You’ve heard it on the news and seen it on the TV: plastic waste is killing our planet. After the airing of Blue Planet 2, it seems that the world got the wake-up call it so desperately needed and many high profile companies and governments are finally making an active stand to reduce their plastic footprint.
Single-use plastics have been particularly vilified in recent months, with many companies giving plastic straws the axe in favour of greener alternatives. The sad reality is that simply scrapping the straw will have a minimal effect and offers up no real solution to the scale of the problem we are facing.
Like so many others, I found the photographs of marine life trapped in plastic highly disturbing and have seen the problem of plastic first hand on my journeys around the world. Knowing that this damage is caused solely by humans can be a hard pill to swallow but it is imperative that we accept responsibility and act now before it is too late.
In view of the plastic crisis and my role in it, I vowed to do something about my contribution to the problem. Whilst I am nowhere near a zero use plastic consumer (yet!) I have found that I have made a significant difference to my own plastic footprint through a few small changes.
Of course, I can’t pretend that I get it right one hundred per cent of the time but just knowing I am doing something makes me feel empowered. Whilst there may not be immediate results on a grand scale, if everyone made some small changes to make their lives greener, we would certainly be headed in the right direction.
What can you do?
- Say no to plastic you do not need
This is probably the easiest thing that you can do to reduce your plastic footprint. Whilst many companies have pledged to use eradicate this use of plastic straws, this isn’t in full force yet and you may still need to remind the server that you don’t need one. Likewise, if you are staying in a hotel and they provide complimentary water in bottles, leave them on the side if you have an alternative.
- Don’t use plastic inflatables in the sea
I know you are thrilled that you finally managed to snag that huge unicorn inflatable for a good price but remember to save your blow-ups for the pool. Using inflatables in the sea can be very dangerous because strong currents can drag you out of your depth but there is also the added risk of puncture. In the instance where you are lucky enough to escape your inflatable, it slowly loses air and becomes another piece of plastic floating around the ocean.
- Invest in a reusable water bottle
I have been using the water bottle which is reusable and easy to fold away which is great for maximising packing space. Whilst Vapur does use plastic to make their water bottles, they have a much longer lifespan and through their ‘Drops of Hope’ scheme, the company donate their reusable bottles to charitable organisations around the world. If the Vapur isn’t your thing, instead opt for a stainless steel which comes with a lifetime guarantee.
- Visit the market when possible
Whenever you can, opt for loose groceries and reject unnecessary plastic packaging. Perhaps the easiest way to do this, especially while you travel, is to visit the local markets. Not only will the products be fresh with no frills (and probably less plastic) but it is often a lot cheaper to buy from a market. It is also the perfect spot to get an insight into how the locals live and work, so it can be a pretty great cultural experience as well as an opportunity to give back to the community.
For more tips on how to travel responsibly, check out this post.
- Switch to reusable bags
I try to remember to take a reusable bag everywhere I go. Since England introduced the charge for plastic bags, usage has dropped by 85%. That’s huge! By investing in a reusable bag (especially one of those cool fold up ones) you will find it a lot easier to reduce your plastic footprint and save money in the long term.
- Boil water for purification if necessary
In a lot of countries, it is not safe to drink water from the tap. This is a huge problem when it comes to fighting our plastic bottle addiction. To overcome this, boil the tap water and then leave it to cool before drinking. Boiling it will remove any impurities and make it safe to drink.
- Check out on-the-go purification options
For those times where you’re on the road and you don’t have access to a kettle, considering purchasing a purification device. There are plenty of companies that make water filtration bottles, for example, Grayl but there is also the option to drink water straight from the source. Introducing the only straw I would ever recommend, the LifeStraw. The LifeStraw has the capacity to filter 1000 litres of contaminated water and for every life straw purchased, the company ensure that a child in a developing country will receive clean drinking water for a year.
- Take a bag and do your bit
Whenever I visit the beach, I am always very careful to take my rubbish home with me. This doesn’t just stop at my own rubbish either as I will take anything in my vicinity. Recently, during a trip back to the motherland, I visited a local beach armed with a few rubbish bags and some gloves and spent a couple of hours picking up litter. I would be lying if I said I devoted this kind of time to waste management every time I visit the seaside but if everyone was able to do a little on a regular basis, the difference to the planet would be huge.
- Add a spork to your travel toolkit
Investing in your own cutlery will mean that you have an alternative to the disposable sets that are often provided on many tours. Carrying only a spork means that you get the main utensils in one, which is ideal when it comes to keeping your pack light and saving space in your rucksack. It’s a small change but if you’re doing a few tours while travelling, you are sure to reduce your plastic footprint.
- Switch to a reusable coffee cup
Let’s face it, there are plenty of us who can’t function without our morning coffee. It doesn’t have to be a wasteful activity though! In order to get us reusing instead of discarding, plenty of major companies are introducing changes to encourage greener living. According to this report by The Independent, Starbucks have seen a 150% increase in the use of reusable cups since they introduced a charge for the standard alternatives. It seems that we really are driven by financial savings!
- Buy mints over chewing gum
One thing that totally shocked me when I was researching how I could reduce my plastic use was the discovery that chewing gum contains plastic! Whilst I am not a frequent chewer of gum, I have vowed to boycott it completely in favour of mints after this revelation. If you can’t bear to say goodbye to gum, check out some of the plastic-free versions that are hitting the market. Whilst I haven’t used it myself, Simply Gum markets a completely biodegradable gum which is made from only natural ingredients.
- Ditch face wipes and choose a washable face towel
I made the switch from face wipes to a face towel a fair while ago and haven’t looked back since. Not only am I saving heaps of my face towel removes all of my makeup (even waterproof mascara) without taking up tons of valuable packing space. This just goes to show that small steps go a long way in terms of reducing your plastic footprint.
- Change to toiletry bars
Did you know that hair products don’t have to be liquid? I didn’t either. Shampoo and conditioner bars are the way forward for travellers. Not only are they lighter to carry and you get to avoid the 100ml liquid restriction if they’re taken as hand luggage but they also reduce your overall plastic use as they don’t come in bottles. My favourite place to purchase them from is Lush, who are already doing great things to reduce their own plastic footprint.
- Manage your period with a menstrual cup
I am not kidding when I say this discovery has honestly revolutionised my periods. The menstrual cup is a comfortable, stress-free alternative to disposable products and is practically made for travellers. As if all of these reasons aren’t enough to get yourself on Amazon and order yours, they are reusable and therefore more environmentally friendly. The menstrual cup may not sound appealing but challenge yourself to try it and see what you think.
- Recycle whenever possible
One great thing that I have seen during my recent travels through Europe is the prominence of dedicated recycling bins on the street. In some European countries, they colour code their public waste bins in order to make it clear which products can be put in which bin. Personally, I would love to see a similar approach documented in the UK to encourage all of us to recycle everything that we can.
- Choose greener alternatives for must-have products
There has been a lot of talk recently about banning the cotton bud, more commonly known as a cotton swab or Q-tip to all you Americans. I use cotton buds most days for tidying my eye makeup (I have never got the hang of this whole beauty thing) and was struggling to think of an effective alternative. However, it looks unlikely that these types of products will disappear just because of their plastic content.
Many leading brands and supermarkets are now listening to consumer demand and providing paper stemmed cotton buds as an alternative. With increasing pressure on manufacturers to give us options when it comes to our purchases, it may be possible to reduce our plastic footprint by using the same product made from sustainable materials.
What steps are you taking to reduce your plastic footprint?
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