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Do your share: tips on reducing your use of plastic while traveling

It’s not a secret anymore that plastic is having devastating effects on the environment. We’ve all seen the pictures of waste floating in our oceans and destroying animal habitats.

While many of us have committed to reducing our use of plastic in everyday life, it might be harder to maintain the good habits while traveling.

Why is plastic a travel problem?

Not the sight we want to see when going on a beach holiday

Not the sight we want to see when going on a beach holiday

When we travel, most of us buy bottled water due to worries about clean drinking water. The airlines that carry us to our destination serve meals wrapped in plastic. Once at our destination, we buy plastic wrapped food. The hotels we stay in fill our rooms with small single-use bottles. The list goes on. A lot of this plastic finds its way on beaches and in the oceans.

Most of us would like to do more, but where to start? Here’s our list of easy tips on how to reduce your use of plastic while traveling.

Travel with a refillable water bottle

Pack your refillable water bottle

The most well-known tip out there. An easy one, too. The market for refillable water bottles is flooded with so many options. Vacuum-insulated stainless steel or break-resistant glass, guarantee for keeping liquids cold or hot, smart lids, and various designs – you’re sure to find your favorite.

Add a water-purifying filter, such as The Lifestraw or the Grayl GeoPress, and you’ll be able to drink tap water everywhere in the world.

If you do buy bottled beverages, go for the ones in glass bottles instead of plastic.

Bring a tote bag you already own

Bring your favorite tote bag on all your travels

Bring your favorite tote bag on all your travels

Another no-brainer tip. Pack your favorite tote/canvas bag (that you already own) and use it instead of buying plastic bags while traveling.

You can also use it to pack your valuables while going through airports, pack lunch and warm clothes for a day of exploring, and fill up with a book or a notebook to jot down your thoughts while traveling. They’re small and foldable, so you can fit them in any type of bag.

Pack a delicious meal for the plane ride

Airline food comes with plenty of single-use plastic items

Plastic-wrapped food. Plastic-wrapped single-use cutlery. Plastic cups. Plastic straws. That’s how you get your meal served on a plane. That’s a lot of plastic, but what can you do? You do have to eat!

There’s an easy solution. Pack your own food. You can surely come up with a more delicious menu than most airlines anyway. Invest in a range of collapsible food containers and pack your tasty food in them. They will also come in handy once you’ve arrived at your destination.

Avoid plastic containers when buying street food

This one sounds hard. Street food is a huge part of the ultimate travel experience. Yet, unfortunately, it always comes in plastic containers that are immediately discarded once that delicious food has been consumed.

Well, you can still enjoy the food and say no to plastic. How, you ask? Remember those collapsible food containers you brought along on your plane trip? They will come in handy just about now.

Add a set of travel cutlery … or just a spork, and you’re ready to ingest all that mouth-watering food.

Travel with your very own coffee cup

Reusable coffee cups are good for the environment and come in plenty of beautiful colors

Reusable coffee cups are good for the environment and come in plenty of beautiful colors

Ahhhh… nothing like a to-go coffee when you need a bit of energy to make it to the next sight! This one’s an easy one too. Pack a handy collapsible cup.

Say no to plastic straws

Plastic straws have gotten a lot of attention lately. Some countries and a host of food and beverage producers went as far as banning them.

Do your share and say no to the plastic straw. If you simply cannot enjoy a drink without one, you can buy your very own metal or bamboo straw to take with you on all your trips.

Shop at farmers’ markets

Ditch the supermarket and get yourself some delicious local produce at farmers’ markets

Supermarkets everywhere are notorious about packing everything in plastic. It might not be completely avoidable to do some quick food shopping in a supermarket, but if you do a bit of research ahead of time, you might find times and locations of farmers’ markets where you can buy fresh produce, plastic-free.

Just remember to bring your tote bag, and those collapsible containers. Happy shopping!

Bring your own toiletries

Hotel toiletries have once been seen as the epitome of luxury, yet today we know better. Nevertheless, these mini products still find their way in our hotel bathrooms.

Skip the supplied toiletries and pack the ones you already have at home, either in the original packaging or re-packed in smaller containers. Alternatively, take the hotel’s bottles and reuse them throughout your journey.

Better yet, buy a solid shampoo bar (yes, they are a thing).  They’re a great way to cut down on plastic and luggage space.

Use sustainable wet wipes

Wet wipes are super convenient and sometimes unavoidable when showers are few and far between. Unfortunately, they are made of a combination of plastic textiles that make them non-biodegradable.

If you cannot travel without them, opt for sustainable varieties. For make-up removal, opt for the reusable wipes and clean them along the way.

Buy a bamboo toothbrush

The bamboo toothbrush is the perfect plastic-free alternative to your regular toothbrush

We use them every day, for our entire lives. That’s a lot of toothbrushes … and a lot of plastic. But fret not, there is a solution. The bamboo toothbrush with replaceable brush head. When you get a new brush head, the old one can be buried to biodegrade or placed in a compost bin.

Use a metal safety razor

Just like toothbrushes, plastic razors have a short life cycle. Get yourself one of those old-school stainless steel razors. The razor blades are easy to replace and have a significantly longer life cycle than their plastic siblings

Razor blades might not be permitted in your carry-on luggage due to safety reasons, so make sure to pack them in your checked bag.

Switch to a menstrual cup

Most women will relate to the struggle of quickly finding a pharmacy in a foreign place. Though we can plan ahead, sometimes it takes us by surprise. Sanitary towels and tampons are not exactly the most environmentally-friendly products. Some are biodegradable, but not all. 

A menstrual cup is an easy and convenient solution. A lot of women swear by Mooncup, but there are many options on the market nowadays. Do your research and test before traveling.

Use natural cosmetic products

Many scrubbing products contain microbeads. Microbeads, those tiny tiny scrubbers that look like grains, are made of plastic, and once they leave the bottle, they end up in our water supply, oceans, and finally in the bodies of animals and humans.

If you’re a big fan of scrubbing, you can still do it by using natural alternatives, such as clay, sand, sugar, salt and coffee grounds. You can even make your own mix.

Carry your own headphones and earbuds

Going back to the airlines … on long-haul flights, they usually give you low-quality earbuds that get discarded as soon as the plane has landed.

Most people travel with their own headphones or earbuds, so if you’re one of them, just keep doing what you’re doing.

Join a local clean up or pick up plastic bits on your own

Join a local clean-up or do it on your own

Joining a local clean up while traveling is becoming more and more popular. There are lots of different communities arranging these types of events around the world.

If this is not your cup of tea, you can still do it on your own. Whenever you see a piece of garbage, pick it up. It’s everyone’s responsibility today.

Before you go …

You might have heard about the 3 R rule to personal garbage management: reduce, reuse, recycle. In the face of the huge global problem plastic is causing nowadays, 2 more Rs have been added: refuse and repurpose. 

Refuse plastic whenever possible, and with all the tips you’ve got here, you should be able to do that a lot. 

Repurpose your plastic as much as possible. A plastic water bottle can be repurposed as a container for all sorts of liquids.

Reduce your plastic consumption: there are so many great alternatives out there that are sustainable, cheap and convenient.

Reuse every piece of single-use plastic you come across.

Recycle as the last option, when the object cannot be used anymore.

For more on sustainable travel, check out these tips for finding more sustainable flights and learn how to make your hotel stay more eco-friendly.