How to reduce plastic waste when traveling?


It’s been over two years I am trying to live more eco-friendly. I started to reduce plastic waste when traveling as it’s something that really chokes our planet. As travelers we often get a first hand view on how catastrophic is the problem. I guess everyone of us at least once came to a place where trash totally destroyed its beauty. First of all, let’s see why plastic is so bad and why it’s extremely important to avoid plastic as much as possible.Polluted rivers in the Philippines.

Why plastic ain’t fantastic?

The chemistry of plastic is complexed, but it’s mostly made from petroleum during a very toxic process. This fantastic solution was suppose to be durable and efficient but in the previous century nobody thought on how huge impact it will have on the environment. The biggest problem, though, is not the polluting process of production and reusing plastic. When other materials can get decomposed atom by atom without harming nature, piece of plastic gets destroyed into smaller and smaller pieces. In the end of the process, micro pieces of plastic are still plastic and never become oil, its constituent parts. That means that microplastics get inside soil and water and eventually enter the food chain, harming animals and human. Did you know that we consume an amount of a credit card microplastics each week?

Why recycling plastic ain’t fantastic either?

Trash in the river in the Philippines. Experience authentic Philippines.There are many reasons why recycling plastic is not a good solution for that huge problem. First of all recycling plastic means repeating the toxic process again. What’s more, it’s not really efficient. Glass or aluminium can be processed over and over almost without the end, while plastic will anyway end up on the landfill on some point. There are options to recycle plastic but keep in mind that only 9 % of all plastic is recycled and most of it will simply go to the landfill, river, ocean or get burnt.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t recycle because of course it’s better than not doing it. However, looking how hard and polluting is to recycle plastic the only way to go is to really avoid it like fire.

Now think about all the plastic you used, myself or anyone in the world. It’s terrifying to be conscious to what we have contributed and that all the plastic that we ever used is still in existence. On the other hand it’s a great motivation (at least for me) to take an action and do my part in reducing it.

Ways to reduce plastic waste when traveling

I am glad more and more people have the possibility to hit the road and travel around the world. However, tourists leave a footprint on the environment, and mass tourism is a great contributor into the plastic problem.

Why reducing plastic waste when traveling is hard? It’s more difficult than in the place you live as you don’t know the area and where you can get more eco-friendly alternatives. Secondly, the options may be far away, and you simply don’t have time to get everything that you want on the spot, no matter how environment-friendly you are trying to be. However, this shouldn’t discourage you as really every little helps. The good news are that it’s easy to change few basic habits which will let you dramatically reduce plastic waste when traveling. I came up with this post, putting together all the tips. I hope these will come up handy on your next journey.

Prepare well for the trip

First of all, rethink your travel list and take all that you need with you in order to avoid buying items you will use just once. When it comes to travel equipment, buy only high quality stuff as they will last longer. Consider getting second hand products instead of buying new.

Learn to refuse

Refusing sounds simple and I thought it was easy to say NO until I failed. Being more conscious I observed where I fail and get the trash from and work on it. Tons of plastic bottles on my trip, plastic straws in the fresh coconut and another ton of plastic bags so I started to carry a cotton bag for shopping, my own straws and reffilable bottle.

Moreover, I often use couch surfing and sometimes hitch-hike, and locals most of the time are extremely hospitable sharing their water, candies or whatever they have. That created another tone of plastic as it’s embarrassing to say no when a mom gives me package of biscuits or anything else packed in plastic. Moreover, refusing in some cultures is unpolite. Many times I really had to play a game and be a weirdo in their eyes explaining that I don’t want to create a plastic waste. In some cultures no waste movement is something totally unknown, but they have to start somewhere, right?

Avoid take away food

Wegetariańskie dania w Indonezji.I love cooking so taking food away is not in my style. Things change when I travel and have no possibility to prepare my own food. I am trying to eat out in a small local restaurants or grab some street food. As I am usually not carrying any containers, I simply avoid taking away foods, as I know they will be packed in plastic or styrofoam.

Countries, I traveled recently, like Indonesia or Philippines, don’t even have recycling bins or at least they have been hiding from me for a few months. More likely the plastic and styrofoam will end of on the landfill. Takeout boxes is not only matter of reducing plastic waste when traveling, but also a question of health. Plastic or styrofoam container in contact with heat may start to melt a bit or break down, causing the chemicals — dioxin, benzene and styrene — to seep into your food.

Avoid single use plastic

In the age when plastic is one of the biggest environmental issues of the planet, we see that the majority of it is caused by a single use products. You probably heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch the largest accumulation of trash in the oceans. Plastic bottles float in the oceans together with straws and bags which get destroyed into pieces.

The statistics are shocking: over 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean each year. Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish each year. According to the prognosis until 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Do we really want a world like that?

I was in Asia, swam in the ocean with a ton of plastic touching me and covering my snorkeling mask. This is a true nightmare caused by our irresponsible decisions. Living in Poland I have never seen a landfill and was not aware how huge is the problem. I am sure most of the travelers, which saw how bad is the situation in the oceans and on the beaches, became more conscious and chose to reduce plastic waste when traveling.

Reusable straw. How to reduce plastic waste when traveling?The best way to avoid single use plastic is having your own no waste kit. Few simple items can help you to significantly reduce plastic waste when traveling. In the travel essentials I would include reusable water bottle, shopping bag and spork (spoon+fork). Sometimes I also take bees wrap which I use when buying pastry or bakery as well as bamboo straws, which I carry when traveling to exotic destinations.

Say no to straw

Do we really need straws? I think it’s something we could easily skip most of the time and drink with no straw. Of course, the drinks look more fancy with a straw so why not getting yourself some eco-friendly option? Nowadays, we have paper, glass, grass, bamboo and steal straws available in every eco store. From single use and biodegradable to reusable straws, everyone will find their eco-friendly option. There is no point to risk life of animals and pollute the oceans when the alternatives are so cheap and accessible.

I got some bamboo straws in the paradise island – Gili Air in Indonesia and since then I always have them with me when traveling to exotic countries. Nowadays, I am a weirdo when ordering a juice in Malaysia and saying: no straw, no sugar and no condensed milk please. But I hope in a few years those who still use single plastic will be the minority feeling guilty selling or taking a plastic straw.

Ladies: no plastic waste period please

There is one leaflet promoting eco-friendly period solutions I still have in my mind. A girl stands on the beach in front of a huge wave which is just about to cover her. In the water there is a vast number of tampons and disposable pads floating. I think it’s a very good example of how we don’t want our disposable pads or tampons to end up. The truth is that throwing them to the rubish bin, isn’t the end of their life. Conventional period pads or tampons include not only plastic but chlorine and pesticides so will take hundreds of years to decompose, in addition harming nature and yourself with the chemicals. Think that each woman uses over 11,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime and nobody is informed about the effect of the chemicals on the woman body.

Thankfully, nowadays we have a choice of eco-friendly period solutions, which will be not only healthy for us but also for the planet. You can make friends with a menstruation cup, reusable pads, panties, sponges or get the eco-friendly and compostable tampons and pads which are easy to decompose without harm on the environment and your health.

Plastic free cosmetics

Conscious travel is all about our responsible choices. I am glad, these days I can get pretty much all cosmetics in a natural version based on plants and oils. In addition, companies run to produce more biodegradable or recyclable packages in a no waste spirit. Moreover, it’s worth to consider your own health and apply only natural ingrediendts on your skin. In addition, think about the marine life which will suffer from a no reef-friendly chemicals.

I think the most problematic are the “travel-size” containers which we buy or use in the hotels. These are just waste as they quickly end up in the trash bin. As a traveler, I love to have a light luggage and take only the most necessary cosmetics along. I love the soap and shampoo bars which are perfect for a waste free and eco-friendly showers.

I use coconut oil for a low sun exposure and buy a proper natural cream for beach days or hiking. In my country (Poland), we have so many choices nowadays, to buy eco-friendly items, but I always remember to use natural remedies and herbs from local farmers wherever I travel. Coconut oil, honey, turmeric, ginger – there are so many super healthy and useful plants, depending of the region we head to. At the same time, shopping locally we support local economies and small producers.

Choose eco tourism

Now, when you know how to limit your plastic footprint whilst traveling, choose responsible agents, tours and hotels on your way, which carry the same values. Supporting eco tourism we also encourage more institutions to follow this path.

Responsible tourism in Cameron Highlands. Ways to reduce plastic waste when traveling.

Make a difference

Don’t forget that small travel choices are powerfull. There are already so many places which have changed due to constant individual actions. Islands or states prohibited using single use plastic, group of tourists picked up the trash from the beach and so on. Simple action of refusing plastic straw will make the bar owner consider switching to biodegradable, seeing that more and more people desire them. Do a small act of kindness for nature and occasionally pick up the trash on your way or from the beach. Let’s make a difference by inspiring the others with our eco-friendly choices.

Lastly, we need to be patient for culture and social differences and educate those who are not used to reuse and recycle. I strongly believe in power of individual actions and encourage you to do so. We all are responsible to take care of our planet and teach others how to travel more sustainably. Even though, it can be hard we must take steps and reduce plastic waste when traveling and give others a good example.

Subscribe to my inspiring mailing list!


Receive news, exclusive materials and travel tips every few weeks.
* indicates required

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.