When you think of Bali, what first comes to mind? A lush tropical paradise full of beautiful white sandy beaches, right?
While it is indeed an island paradise filled with smiling, happy people, after recently spending two and a half weeks on holiday there, I feel qualified to say this: Bali has a huge pollution problem.
Pollution and waste can be found on sidewalks, streets, beach shores, crooks, crannies, and pretty much everywhere I turned. I was dismayed. The pristine, island mecca of Bali I had known over a decade earlier when I first set foot on its shores seemed long gone. It had been replaced by a filthy, contaminated, plastic-polluted version. To say I was horrified by the extent of the problem is an understatement.
Even snorkelling off the coast of Nusa Lembongan in Indonesia didn't come without its pollution problems. It was an enjoyable experience, being dazzled by the colourful ocean floor and the bright fish all around me, but then I noticed a piece of plastic - what looked like a sauce sachet out of a noodle packet - floating in the water a fe meters away from me. I swam towards it and collected it. I continued to snorkel with the plastic clenched in my right hand mesmerised by the tropical fish but as I climbed back aboard the boat, I looked down at the piece of plastic in the palm of my hand and couldn't stop thinking: what the fuck is wrong with people?
Environmental pollution is a man-made problem that is out of control and suffocating even the most idyllic of landscapes. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
I returned to Australia last week and decided to step up my commitment to sustainability and vowed to work even harder to educate people about this pollution problem. Some people might write it off as a Bali problem, or even an Indonesian problem. However deep down I know that it is a global problem. What is happening in Bali is indicative of what's happening across the world.
I decide that one of the ways we can reduce pollution - particularly in picturesque parts of the world - is by making travellers more conscious about their negative impact. To help me do this, I enlisted some more zero waste experts to help me tackle this issue: Jenica Barrett from Zero Waste Wisdom, Anita Vandyke of Make the Zwswitch, Kathryn Kellogg of Going Zero Waste and Susannah Lerch AKA Zero Waste Vegetarian.
Thank you ladies for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing your knowledge and experience on this subject. You have no idea how many people you're about to help!
Expressions of gratitude out of the way, let's cut trash, I mean cut to the chase, and talk zero waste travel!
What annoys you most when travelling?
Jenica: "The thing that bothers me the most about traveling is the carbon footprint of flying. I LOVE visiting countries especially in Latin America but I recognize the huge impact long trips can have on the environment. To combat this, I try to make my vacations for as long as possible (at least four weeks) and do them infrequently (every three years on average). I have also recently started buying carbon offsets for the plane flights. I think that exploring the world and gaining a better understanding of cultures is vital for fostering an acceptance of diversity so I will never NOT travel. But I do wish that flying had a little less impact."
Kathryn: "Thoughtlessness. But, that annoys me almost everywhere. You can't be upset at people for creating trash when they don't know it's a problem. Education on the matter is so important. Most people don't know any other way.
Susannah: "For me the most annoying thing is that usually the people I travel with find minimizing your own waste something to do "one day" not to today so it can be annoying to try so hard and see people around not giving a shit.”
What's the biggest challenge about zero waste traveling?
Jenica: "The hardest part about making the trip zero waste is being unfamiliar with the area. As much as the internet has improved our ability to "experience" an area before actually visiting, being prepared is the key to making a zero waste trip work. It is hard to really know what grocery stores will carry bulk items, whether farmer's markets will be open, and what the recycling system is like without visiting the place or having contacts in the area. My difficulties have always arose when I assumed I would have a resource available and it actually wasn't. Or the drinking water was supposed to be safe so I didn't bring a filter, and then it wasn't. The biggest hurdle is planning ahead, which can take a lot of time and energy."
Anita: "I find food the most challenging - particularly when you are in remote areas and have to rely on what is available to you! Sometimes finding the zero waste option is just not possible!"
Kathryn: "When you make a lifestyle change, like going zero waste, you build a routine. You know where to find awesome cafes that let you bring your own cup. You know which ice cream stores have metal tasting spoons and let you bring home a pint of vegan, chocolate, peanut butter swirl in your own mason jar. You've built relationships with people and they get you. When you travel, you lose all of that. Which can be a little frightening or intimidating. It's like you're starting all over. But, it's so much fun to meet new people and talk about why you want to avoid plastic all over again. 99% of everyone I've met both local and in vacationland have all been super receptive and accommodating to my trash-free ways."
Susannah: "My biggest challenge is eating out while travelling. Most of the time, who ever I'm traveling with wants to grab quick fast food or something from a gas station and it's difficult to find things that are zero waste.”
What advice would you give to those looking to minimise their waste whilst traveling?
Jenica: "[Following on from the first response] that would also be my biggest advice to someone trying to minimize waste while traveling - plan ahead! Know what the drinking water is like, stay at a hotel that offers composting and other eco-friendly services, pack your zero waste essentials to avoid restaurant waste as much as possible. And don't be upset if it doesn't go as smoothly as you like! I produced as much waste on one vacation as I did in a year because it can be really tricky to figure out. Don't give up! It is also a great idea to write down any things you learned that you really want to remember for next time - places you visited that were great resources or things you wished you had packed!"
Anita: "Always have a zero waste kit!"
Kathryn: "Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid to challenge the norm. We're not used to talking to people face to face. It's MUCH easier to talk to someone from behind a screen. So, if someone says, this is the way it's always been done, it's easier to accept it than challenge it. Challenge it. Don't just accept your coffee in a paper cup. Ask for a real mug. It may not be the way things are "usually" done, but that doesn't make it incorrect. Be open to new ideas, ask questions, and always look for another solution. There may not be another solution, but at least you tried!"
"It's not about perfection; it's about making better choices." - Kathryn Kellogg, Going Zero Waste
What are the top 5 essential items you pack each time you travel?
Susannah: "1. A tall wide mouth mason jar (and straw) you can put water, or coffee in 2. A fork 3. A lunchbox (I have a great one from Eco Lunch Box that is leakproof) you can get things in bulk from most grocery stores and some restaurants will put your food in it to avoid wrapping, and you can take left overs with you 4. A cloth bag (countless uses) 5. And the last thing would be good intentions and a forgiving heart."
Anita: "1. Reusable drink bottle 2. Bar of Dr Bronner's soap 3. Cloth napkin 4. Reusable spork 5. Cloth bag 6. Bonus - a positive and open attitude!"
Jenica: "Top 5? That's tricky! 1. Waterbottle 2. Tupperwear 3. Cloth bag (for groceries, snacks, trinkets, etc. 4. Spork 5. Bamboo straw. All of these are very similar to what I carry in my car and purse every day!"
Kathryn: "Underwear, socks, a 16oz mason jar, a cloth napkin, and a double insulated water bottle."
Now over to you: Are you embarking on a trip of your own? Do you have any zero waste travel questions for these experts? Make sure to leave a comment or question below and we'll try to help where we can!
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