10 ways to avoid single use plastic when you travel

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(Last updated on: 15/03/2021)

Ways to avoid single use plastic are becoming more prevalent in everyday life, making it easier for us to reduce the negative impacts that our everyday actions have on the environment. But what about when we are on holiday? What are the best ways to avoid using single use plastic when we travel?

In this article I will explain to you why you should avoid using single use plastic when you travel and I will give you 9 fool-proof ways to do it! Are you ready to be more environmentally-friendly when you travel? Then read on…

A move towards sustainable mindsets (at home and away)

Before I give you my tips on how to avoid using single use plastic when you travel, it has first important to understand why this is necessary….

Unfortunately, it is a fact that our consumption of resources and impact on the environment is multiplied significantly when we travel. Most hotel rooms do not have recycling bins, people are less worried about switching off the lights when they are not paying the bills, and having a long shower after a hot and sweaty day of exploration has become a right of passage. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As a society, we have become more conscious of our actions. We understand the importance of caring for our planet and many of us have seen first-hand the consequences if we do not. There are more vegetarians than ever before, more recycling plants being built all of the time and more innovative and sustainable methods of using resources which have the smallest impact on the environment.

Sustainable tourism is growing around the world and there is evidence of this all around. Take Bali, for example. When I visited Bali in 2019 I was shocked at the transformation that had occurred since my last visit just seven years prior. Coffee shops had been exchanged for avocado cafes, there were ‘litter picking excursions’ and there wasn’t a plastic straw to be found. It was impressive to say the least. Things are changing around the world for the better, and it’s fantastic to see! But we still need to do more…

There are many different aspects that make up the concept of sustainable tourism. It encompasses minimising the negative impacts and maximum the positive impacts of tourism on the economy, society and the environment. And avoiding single use plastic when you travel is one way to make your tourism experience more sustainable. This is something that we can all do to help play our part in taking care of the world.

By avoiding using single-use plastics you can help to reduce the damage on wildlife.

Why should you avoid single use plastic?

As the name suggests, single use plastic is plastic that is only used once. From food packaging to straws, single use plastic is often thrown away minutes after being used.

These items are made from petrochemicals. They have a disastrous impact on our planet. Have you heard of birds starving to death because their stomachs are full of plastic (it is difficult to tell the different between a piece of plastic floating in the top of the ocean and a fish)? And did you know that almost all of the water in the world is filled with micro plastics? That means we are consuming plastic everyday! And what about the people who live on islands covered with plastic?

These are just a few examples of the effects of plastic use. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend watching the documentary, A Plastic Ocean, which is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. I could go on all day about the reasons why you should avoid single use plastic, but that’s not the intention of this article. This article is to tell you how to avoid single use plastic…. so lets get to the crux of it…

How to avoid single use plastic when travelling 

Sustainable travel is no longer just a buzzword – it is now vital. Climate change is wreaking havoc with the planet we call home and it is up to all of us to do our bit to slow down the devastation. There are many ways in which you can travel sustainably. One of these is to avoid single use plastic while travelling, at least as much as you can. But how?

#1 Pack a reusable water bottle or flask

Travelling can be thirsty work sometimes. It is often so tempting to grab a bottle of water (or soda) from a convenience store or vending machine, but these bottles are made from single use plastic that gets thrown away after use. While plastic bottles are recyclable, when travelling you may not have access to a recycling system. You simply might not know where to put your empty bottle to ensure it gets recycled!

Reusable water bottles have come a long way in recent years as we have seen a surge in people trying to avoid single use plastic. You can get some really funky ones in different shapes and sizes now. I am a big fan of the Camelbak bottles, they are long-lasting and durable and come in a range of fun designs and sizes. We each have one in my family, even the baby!

Reusable water bottles are great because you literally just fill it up before you head out for the day, and look out for water fountains to re-fill. This will keep you hydrated while out and about, but without having a detrimental impact to the planet. For more rural travelling, look into water bottles with in-built water purification systems too.

Did you know: eco lodges often provide guests with branded reusable water bottles, which means sometimes you don’t even need to pack one!

avoid single use plastic
There are entire islands covered in litter in the Pacific. These places should be a tropical paradise, not a death sentence for local wildlife.

#2 Take a canvas bag (or several) with you

Carrier bags are another example of single use plastic. Many countries charge for them now, as well as offering strong paper bags in their place. And in some destinations they don’t even allow you to purchase plastic bags- I was caught out in the rain with an arm full of shopping last year in Thailand!

A great way to avoid single use plastic while travelling is to take canvas tote/shopper bags with you. They fold up pretty small, and can be really stylish. If you are staying in an Airbnb or hostel, you might be heading to the supermarket to stock up on food for your stay – throwing a couple of canvas bags into your handbag or coat pocket means you won’t need any carrier bags for your shopping.

Canvas bags really do come in handy. You never know when you might need a bag for any kind of reason, and tote bags are a great addition to any essential packing list.

#3 Shop at markets instead of stores

Carrying on from reusable shopping bags, you can go one step further by avoiding supermarkets altogether.

Opt for local farmers’ markets or food stalls that don’t over-package their products. Supermarkets are a hotbed of single use plastic! You will also often find much better quality food items at markets, especially when it comes to meat, fruit and vegetables. By hitting up the markets and taking your canvas tote bags with you, you’re making it pretty easy to avoid single use plastic while travelling.

When staying in self-catering accommodation, cooking for yourself is an activity that can be really fun. Pack bamboo containers in your luggage, especially for longer trips or those where you are travelling from one city to another by public transport. Make extra food in your accommodation, and you have ready-to-go lunches that won’t require any single use plastic. Plus, you’ll know exactly what you’re eating during these journeys!

#4 Book eco-friendly accommodation 

Green hotels are becoming more commonplace as the sustainable travel boom continues to grow. From eco lodges to hotels with specific sustainability accreditations, there are plenty of options for accommodation that will help you avoid single use plastic on your travels.

Picking an Airbnb, for example, allows you to control what you bring into your space. An eco lodge is, of course, specifically focused on sustainability. You’ll find them all over the world from The Gambia to Costa Rica to New Zealand. They aim to help protect their surroundings, give jobs to locals and of course, be as eco-friendly as possible with the systems they have in place. Many eco loges actually have an entirely single-use-plastic-free policy.

#5 Say no to straws

When dining out or visiting a bar, say no to straws. This is an easy way to avoid single use plastic while travelling. You can buy reusable metal, silicone or bamboo straws to take with you if you need or want to use a straw. These are now really affordable and accessible, and make for a great gift for travel-lovers too!

These reusable straws can fit in your hand luggage and in your day-to-day bag with ease, and are a great replacement for getting a new plastic straw in each and every drink. I also prefer them to the cardboard straws that are provided in some places these days, especially for my kids who like to chew them!

Using reusable straws is something that applies whenever you go out to eat or drink, not just while travelling, and every little helps!

avoid single use plastic
Birds find it difficult to tell the difference between plastic and fish when hunting above the water. They cannot digest the plastic that they eat and will eventually starve to death if they continue to eat plastic.

#6 Consider solid hair and skincare options

While this might not work for everyone (if you have specific skin conditions, for example), many of us can replace our plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, facial wash and more with solid bar options.

Solid bars last a lot longer than traditional liquid versions of these products. So not only are you doing your bit to save the planet, you are also helping your purse by not having to buy new bottles of product to take with you every time you go away. Being solid, too, means they don’t take up any of your liquid allowance when travelling hand luggage only.

Shops like Lush, Tropic and Holland & Barrett have a wide range of these products, and you’ll find plenty online too. No matter what your hair and skin type, you’ll find something that works for you and for avoiding single use plastic!

#7 Help with local plastic clear up initiatives 

On top of simply trying to avoid single use plastic while travelling, you can get involved with local projects that are aiming to clear plastic from parks, bodies of water and more. Take a beach clean-up walk in beautiful Tenerife, or pick up rubbish while snorkelling in Aqaba, Jordan.

These are greats ways to give back while travelling. Not only are you getting a fun and unique experience, you are helping to protect the planet for future generations. On top of this, it is simply a great feeling to do something productive and kind while on your travels!

Speak to your accommodation staff, locals and tour operators to see if there is anything you can do of this nature during your trip.

#8 Opt out of chewing gum

Chewing gum is essentially plastic. It is actually made from synthetic rubber which contains polyethylene polymers, so that minty fresh feeling isn’t all that good for the planet.

Chewing gum contributes around 100,000 tonnes of plastic pollution every single year. If you are keen to keep your breath smelling fresh while travelling, opt for mints in a reusable metal tin instead.

The gum wall in Seattle might be an iconic tourist destination (if a little bit gross), but chewing gum is definitely detrimental to the planet. Deciding not to chew it is an easy way to avoid single use plastic for sure!

#9 Think of other reusable product replacements

We have already discussed reusable straws, water bottles and bags. However, there are plenty of other single use products that can be replaced with long-lasting, reusable options. Here is a handy list of products that you can purchase easily and accessibly in order to avoid single use plastic while travelling:

Ways to avoid single use plastic when you travel: Further reading

In this article I have hopefully convinced you why it is necessary to reconsider using single use plastic both when you are at home and when you are travelling. It isn’t as difficult as you may think and we can all do our bit to help save the planet!

If you found this article interesting, you may also like to read the following:

2 Comments
  1. Mary-Anne Heger

    Your articles are fantastic and my students find them useful

    Reply
    • Dr Hayley Stainton

      Thank you, I’m so glad that your students find them helpful!

      Reply

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