The increasing accessibility and desire to visit some of the most exotic places on the earth is a wonderful thing, to capture that photo on a mountain peak, lounge about on an isolated island, trek to Machu Picchu or take the family to Bali. The more exotic the better, but often the more exotic the location, the less likely it will be that there are effective waste management programs to maintain high volumes of visitors. What happens when the visitors depart? Where do all the water bottles, plastic bags, and coffee cups go?
The amount of solid waste produced by tourists is often an issue, particularly in countries that do not have efficient waste management systems in place. For example, Indonesia has been struggling to deal with the high volumes of waste produced by visitors and it has been reported that hotels are paying staff to bury large volumes of plastic in the beaches.
So here are six ways to be a good earth citizen as you travel about our beautiful world:
1. BYO drink bottle (and try making your own clean water too!)
This doesn’t even have to be country dependent. There are now some excellent technologies for sterilising water sources. If visiting countries where it is not advisable to wash your teeth using tap water let alone drink the tap water, there are some great resources that allow you to clean your water. Two great options:
- UV light steriliser pen such as a SteriPen that destroys more than 99.9 percent of harmful microorganisms, such as Giardia, bacteria, viruses and protozoa;
- A water filtration system such as the Katadyn Vario Water Filter.
2. Carry a reusable cutlery and straw set, even on the plane.
This one can be tricky, and if using metal cutlery, the airport will take the butter knife and perhaps fork from you. However, there are some excellent bamboo style cutler sets that airlines don’t even question. I have to say giving that plastic cutlery set back to the airline hostess is a great feeling. These can also be useful if you’re getting take away or hiking instead of using a single-use plastic cutlery set; just whip out your reusable bamboo cutlery and away you go.
- Bring a thermos or coffee cup to the coffee shop.
3. Bring a thermos or coffee cup to the cafe if you’re on the go.
There are so many really great reusable coffee cup designs available now, and although it may seem like one more thing to carry, it’s a great feeling to be the odd one out in a café in Bali where everyone is getting a single-use take away coffee cup and you’re feeling smug with your stylish thermos or reusable mug. Or even better, taking a moment to slow down, sit in and drink your coffee in a ceramic mug while taking in the scenes or people watching…. You’re on holidays after all, what’s the rush?
- Have a personal plastic bag ban – even the ones that claim to be biodegradable.
4. Avoid plastic bags – even the ones that claim to be biodegradable.
This is a no-brainer, and really so simple to replace single use bags with a reusable. There are bags small enough to fold up and carry in your back pack, handbag, your pocket or even on a keychain!
- Use non-disposable sanitary items.
5. Use non-disposable sanitary items.
There are many options to reducing period waste that can suit everyone, there are the menstrual cups to period and pee proof underpants. Going reusable at that TOM also means reducing the amount you need to pack in your toiletries bag.
6. For the parents, try switching from disposable diapers to cloth or biodegradable nappies.
This is a tricky one, but the diapers used now will be on the planet long after we are gone. Although cloth nappies can be tricky, especially when traveling, there are biodegradable options that will break down quicker than the plastic ones. Do your research and shop wisely.
Last words of advice on traveling plastic-free…
These are just a few simple ways to make traveling plastic-free easier. The most important thing is to try to be prepared when going on an adventure. I recommend doing your research before arriving somewhere so you better understand the key environmental issues in the place your visiting, it may be waste management, water security, poverty and even air pollution. There is a wealth of knowledge on most places that we travel to (thanks Google!), and it’s important to be aware and build your knowledge of these global issues.
Traveling is a great way to experience new places and cultures, but as they say, remember to leave just your footprints and not your rubbish.
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