Matt and I took a trip to Indonesia this year and found ourselves staying in a gorgeous place with a secluded beach privately owned by the resort. Each morning, as we strolled along the shore, we came across huge amounts of rubbish washed up on the beach. It was incredibly infuriating seeing a beautiful beach littered with plastic and all I could think about was how many animals die each year because of it. We asked the staff about it and they told us they hated it too, that the rubbish washed up on the shores throughout the day and even though they picked it up, there was always more with the next tide. I assumed the rubbish came from the local area exclusively but the staff told us it washes up from far and wide. It broke my heart, made me really angry and inspired change in both Matt and me.
Over the past few years, we’ve been trying to learn more about the environment, the impact plastic has and what we can do to reduce our use of it. I guess the more beautiful places we travel to the more we realise just what we’re screwing up! It’s sad to think all of this may not be here in years to come and I can’t keep going about my business pretending it’s not happening and doing nothing about it. So, today I wanted to share with you a few things we’ve been doing to reduce the amount of plastic we use when we travel. I like to think most of these things are pretty practical and easily achievable, simple things we can all do to make a BIG change.
A few facts about plastic…
If you feel like all of this overkill or aren’t quite convinced it’s worthwhile making some changes, here are a few facts to shine a little light on the problem with plastic.
- In the Los Angeles area, 10 metric tonnes of plastic fragments are carried into the Pacific Ocean every day (things like plastic bags, straws and empty bottles)
- 50% of the plastic we use is only used once then thrown away
- It takes 500 to 1,000 years for a piece of plastic to degrade, which means that disposable toothbrush is going to be around for a very, very long time
- One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans – WTF!
- Over the last ten years, we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century
- Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year
- Plastic chemicals can be absorbed by the body – 93 per cent of Americans age six or older test positive for BPA (a plastic chemical)
With that out of the way, I want to focus on a few easy things we can all do to reduce the amount of plastic we use when we travel and be more eco-friendly. Here are my top tips.
1. Switch to a bamboo toothbrush
Bamboo is a great alternative to plastic as it’s sustainable and degrades in around 2-3 years! Woohoo! Get your hands on an eco-friendly bamboo toothbrush and pack this with you on your travels. Bamboo is the fastest growing plant on earth; it’s naturally regenerative, requires minimal rain, and grows without the use of harmful pesticides. As a result, it’s incredibly abundant. Check out this lovely, charcoal-infused bamboo toothbrush from Bamboo It or those below from Charles and Olivia!
2. Carry a refillable water bottle with you
How many times have you walked into a hotel room and seen plastic bottles of complimentary water ready for consumption? Once you start taking notice of them it’s pretty hard to un-see them. Often, we open a bottle and start drinking it then, without realising it, abandon it and open another fresh one. It’s more habit than anything. Matt and I have started carrying our own refillable waterbottles with us when we travel, which we use on planes too.
It can be hard in countries like Indonesia and Thailand where the tap water isn’t drinkable. In these situations we try to buy the biggest bottle of water possible and share it and do whatever else we can to minimise the number of plastic bottles we go through. When buying a refillable bottle look for BPA free products or opt for glass, like this natural glass bottle with cover at Kmart ($4.50! Bargain!) or this stainless steel water bottle from Shop Naturally or those belwo from S’Well Bottle!
3. Get a reusable cutlery kit
Another great way to cut down on the amount of plastic you use is to get a reusable cutlery kit. You can find them in bamboo and stainless steel if that takes your fancy, or simply make one at home from those random pieces of cutlery that seemed to find their way into your draw. Source a little pouch to put them in, pop the knife in your check-in luggage for flights, then whip them out when you grab a meal out or on the plane. It’s a really small, simple thing but once you start turning down plastic cutlery you’ll realise just how much you’ve been using without realising it. If you’re looking to buy one this stainless steel cutlery kit from Biome is great as is this one from Etsy.
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Just the breakfast we'd love to wake up to – apple chia rice porridge with soy milk, topped with fresh figs and walnuts. Reusable bamboo spork available online and in-store at Biome (which also comes in handy for zero waste lunches at school or work). Photo thanks to @naturallyessie.
4. Say no to plastic straws
Yep, you can even cut down on the amount of plastic straws you use by either going straw-free or simply purchasing your own reusable straws and carrying them in your daypack when you travel. Your straw have a great set of two bamboo toothbrushes that come with a cleaning brush and a pouch to transport them in.
5. Turn down plastic bags
We started saying no to plastic bags over the past few months have been shocked at just how many we were saying yes to without even realising it! When I travel I always carry a backpack or canvas tote bag with me, opting to put my purchases in my bag directly or just carry them in my hands. This comes in really handy when we find ourselves visiting a supermarket abroad as we can often turn down 3 or 4 plastic bags at a time. If you’re extra savvy, you may like to put a couple of spare canvas or tote bags in your daypack to use when you get groceries or do a lot of shopping.
6. Refuse single-serving packages
Another really easy way to reduce the amount of plastic you use is just to say no to certain things. Once you’re aware of it, it’s a lot easier to spot! Just last week we were ordering food from a street vendor and watched them put the food in a plastic container, throw in a few plastic forks, add a plastic lid and throw it all in a plastic bag. Matt quickly chimed in that all we’d need is the container. While we can’t control what they chose to put the food in, we were able to say no to about 4 unnecessary pieces of plastic. It may not sound like a lot, but add all of those items up over your life time and it ends up making a huge difference.
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You may have heard about beeswax food wraps to replace plastic cling wrap in the kitchen, well, we now stock vegan plant wax food wraps too! These amazing vegan food wraps use candelilla and soy wax instead of beeswax, come in a range of cute designs, and work wonderfully. No more plastic cling wrap required! See link in bio to find them online.
7. Carry a to-go mug with you
Rather than saying yes to a plastic cup each time you get a drink carry your own to-go mug with you. We purchased a couple of BPA free reusable coffee cups recently and have been taking those to cafes with us whenever we want to get a takeaway coffee. This one can be a little trickier when you travel so if it feels like it’s a bit impractical I’d recommend just saying no to the plastic lid of a takeaway coffee cup as, usually, the actual cup itself is made of cardboard/paper. KeepCup have some really great options, offering a great range of cute designs, including glass products.
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Plastic Free July is coming up and @urban.granola gives some easy tips to reduce single-use plastic entering your life. Really easy tip #1 swap your disposable coffee cup for a reusable one! If you're a daily takeaway coffee drinker, over the course of a year you could save the waste and production of over 300 disposable coffee cups! 💚 #plasticfreejuly #biomepledge
8. Don’t use travel minis or hotel bathroom products
I love when I check into a hotel and see they don’t offer those tiny little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion etc! Those things are just ridiculous. I’ve seen some wonderful hotels finding ways around it buy purchasing refillable jars and bottles made of materials like ceramic and filling these up with products. It means travellers get the products they need, the hotel can save money buying in bulk and everyone cuts down on the amount of plastic they use!
You can combat the issue by saying no to travel minis and, instead, filling up reusable containers and bottles with your own products from home. Again, it’ll save you money and cut down on plastic. You don’t even need to go out and buy anything, just scrounge around your bathroom for near-empty bottles, give them a wash and reuse them. My favourite ones to use are the black pots from Lush.
9. Spread the word!
Whenever I say no to a plastic bag, lid, straw, bottle or package I always tell the person I’m trying to cut down on plastic. I don’t get preachy about it, just smile and say, “I’m trying to cut down on plastic.” This simple thing usually emits a response of, “oh yeah, it’s so bad for the environment,” which can then impact them to ask the next customer whether or not they really need the plastic. So, be sure to spread the word! Tell people you’re cutting back on plastic and, hopefully, inspire them to do the same.
Have I missed any tips? What other ways have you discovered to cut back on plastic while you travel? I’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts so please share in the comments below and let me know.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.