It’s a fact that many popular travel destinations are ill-equipped to deal with the unprecedented number of visitors they receive each year and effective waste management is just one of the ways many countries are behind the eight ball.
It is our responsibility to contribute as little as possible to waste streams and this is amplified when visiting countries that don’t have the infrastructure to manage our habits of convenience.
The good news is it only takes a little forethought and preparation to significantly minimise our waste; categorised below in three of my favourite activities: drinking, eating and shopping.
Take: reusable bottle, metal straw, Steripen
In many parts of the world, clean drinking water is still a long way off being a reality. Bottled water is resource-intensive and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary. The easiest and cheapest way to sterilise water is to boil it, but such facilities are not always available. My best pre-travel purchase was a Steripen, a gadget that I simply stick in my 1L drink bottle for 90 seconds and it zaps away nasties using ultra violet rays. I bought the highest quality model I could find at the time and spent $107 but there are cheaper options available. Mine is a lifetime product and will be replaced by the manufacturer after 8,000 uses.
A metal straw is a good consideration if you’re a smoothie or cocktail connoisseur (or you appreciate your lipstick staying on your lips!).
Take: cutlery/spork and handkerchief
I started out with two sporks but broke both within a month and got a bad case of the plastic guilts. Now I’m happy to travel with the extra grams and carry the real deal which I collected for cheap from a second-hand store.
A good old fashioned hanky allows me to refuse paper serviettes and wet wipes which wreak havoc on waste systems worldwide. And of course they are great mopperer-upperers of blood, sweat, tears, snot and food #glam.
Shopping (for food!)
Take: reusable bags, zip lock bags, collapsible containers
Many countries are slowly introducing legislation to minimise the harm of plastic bags on our fragile ecosystem. Many more aren’t. Taking a reusable bag for market shopping is the easiest way to prevent single-use bags ending up in our natural environment.
The next step is to avoid plastic food packaging altogether, which is actually easier than you think. Bringing your own bags and shopping at markets where staples are readily available in bulk will make a big difference. I’ve been able to buy pasta, lentils, nuts, cheese and eggs all zero waste.
I appreciate the irony of fighting plastic with plastic but long-term travellers need airtight, lightweight ways to carry food which means in this instance plastic wins out. For me this means making good use of zip lock bags that come into my orbit and always having a collapsible container on hand. These are great for a pre-packed lunch, having a bowl of muesli on the bus or for takeaway food.
Do I really think that saving a plastic bag/fork/straw/coffee cup here and there is actual making a difference on a global scale? Of course not. But that’s not the point.
“It’s only one straw” said 8 billion people, is now a popular adage which cuts to the heart of this issue; the issue that we as consumers have power, and if channelled in the right direction, business and government will be forced to pay attention.
Secondly, every time single use items are refused we create space for a conversation about the why. This is where the magic happens. This is how grassroots movements gain momentum. This is how change begins.
I’ll end by saying that managing waste is just one of many avenues we have for reducing our footprint as we travel. There are many more ways we can extend our influence - abroad and at home - each deserving of critical thought or, even better, action.
“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead