As world travelers, we carry a lot of baggage. In a literal sense, we lug around giant backpacks and suitcases. Metaphorically, we also have to cope with the emotional baggage that, although our hearts are in the right place, traveling and tourism, in general, are not very eco-friendly.
Long plane rides make our carbon footprint soar, hordes of tourists can severely damage the health of an ecosystem, and, of course, we produce waste. Lots of it. Specifically, plastic. And where does most of that plastic end up? In our oceans.
8 million tons of plastic are annually dumped into the ocean, and with 80% of international tourism related to coastal activities, one can infer that probably a fair amount of that ocean-bound waste — plastic and otherwise — comes from tourism. Which is why it’s on us travelers to step up and be more aware of our actions. There are plenty of ways to reduce our waste, like these five methods that will help you eliminate plastic while traveling.
1. Bring along reusable containers.
Getting your hands on a good reusable, eco-friendly water bottle (options range from stainless steel to BPA-free) is a no-brainer to using less plastic — recent reports show that a million plastic bottles are used per minute — but you can go further. Just a few examples: an all-in-one cutlery tool or utensil set comes in handy for eliminating plastic utensils usage; ditching your plastic toothbrush for a more sustainable (and stylish) bamboo one; using Tupperware instead of to-go boxes and bags; and bringing canvas tote bags instead of plastic ones. Another huge source of plastic waste is from plastic straws, with 5 million used per day in the US, so ditch those as well or bring along some stainless steel, paper, or bamboo alternatives. The options are endless, and most are easily-packable and won’t take up too much space or weight in your luggage.
2. Invest in a travel-sized water purifier.
While traveling, many people feel more comfortable drinking from plastic water bottles to protect themselves from ingesting unsafe or contaminated water. But that only contributes to the aforementioned million bottles a minute. So, what are your options if you want to be sure the water you’re drinking is safe, but don’t want to buy plastic bottles? Luckily, huge strides have been made in recent years developing easy-to-use but effective water purifiers for travelers that are lightweight, durable, and affordable. There are tons of great options, like LifeStraw or DrinkSafe Travel Tap, and most can filter within a few minutes, making it an easy alternative to plastic bottles.
3. Leave the free hotel shampoos where you found them.
We all love to nab those cute little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion from our hotel, but all those tiny bottles are a huge source of plastic waste in the hospitality industry, as many hotels just toss the half-used bottles away and they end up in landfills. Some chains like Mariott are starting to make a change with wall-mounted dispensers and recycling programs like Clean the World, but you can help spur the trend along by bringing your own shampoo and body wash in reusable containers in a dopp kit. Or, if you’re super thrifty, make your hygiene products like toothpaste or shampoo using baking soda or castile soap.
4. Don’t be afraid to say no.
If you are a guest, it can be difficult or embarrassing to turn something down or say “no”. But when it comes to eliminating plastic from your life, saying no to it in public interactions is just as important as how you personally eliminate it from your routine. Usually, it’s no more than saying “no straw, please,” or “I brought my own bag.” Even that, at times, can feel awkward to say to strangers in different countries or cultures. That said, more countries, such as Chile, are taking steps to ban plastic bags or straws and make citizens more aware of plastic usage. These days, most people will probably be open and accommodating to your request.
5. Make conscious choices.
When it comes to cutting out plastic while on the road, half the battle is just making the conscious choice to not use it, as one of the reasons plastic is so ubiquitous is because it’s so accessible and easy. To paraphrase the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, try to ask yourself: do you need it? Is it really necessary? Can you get the same thing but maybe in a recyclable or reusable form? And expand this conscious thinking to your daily planning and organization: take a few extra minutes the night before to pack snacks in reusable bags; wash your reusable items; always stash a tote in your purse when you go out. Pretty soon, it’ll become a habit. Finally, be patient with yourself. Making the switch from using plastic to not using plastic at all is not a quick overnight change. It takes times, patience, and some creativity.