One of my biggest regret in my time travelling is not because I didn’t visit Europe more, or the islands in Bali or sticking to a tight budget a little too strictly.
Nowh! It’s the unfiltered amount of plastic I consume while travelling. Sometimes it was necessary and sometimes it was wholly and utterly avoidable. In fact, I’m guilty of using so much plastic at home when I’m not travelling too.
Let’s take a track back a bit. In 2016, I remember travelling to Phuket and heading into the now over commercialized James Bond island. While on the long-tail boat ride to this island, I saw multiple clusters of plastic floating in the middle of the ocean.
I got taken aback by this because I’d hate to think that I had a big part in this, and then I quickly realized that there were so many long-tail boats, yachts and cruise ships entering into this little island, all of which carrying mostly tourists. — I felt even worse because I’m on one of those boats myself.
Imagine the high carbon emission the ocean and marine life is exposed to.
In the same year, my friends and I took a short day trip to Kanching Falls. Kanching Falls had 7 levels. The first level is usually a favorite spot for groups of families; big and small and it’s usually where family gathering, camping and barbeque lunches and dinner takes place.
At this point, I can’t help but be disturbed by the sheer amount of paper plates, plastics and styrofoam packets beside a dustbin. It was a mountain that was taller than me! Flies were buzzing and I could hear them as we were walking up the steps.
It wasn’t a sight for sore eyes at all.
What’s worse, as we went higher hiking up, we found old jeans and old rusty steel barbeque set laying around the pathway. I’m not sure if the management of the waterfall and forest did so little, or if everyone who visits this place is just so irresponsible.
As we went even higher, we could still spot old plastic bags laying around a bush or floating in the water. Before we left, we decided to collect the rubbish and bring it back down for recycling. It wasn’t a lot, but we had to do something.
How did we become savagely ignorant?
According to a 2015 study in the science magazine, Malaysia is the 8th world’s worst country worldwide in plastic waste.
Earlier in March, a group of volunteers from Reef Check Malaysia set out to clean 15 Malaysian beaches. In Pulau Tioman all villages were part of the movement too.
In this effort, 14,000 plastic bottles, 6,200 plastic bags, and 1,700 straws were collected by the volunteers.
It’s not just shocking anymore, it has now developed a menacing consequence. Plastic doesn’t usually degrade. But when it does, it breaks down into micro-particles that can be ingested by fish, which we eventually eat, plus any pollutants that are absorbed by the plastic.
There’s been a lot of band-wagon jumping and a lot of well-intended PR wins about reducing plastic use by 2020, 2025 or whatever. Then there was a recent pledge by a political party manifesto about free plastic bag use in Selangor.
But it feels that all the shenanigans portrayed in the media are slipping past as we go about our day to day lives, and the focus has been shifted elsewhere.
So it falls upon me and you as individuals, as travellers to keep that focus and do our part (no matter how small it may seem).
Small habitual changes can sometimes seem utterly insignificant, but at least you and I both know that it can have a positive impact. And if any travellers reading this website each day, then perhaps there can be small changes every day collectively.
And together we can all do something powerful. Let’s change today.
Keep note that some links in this post are affiliate links. The cost of any items to you won’t increase, but it means Yasmin Uurya will receive a small commission on sales – The commision I earn is used to keep this website running and free of ugly advertising.
Pack your own shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel
Pack your own shampoo, conditioner, body gel, and other toilet essentials you need. I know, it can add up to your luggage or backpack but you can always get your own mini travel containers that are eco-friendly like the GoToob Humangear.
Daiso is also another place you can look for squeezable mini travel tubes for your toiletry.
Take some time to portion out your essentials. The GoToob bottles are squeezable, which are made of soft silicone material. It’s airplane-carry approved, food safe, and 100% BPA and PC free.
What’s neat is it has a huge opening for easy emptying and cleaning.
That way you can avoid using shampoos, conditioners, or body gels that hotels usually provide in those tiny plastic bottles, which will be thrown away eventually after you’re done using them.
Drink hot chocolate or coffee in a reusable to-go cup
I’m a tad bit conflicted here.
First, there are very few hot chocolate and coffee takeaways in my travels. Even if there is, it’s usually a spur of the moment kind of thing. It’s not something I carefully plan for in my itinerary.
Realistically, I want to be travelling as light as possible and I’m not too sure if it’s worth investing in something that I’m unlikely to carry with me.
Second, I honestly believe that the best onus or alternative to disposable coffee cups is that perhaps, cafe’s or coffee shops should consider making a single-use coffee cup that is not only sustainable but can be recycled.
Didn’t know that coffee cups aren’t that easy to recycle? I didn’t either until I watched this.
A simple way to not use disposable coffee cups is to savor our coffees and hot chocolate from a ceramic cup seated in a cafe.
On the bright side, it can double up your cultural experience and gain local insights about the new place you’re in.
Then again if you’re someone who uses a lot of paper cups, then it’s worth investing in a reusable cup. This collapsible one by Voyagerlife is suitable for travel and KeepCup Travel Coffee Cup offers a more stylish non-collapsible option.
Carry a gym sack or a canvas bag
When travelling, carrying my gym sack or at least one canvas bag is one way I use less plastic. I fold them and carry with me at all times, which I can almost always use for carrying food supplies or any spontaneous purposes.
It’s lightweight, doesn’t take up much space and easy for buying loose veggie and fruits from the market. This means you get to cut out plastic from the transaction.
Canvas or even cotton, are known to be sustainable materials. Almost all canvas bags I own, lying around in my house, I got for free (including my gym sack). If you have plenty lying around at home incorporate them in your travel packing list.
Another smaller alternative to canvas bags and gym sacks are reusable produce bags like Bolsa.
Let’s stop sucking on plastic…straws
I think we can all agree on how toxic our relationship with plastic has been especially with straws. They are cheap, we hardly ever need them and they’re often used without a second thought.
Personally, I try to say no to straws. But some people may not have the luxury to say no to them especially when you’re traveling with children where straws help avoid potential tantrum disaster or the fact that some people may need it for medical reasons and for hygienic purposes.
The ocean is angry with us. Let’s stop sucking on plastic.
Switch from tampons and sanitary pads to menstrual cups
Sanitary pads are made of 90% plastic. That’s equivalent to 5 plastic bags in each one of the pads. That’s not even including the individual plastic wraps the pads come with.
Imagine carrying that much plastic when you’re travelling and when you’re done with it, it’s going straight to an already struggling landfill. It’s the same with tampons.
Lena Menstrual Cup is a great alternative. It’s a tiny silicone cup that can be used again and again and again. But don’t worry about hygiene here because menstrual cups are easy to clean after use. Some brands offer menstrual cup cleansers.
A menstrual cup comes with great benefits. It’s not just odorless, it’s also harmless to our planet, it’s leak free, zero waste left behind, you can use it while you sleep, workout, water activity and it minimizes the risk of TSS
Did I mention it’s also easy to use? If you’re not too sure on how to use it, here’s a guide from OrganiCup.
Forget plastic water bottles and start using refillable water bottles
As a huge fan of drinking water, I tend to bring my own water bottle for easy refill. Depending on where you’re planning to travel to, a BPA free bottle is sufficient. But if you plan to travel to a country with questionable drinkable water, you can opt for a water bottle that has a filteration system such as LifeStraw Go Water.
What’s good about these water bottles is that it’s suitable for camping, workouts, kayaking, travel and even while you’re not travelling.
Besides removing waterborne protozoan parasites and bacteria, it saves you tons of money. Particularly in airports. It comes in handy when you’re feeling thirsty waiting for your flight at the gate. Just remember to empty it before going through security.
There’s also a collapsible water bottle alternative to LifeStraw Go Bottle; like Kemier. However, Kemier doesn’t have a built-in filter.
But if these alternatives are not your thing, having your own water bottle that you can bring around while travelling is just as good, as long as it doesn’t harm yourself and the environment.
I’d be lying if I said I stuck to these steps 100%. In fact, it’s almost impossible to do all of that immediately. While some of the steps I mentioned above, I’ve practiced for many years, others are a few ways I’ve recently discovered and are slowly phasing out my plastic use to a zero-waste lifestyle.
Even more so, I hope I’ve given you some ideas on how we can reduce our plastic use by using alternatives when we are travelling (including in our day to day lives).
In 2018, I’m choosing to make the changes permanent in my travels.
We can all start with small little changes that we can bring with us on the road. It’s going to be a slow transition, but with less usage, demands will be lesser, and eventually reducing supplies.
Don’t use plastic toothpicks, forget plastic straws, avoid styrofoam like it’s a plague, and stop using plastic bags. If you’re on a hike or at the beach pick up the trash (within reason and hygiene considerations) to stop them from clogging a stream or ending up in the ocean.
They may seem like insignificant steps but at least we’re being a part of a solution and not the problem.