to last longer. Brands like Patagonia aim at creating travel gear that is durable, eco-friendly and simple.
Investing in travel gear that lasts will help minimize plastic use, and also supporting a brand that is eco-conscious is a great way to help fight plastic waste.
Don’t print plane tickets
In a world where everybody owns a phone, it’s easy to just download your plane tickets and store them on your phone. Same goes for magazines and books. If you don’t like reading on your phone, invest in a kindle.
Go to destinations that promote ecotourism
Environmental changes have affected many places in the world, but ecotourism is becoming more popular and some countries encourage sustainable tourism.
Think about Costa Rica, Norway, or Denmark for example, which are models of sustainable tourism. Kenya has recently banned plastic bags from the country and is seeing a drastic amelioration of the streets cleanliness.
Antartica is also a popular eco-destination as it is the least touched region of the world.
Pick up when you can
Whether it’s on the beach or when you go hiking, pick up when you can. I’m not saying you should clean up an entire trail, but it doesn’t take much to pick up some rubbish and put it in your pockets until you find a bin.
Picking up plastic waste is a great way to help the environment, and will also prevent wildlife from eating it. If everybody picked up, even just a few pieces of crap, imagine how much better our trails and beaches would be.
Or why not join a beach clean up? There are cleanups all over the world. It’s a great way to meet new people who share your values and to give back to the country your visiting or to your home country.
Protecting our environment has become more important than ever, and it is our responsibility to protect the world we live in. Following these tips to reduce your plastic waste while traveling won’t cost you any extra money. in fact, it might save you money in the long run.
All it takes is just a change in our habits and routine, to help our planet and wildlife.
I know that in some countries it is hard to avoid using plastic, especially when you are traveling. But we always have the choice to say no to plastic and to make a change.
Are you traveling soon? Don’t forget your travel insurance!
Travel insurance is the only thing I don’t go anywhere without. Your travel insurance covers you against travel risks such as lost or stolen luggage, trip cancellation, and most importantly, unexpected medical costs abroad. I like WorldNomads because they are backed by reputable insurers, have 24h assistance providers, and are affordable. Get a quote and read the policy details to ensure that it’s right for you. For more information, read my travel insurance page.
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