With international tourism becoming accessible and popular with more and more people across the globe, it is important for travelers to not leave trails of trash in their wakes. One of the easiest ways to be a more sustainable traveler is by decreasing your plastic consumption along your journey. This may seem challenging at first, but time and practice will make it feel easy and natural. The single greatest thing you can do is change your own habits, simultaneously influencing those around you to change theirs as well. Every sustainable traveler makes a big difference, and we advise you not to strive for perfection, but just to try to be a little better one step at a time.
Plastic is the enemy:
Even as more people are becoming aware of the harms of single-use plastic, each day more and more is being used around the world. Here are some fun facts about plastic that will make even the coldest-hearted people feel a little something.:
1. During the last 10 years alone, we have produced more plastic than in all of the 20th century.
2. Up to 50 percent of all plastic produced is used ONE TIME and thrown away.
3. Nearly half of all plastic floats (EPA 2006) and plastic production uses about 8% of global oil annually. Bioplastics are not sustainable, as they use food sources and water for production.
4. Every piece of plastic produced still exists on the earth, except for the small amount which has been burned. It takes 500-1000 years for plastic to decompose.
5. Plastic chemicals are absorbed by the human body. Studies have found that more than 90% of Americans test positive for this chemical which can bring about major health problems.
Here are 8 of the easiest ways that you can reduce your plastic consumption while traveling and save money while you’re at it!
1. Refill or filter water into your own bottle:
Refill your bottle if available:
Not buying water is the thing travelers we talk to find most challenging. Recently, we’ve found many hotels offering water refills for cheaper than buying a bottle at the store. These hotels have discovered that they sell more water when they do it this way, decreasing plastic waste and increasing profits.
Filter the tap water:
This is how we travel at La Aventura Project. We carry a Sawyer Mini inline water filter. This attaches to our “camelback” hydration bladder which I fill with tap water and let drain into our refillable water bottles. These filters will last for a long time, rated to filter more than 100,000 gallons of water in their life time. They filter down to 0.1 microns, removing 99.99999% of bacteria (such as cholera, e-coli, salmonella) and 99.9999% of protozoa (such as giardia and cryptosporidium). It also weighs only 2 oz and retails around $25 USD, so you will save yourself loads of money on a trip abroad. We estimate saving more than $30 USD each month of traveling by carrying this filter and have NEVER gotten sick from drinking the filtered water. We have talked to other travelers who used the Sawyer Mini to filter muddy water straight out of the super polluted Mekong River in Laos, with no ill effects.
2. Say no to plastic straws: #stopsucking
The problem: Often when you order a soda or stop for a coconut along the side of the road, someone is going to offer you a straw. You’re first instinct might be “yeah, a straw sounds like a great idea!” Just remember that you will use the straw for minutes, but it will stay in the landfill (or the ocean) for the rest of your lifetime. In the United States alone, over 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded every day. This is enough to fill more than 120 school buses. If you multiply this number the world over, you discover an unimaginable amount of waste that could have been avoided entirely.
The solution: ether don’t use straws, or simply bring your own reusable straw. Many online retailers sell different alternatives, some being better than others.
Stainless steel straws:
A very popular alternative to plastic. Most steel is produced from recycled materials, as it is cheaper and more efficient that producing new steel. It takes very little energy to produce steel, and most of the by-products from production are able to be reused, from the extra heat turned into electricity, to the CO2 emitted used to carbonate soft drinks. Stainless steel straws are easy to clean and can last a lifetime.
Another great option. Bamboo is cheap and sustainable to produce. It grows without the use of herbicides and pesticides and produces 35% more oxygen that a similar farm of trees. Bamboo also grows rapidly, needing only 3-5 years to harvest, balances the carbon and oxygen in the atmosphere, and is great for preventing soil erosion. You also don’t need to replant bamboo after harvesting, as it regrows into a new tree from the roots. It’s being called the new hemp, as it is great for fabric production. Clothes made of bamboo have antibacterial properties, which they retain for up to 50 washings (great for napkins). Bamboo scraps can be used to make paper, jewelry, and table utensils. We really love these Bamboo Toothbrushes from Green Choice Lanka, Check out this article for more info about the sustainable uses of bamboo!
3. Bring your own bag:
Single use plastic bags one of the easiest things to avoid. Simply bring your own canvas tote bag on your trip; they weigh very little and are always useful. The hardest part is retraining your brain to remember to bring it. Don’t worry if you forget, we aren’t trying to be perfect, just better.
4. Carry your own takeaway container:
It’s easy to have a reusable container in your backpack or luggage. There are many different options available, but we like these metal containers with clasps so you don’t have to worry about the tops popping off!
5. Use bar soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent.
Many soap products contain micro beads, small plastic pieces which polish your skin. These also get washed down the drain and end up in the ocean. They look just like food to fish and are a terrible polluter of the ocean. Soaps and shampoos also generally come in a disposable plastic bottle. These problems can be eliminated by buying soaps in bar form from sustainable soap makers. In the states, Dr. Bronners makes amazing, all-natural bar soaps.
6. Buy local if possible:
Buying local products directly funds the people and not large corporations. Packaging and shipping produces huge amounts of plastic waste. It also takes tremendous amounts of fuel to transport products long distances. The worlds 16 biggest boats (used for shipping) produce more pollution than all the cars in the world.
7. Stay at eco-friendly hotels and hostels:
The world is full of amazing people running sustainable hostels, hotels, and resorts. Many travelers fear that staying at these places will break their budget, but we’ve found that the difference in price is not noticeable. Look for things like water refills, local products, and upcycled decor, as these are the signs that a place is doing it right. We’ve found that the places that care the most about the environment, usually care a little bit more about the people staying there as well. It can be hard to find out which places are good to stay at, in Sri Lanka you can check to see if they are Good Market approved. The Good Market will soon be worldwide, making it easier for travelers to choose sustainable places to spend our money.
8. Your money is powerful:
Remember that where you spend your money is the single greatest influence you have. Skip the companies that don’t care about the earth, ***cough Coca-Cola cough Nestle cough*** excuse me, and choose green alternatives which are better for your health and better for the planet.
Remember, we aren’t going for perfect…
But with a little effort, your habits will change before you know it. Others around you will notice your actions, and ask you how they can be more sustainable travelers. Don’t forget to encourage people nicely, as humans listen better when you’re polite. Save your nagging for the big polluting corporations, they love annoying environmentalists 😉
Thanks for reading and for caring about our planet! If you liked this article, be sure to check out our Youtube channel where we’ve just returned from the Tuk Tuk Tournament, driving a tuk tuk around Sri Lanka to connect sustainable businesses and promote earth-friendly travel on this beautiful island!