Let’s face it. The Earth is in shambles and we are the ones to blame for it. Our love for plastic, consumption of animal products, and addiction to fossil fuels is literally killing the planet. Our oceans and waterways are contaminated, our forests are shrinking, pollution is at an all time high, animals are dying and the health of humanity is at risk, yet very little is done to fix it.
How can we live and travel sustainably? First, let's try and understand what some of the biggest problems are.
One of the main contributors to all this despair and destruction is plastic. Plastic has been produced and used for the better part of a decade, and the majority of the plastic we use is made out of the same oil that runs our cars.
This type of plastic is not biodegradable but instead breaks down into tiny pieces of plastic that pollute water, soil, and anything else it comes in contact with. That means that every piece of plastic that has ever been created still exists to this day!
Think about it, every plastic bottle, every candy wrapper, every shopping bag, and every straw that you have ever bought, received or handled still exist and will, as far as we know, outlive us and all coming generations. It is an immeasurable problem that needs to be dealt with.
We have reached a point where plastic is considered the norm, where we have enormous landfills filled with plastic polluting our soil and gigantic garbage patches floating in our oceans - the biggest one is twice the size of Texas and it is currently floating around in the Pacific.
Due to this, it is estimated that 90% of all seabirds are consuming plastic on a regular basis. A report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation claims that at this rate we will have more plastic than fish in our waters by 2050.
But it doesn't stop there. The global use of plastic is growing at such an alarming rate that we in the coming 10 years will produce more plastic than what has ever been produced before.
What can we do to travel sustainably?
So what are the main contributors and is there anything we can do to stop it? There are three main key factors we feel are crucial to collectively focus on. It’s three items that most people use everyday without a second thought but that we can all try to greatly limit. The three items we are referring to are plastic bottles, straws and plastic bags.
There is a lot we can do to limit our plastic waste and minimize our impact on the environment, both at home and on the road. In fact, it is our responsibility as humans in today’s day and age to do what we can to help the planet, limit our waste, and spread awareness about the issue.
Remember that it’s not about being perfect, limiting your travels, or not experiencing new things. It’s about doing your best to be as sustainable as your circumstances allow you.
We realize that it might sound overwhelming and it can be but remember that it’s not about being perfect, limiting your travels, or not experiencing new things. It’s about doing your best to be as sustainable as your circumstances allow you. It’s about opening our eyes, being mindful, and individually taking small steps that have the potential to better the future for every living organism on our planet.
Avoid Plastic Bottles
Plastic bottles are probably the biggest contributor of them all. Billions of bottles are sold worldwide everyday and even though they are usually recyclable, most of them end up in landfills and our waterways. In fact, plastic bottle caps can be found inside most dead seabrids across the world. Another important thing to remember is that it takes more than 3 times as much water to produce one plastic bottle as it takes to fill it.
Avoiding plastic bottles can prove to be especially difficult when you’re traveling in countries where it’s not recommended to drink the tap water but there are several easy ways to try to avoid or limit their use. The first is to always travel with a reusable water bottle that is metal, glass, or BPA-free plastic. This can usually be refilled at local restaurants, hotels, etc. The second is to bring a water purification device like the Steripen or the Lifestraw and use it to transform undrinkable tap water to clean water right from the source. The third alternative are water purification tablets but these are better used for emergencies and hiking in the outdoors.
Ditch the Straw
Straws might sound like an insignificant thing to mention since they are so small but the truth is that 500,000,000 (half a billion!) plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the U.S. alone. It is one of the top 10 most found plastic products in our oceans and it is a catastrophic problem.
The good thing is that it’s also one of the easiest items to replace or avoid. There are tons of companies selling reusable straws in glass, metal and biodegradable materials like bamboo, hemp, etc. We have used glass straws from Glass Dharma which we really like (but do not travel with due to the break risk) and recently bought a set of bamboo straws from a small local company in Bali. The other option is simply forgoing a straw altogether and asking to get your drink without one.
Say No to Plastic Bags
Nowadays plastic bags are used for everything especially in the developing world. If you visit a local corner store in Asia you will without a doubt be offered at least one plastic bag to put your goods in however small they may be. Sometimes they will even offer to pour drinks you buy in a plastic bottle into a separate plastic bag with a straw, which is not only completely unnecessary and less practical but also three times more wasteful.
The best way to avoid or minimize the use of plastic bags is to always travel with one or several reusable canvas bags. They come in thousands of different versions, shapes and sizes, and are literally sold all over the world. Best of all, they are extremely lightweight so they easily fit in a handbag, day pack, or pocket.
It's a problem that we're not living sustainably but the good news is that there is a lot being done to help the planet. Recycling of plastic is quickly becoming the norm in the West, people are coming up with innovative solutions to clean our oceans, companies have begun developing biodegradable plastic from raw materials like corn starch and hemp, and in November of 2016 the State of California took a huge step towards a cleaner future by voting for a ban on plastic bags.
There is something empowering with acknowledging that our actions have the ability to impact our planet for the better and that the steps we take can ensure that we leave the world better than we found it.
For more tips on sustainable travel, check out My Vegan Experiment.