We live in a time where it's not only possible to avoid one use plastic, but absolutely necessary. Straws get stuck in turtles noses and they eat plastic bags thinking they are jelly fish; plastic water bottles get stuck on dolphins noses and are filling landfills; birds ingest and die from eating plastic utensils. Enough is enough. Actually, enough was a long time ago, and it's time to wake up. Plastic is filling our oceans and landfills, and we have the resources to avoid it almost completely, so there are no excuses. It might require a minor and simple lifestyle change, but it is possible and so fucking necessary.
At home I am a stickler for avoiding one use plastic (just ask my family and friends), and when I first arrived in Asia I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know recycling in Thailand was pretty much non-existent, and I didn't understand the abundance of plastic bags that came out of 7/11 everyday. Even soup to go is packaged in plastic bags. I thought being so close to the ocean there would be programs in place to combat plastic finding it's way near the beach, but this unfortunately is not the case. Being that we as backpackers are not a part of the local government there is not a whole lot we can do on the institutional level, but there are things we can do as responsible travellers to help prevent plastic from making it's way to the ocean.
Below are common ways we use plastic (both on the road and at home) and ways that you can combat it:
1) Bring a separate bag:On the road: bring a reusable bag or leave extra room in your backpack when you visit 7/11 and the grocery store. It will save the plastic bag plus it's easier to carry!
At home: Bring a reusable bag to the grocery store, convenience store and to the mall! You know all of those bags are just going to end up in the back of your closet before they get tossed eventually anyway. Avoid it the first time.
2) Try to eat in the restuarent, rather than take away. Or better yet, cook for yourself! On the road: Street food is great but it comes with plates, forks and other plastic that really isn't necessary. Try to limit the amount of street food, and skip the packaging if possible (if you get fried chicken on a stick, you probably don't need a plate).
At home: If eating out, try to order from places that have recyclable take away containers (i.e avoid styrofoam). If you're really dedicated, you can bring your own container for take-away/leftovers!
3) Reusable Water Bottle: On the road:This one is tricky. A lot of backpacker destinations do not have clean water from the tap and some places suggest you don't even brush your teeth with the water, so we all turn to the 2L plastic water bottles from the convenience store. You can't refill them with clean water, and recycling is rare, so most of these bottles land in the ocean or the landfill. Lifestraws filter bacteria out of tap water and allow for less waste. You can buy just the straw, or water bottles with the filter built right in! If you're extra cautious like me, add some water purifying tablets as well!
At home: Reusable water bottle and refillable jugs for bigger trips. You can buy jugs with a spout at the grocery store and use them for camping and other longer outdoor trips. Get a jug and bring a water bottle to refill and avoid plastic water bottles for the whole trip!
4) Reusable mug: Avoid the paper cup and plastic lid while you keep your coffee hot for longer!
5) Reusable straws: I always get a bit of a weird look when I ask for no straw with my smoothie or iced coffee, but it's worth it. Check out the Ultimate Straw! It attaches right onto your keychain and is easily accessible. This is essential, especially when travelling near the ocean.
6) Reusable utensils: At home: I get even weirder looks for this one, but again, worth it. I always keep an extra metal fork in the top pocket of my backpack. I always bring one with my lunch, but I like to have an extra one just in case I forget.
On the road: Bring 2 or 3 and wash them as you go! If you have to get a plastic fork, try to use it more than once before you get a new one.
7) Help Out: In an ideal world this wouldn't be an issue, but that isn't the case. Get involved with a beach or river clean-up in your home town and in your travels. For my fellow Calgarians, check out this river clean-up happening in May.
160,00 thousand plastic bags are used globally every SECOND; 5 trillion plastic bags are produced yearly, side by side, they can encircle the earth 7 times; plastic will only start to degrade every 700 years and will fully degrade in 1000 years- this means that all the plastic that has ever been produced has not degraded yet; Only 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled; The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is a floating landfill of garbage in the Pacific twice the size of Texas, is mostly composed of plastic.
It can be easy to get caught up in the thrill of the adventure and forget these easy practices, but the best way is to be prepared. Carry your mug or water bottle or whatever you might use that day in your backpack and go on with your day. If we want to explore the world it has to be worth seeing, and if we keep going the way we are going as a society it soon won't be. Don't make excuses like "I'm just one person, I won't make a difference" or "It's okay it can be recycled". Enough was a long time ago. Take these tips, these easy easy tips, and make your difference. Take these tips and help your oceans and earth to strive. Because fuck plastic. Every single piece.
Not Your Average Travel
"Whatever is good for your soul, do that"
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