Reducing our plastic consumption should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds at the moment.
It feels like everywhere you go, there are images of turtles stuck in plastic trying to swim, or reports of seals, fish and other creatures eating plastic bags after mistaking them for jellyfish. Since plastic pollution was brought to the media’s attention, the demand for alternatives has increased.
The impact of plastic pollution on the oceans is clearer than ever. Scientists now believe that the ocean is home to 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris. Over a truckload of plastic is added to the oceans every minute, and a million seabirds and creatures die every year due to the plastic polluting their habitat. But it is not just animals who suffer, it is estimated that seafood eaters will ingest 11,000 particles of plastic per year.
Reducing your plastic consumption can be fairly simple if you are at home. Carrying a reusable water bottle is becoming the norm across the UK, with 75% of people saying they own and have used a reusable water bottle in the past year.
But it is more difficult to reduce your plastic consumption when traveling. While some cities, like Bengaluru in India, have banned all single-use plastics – others are looking into alternatives first.
Here is our guide to five ways to reduce plastic pollution while traveling.
1) Get a reusable water bottle and water purifiers
Single-use plastic bottles are the biggest contributor to plastic pollution. You will generally use far more plastic bottles while traveling as many countries, such as India, have undrinkable tap water.
This often means that you generate lots of unnecessary plastic pollution while traveling. The simplest solution is to buy a reusable water bottle and purification tablets.
Water purification tablets can alter the taste of water though, which is why some travelers prefer to use a SteriPen (which uses a kind of ultraviolet filter to purify water). Alternatively, you could make use of a filter straw, which eliminates over 99.9% of harmful bacteria. You’ll be saving plastic every time you use one!
2) Pack reusable carrier bags
With supermarkets now charging for bags across Europe, the reusable carrier bag is becoming a standard swap. But this is also an easy way to reduce plastic while traveling.
Sometimes you just need to wrap your muddy shoes or leaking bottles in something, so make sure you have some reusable bags on hand while packing for your trip.
Fabric alternatives are strong and often sustainable (especially if you buy cotton). You could also opt for a thicker, and recyclable, plastic bag, which will last many more uses.
3) Say no to plastic straws
Although they only make up 1% of the plastic pollution in the oceans, plastic straws have been highlighted as an unnecessary use of plastic. Many companies are reverting back to paper straws or inventing new biodegradable alternatives, with one even made of pasta.
If you can’t get out the habit of using straws, you could carry your own metal straw.
4) Carry your own cutlery
Plastic cutlery is another wasteful commodity, which can easily be substituted while traveling. Many travelers and volunteers carry their own bamboo or metal cutlery sets (although make sure the metal cutlery is in your hold luggage).
Plastic cutlery can break while using it, so you are probably better off using your bamboo or metal knife to cut through your meals anyhow.
5) Reduce plastic in your toiletries
When packing for a volunteer trip, you’ll most likely need to bring your own toiletries. But most of the products we use come in plastic bottles.
Shampoo can come in solid forms, and you’ll save the equivalent of three plastic shampoo bottles per bar. Shower gel can be swapped for a moisturizing soap. Opting for reusable razors is also another simple swap to reduce your plastic.
Original Photo: Staff Sgt. Marjorie A. Bowlden
If you are unable to avoid using plastic entirely while traveling, make sure you recycle it.
There are numerous environmental cleanups that you can get involved in. Join a beach clean, or make a point of collecting litter while out and about to take home and recycle.
If you are interested in helping with the cleanup of the oceans and monitoring of coral reefs, consider joining a marine conservation project, such as our program in Mahe, Seychelles.
As a responsible traveler, you can also help to spread the word about the impact of single-use plastics on the environment.
GVI has numerous projects you can get involved in that highlight the importance of recycling and that empower communities with knowledge on alternatives to single-use plastics.
If you want to do more to help, get in contact today.