I bet you’ve seen the video with a turtle and a straw stuck in her nose. And how they were removing it, it must have hurt and you felt very sad. Good!
Because the only good thing from that viral video is that the plastic pollution awareness skyrocketed.
Now, why would the whole world want to ban plastic straws? I have no fu*#ing clue. North America and Europe somehow think it’s their biggest problem now.
I actually laughed out loud when I’ve heard that hipster cafes in Slovakia (my home country) don’t provide any straws. But they do provide plastic coffee stirrers. In case you don’t know, Slovakia is in Central Europe, so how they think straws would end up in the ocean is unclear.
Since South-east Asian countries are the world’s biggest polluters, I absolutely agree that use of single use plastic in these countries needs to be drastically reduced. Many of these countries don’t have recycling facilities or their garbage disposal system doesn’t work. We’ve seen it many times.
When we’ve recently visited Indonesia and India, what we’ve seen was truly heartbreaking. Not just walking and swimming in garbage but the uneducated people in India who had no problem pulling over by the river and dumping big bags of trash right into it.
In Indonesia, on the other hand, we were pleased to see many locals taking initiatives to reduce their plastic footprint. Some vendors didn’t offer plastic straws when you buy a coconut and even if they did, we didn’t take one. I’m telling you, drinking right from a coconut makes you feel like Tom Hanks in the movie Survivor.
In case you haven’t seen the statistics, only 4% of all plastic garbage are straws (and that is trash by piece, it’s a lot less by weight).
Do you know why I get so fired up about straws? Because 99% of the time I see people using them, they are totally useless! Have they forgotten to drink from a glass? In most cases, you really don’t need a straw for drinking.
Did you know you’re already drinking plastic?
A study found traces of plastic in 94% of tap water in US and in almost every brand of bottled water.
Anyway, this post isn’t meant to be a rant. It just pissed me off when I saw a photo on Instagram of a celebrity/influencer (or however they call themselves) tooting their horn about not using a plastic straw and they were drinking from a single use plastic cup with a metal straw. How hypocritical. I understand though, not everyone has common sense.
If you have common sense and using it already, I imagine you’re already doing most of the tips I give to reduce the plastic pollution around the world.
So before we all go to google looking for the best non-plastic straw or replace all the plastic in the house with bamboo, let’s try these steps first. They will make a huge difference.
An honest no BS guide to being a responsible traveler in 10 easy steps:
1| Don’t be a douchebag
If you’ve already bought a drink in a plastic cup or had your groceries packed in plastic bags, be a decent human and put them in the garbage so they’re disposed of properly. Parents usually teach this to their kids. So why, as an adult, we need reminders to put garbage in the garbage bin?
And yes, even if no garbage bin is around. I cannot even count how many times we’ve carried our own garbage around until we found a bin. That happened in many countries around the world, including Canada.
2| Reuse & recycle plastic bottles
Many plastic items such as shopping bags or bottles can be reused. I don’t feel bad that I accepted a plastic bag at the clothing store because I’ve been using it as a lunch bag for 4 months already.
Bottles are the same – even though drinking water is the healthiest option, sometimes people crave juice or something sweeter. And that comes in a bottle (usually), so if you use the bottle multiple times after, its job is finished, just dispose of it in and put it in the right bin.
I know this option exists in a few European countries, in province of Alberta in Canada, and I’m sure plenty of other places I’m not aware of – if you buy something in a plastic bottle, you pay a small fee on top of the price (around 0,10 cents) and then you go to a recycling facility, drop off all your bottles and get the money back. That way the plastic bottles are recycled. Pretty easy system if you ask me.
3| No packaged water
Following up on the previous point, don’t buy a packaged water. Especially when you’re living or visiting a country with potable water everywhere. This is one thing that really pisses me off when I go grocery shopping in Canada and I see in others’ shopping cart with a pack of 24 water bottles. Water in Canada is perfectly safe to drink. C’mon people!
If you don’t like the taste, just buy a filter.
If you learn good habits at home, you will bring them everywhere else with you.
4| Don’t buy water bottles when traveling
There is no reason to buy packaged water even if you’re traveling to a country without potable tap water. Buy a bottle with filter! It costs around 50 CAD and filters all the bacteria. So you can fill up from any water source – river, lake, puddle and it will filter all the nasty bacteria and dirt before the water reaches your mouth. It’s one investment that can pay for itself in just one short trip.
Michal and I love using Lifestraw bottles everywhere we go. We used it on our trip around the world in every single country. Either filled up from the kitchen sink in Mexico, during trekking in Patagonia or hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
5| Educate yourself and others
Before you go on a trip to a developing country, think how you can reduce your plastic consumption in advance. And tell your friends who are traveling with you as well!
Apart from buying yourself a bottle with filter, you can buy camping cutlery, maybe even a reusable bowl or plate. I personally use spork, there are lots of bamboo options available as well. Just search on google.
Some countries, for example Indonesia, one of the biggest plastic polluters, is trying to reduce their single use of plastics. Popular island Bali is banning all single use plastic items. With neighbouring Nusa Islands who are overflowing with plastic trash and their recycling facilities can’t keep up, they will surely appreciate your effort of not using single use plastic at all.
When we’ve visited Lombok Island in Indonesia, there was one beach that stuck out among others. Tampah Beach is the cleanest beach on Lombok. Why? Because locals clean it every day. Yes, that’s right.
They have a schedule so they rotate and clean the beach every single day for visitors to enjoy. You can imagine how appreciative they were of people putting the trash they randomly found on the beach in the garbage bags.
6| Let responsible travelers inspire you
A fellow travel blogger and adventurer Jackson Groves is visiting the most beautiful places around the world. But you know what else he’s doing? He is leaving the places he’s visiting better than he found them by collecting trash of others’. And so the movement called ‘Adventure Bag’ started.
The purpose is to collect one bag of trash during your adventure. His public clean up of the beaches in Philippines and Indonesia inspired thousands of people around the world.
Sounds simple, right? And what a huge difference it can make. You bring a bag on your adventure and you collect the trash found on the way. It will inspire others to do the same and they will think twice before throwing that trash on the ground next time.
Leading by example is the best way to change the behavior.
7| Use degradable sunscreen
While plastic is harmful to all marine life, there’s another thing you may not think of – your sunscreen!
Most of regular sunscreens contain oxzbenzone or octinoxate, both of which are harmful chemicals that have been found to cause bleaching, DNA damage and death to coral reefs. Hawaii is banning sunscreens containing either of those chemicals.
We’ve seen it Mexico – when you’re visiting a cenote or one of the water parks, it is requested from each visitor to use only reef-safe sunscreens (meaning they contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide).
Why you should care?
Did you know that oceans provide 50-85% of the Earth’s oxygen?
Something to think about when you pack for your next trip by the ocean.
8| Raise awareness
Being a responsible traveler also means being a responsible human. If you want to reduce your plastic footprint, first start at your home. This behavior will become natural and you will take it on your travels as well.
Next time you see your friend or coworker pointlessly using any kind of single plastic product, propose a different sustainable option. That doesn’t automatically mean zero-waste life or only buying bamboo products.
If they’re using a lot of unnecessary plastic products, that doesn’t mean they are bad people, maybe they just don’t know of any other/better option.
Every little improvement counts.
9| Go outside
How much do you like going to nature? I guess, if you’re reading our blog, the answer is a lot because that’s all we write about.
And now think about how much you dislike when you arrive to that pristine lake you dreamed about and found its shore littered with garbage.
All the steps I’ve written about until now can stop this from happening, don’t you think?
In that moment, the only thing you can do is pick up some trash and leave the place better than you found it.
Responsible travelers and locals around the world are teaming up and doing beach clean ups where a lot of washed up plastic ends up. Movements, such as already mentioned Adventure Bag, are popping up more and more which is exciting to see.
Think about it next time you’re on the beach. Is it clean? If so, who cleaned it? If not, can you do something to leave it cleaner?
The more you go outside the more you appreciate our beautiful planet.
Join a public clean-up in your neighborhood, join thousands of people around the world who collectively clean their environment during Earth Day (in April) or World Cleanup Day (in September) or just pick up any trash you see on the ground while hiking.
Little by little, each of us can make a difference!
10| Don’t buy shit
Last but not least, if you want to reduce your plastic consumption, don’t buy something you don’t need. No need to go extreme, throw away all your stuff and become a minimalist, but by buying only what you need, you’re already reducing plastic footprint on the planet.
A new English word I learnt when we moved to Canada was hoarder (it’s a person who is accumulating a lot of stuff). I didn’t know that’s a thing. You don’t want to be one – not just for the mess in the house, but it’s also creating a mess in your mind.
Long term travel taught us many valuable life lessons. One of the most important ones was that you really don’t need much to live a happy life. I was more content living out of my backpack than having several drawers of clothes trying to pick the right one each morning.
If you’re not planning to go traveling for a longer period of time, I’d recommend you the book The life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo. It’s a decluttering and organizing bible that got so popular, she now has a Netflix show helping people declutter their homes.
It’s important that everyone takes part in some form. It costs you nothing but Earth can gain everything.
Going zero waste is one solution but too extreme for many. You can help save the environment doing any of the steps mentioned above.
Let’s save our planet, one piece of trash at a time!
If you want to learn more, here are some great articles:
- One million species threatened with extinction because of humans
- Plastic pollution, everything you need to know
All the kudos go to European Union which aims to ban single use plastic by 2020. I really do hope this initiative will be successful!