The aim of this article is to empower you to limit your own plastic footprint when travelling, and to feel proud to do so, in simple ways.
A lot of countries I travel to for surfing are not equipped in the same way as the UK is to handle influxes of people, and in particular their plastic waste. As the local infrastructure struggles to handle the increased volumes of plastic being disposed of, it’s more likely to find its way into waterways and oceans.
Rivers overflowing with plastic, beaches covered in plastic straws and waves tarnished by plastic bags are an all too familiar site.
The 10-step guide below contains simple things that can easily add up to a massive reduction in our plastic footprint when travelling. Although the global solution to the marine litter crisis has to be collaborative, I do feel that it is our responsibility to do our best to limit what harm we do by travelling consciously. I hope this can ultimately increase your enjoyment of a trip in the knowledge that you’re not contributing to destruction of the place you’ve fallen in love with!
- Limit your plastic water bottle usage.
This can be one of the most daunting, especially in countries where the tap water isn’t safe to drink, so I’ll break this one down further into a few points:
a. Take a reusable bottle with you regardless – You never know where you’ll find refill points. Which brings me to my next point:
b. Airports – In the UK you can take an empty refillable bottle through security in your hand luggage, then find somewhere on the other side to fill up – a coffee shop/bar or water fountain (a lot of airports have these now!)
c. Check the country you’re travelling to re water safety – the NHS fit to travel website is a good resource for this: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk. Some countries’ tap water can be safely navigated by using water purification tablets or a filter.
d. If all else fails, and bottled water seems to be the only option, investigate if there is a deposit return scheme in your chosen destination. In Indonesia I was thrilled to find that the water came in massive gallon bottles which could then be returned to a local shop when empty, to be refilled.
2. Refuse straws in your drinks
Last time I travelled to Indonesia, I took my own reusable straw with me. I worked out that over the 6 weeks I was there, I saved over 300 straws by using my own. Imagine the impact we could have if every tourist did that! You can also revolutionarily just use your lips too! You have to be fairly on it with this one, as in a lot of places it’s second nature for bar staff to shove a couple of straws in your drink, so remember to start the order with, “no straws please!” I lost track of how many times I was gently reassured that the straws were free, and had to explain my reasoning for not wanting one.
3. Take your bag for life
Take a couple of cloth bags with you – they’ll be just as useful for shopping abroad as they are in the UK; they can also be washed out if they get a bit mucky. Try and buy your fruit and veg out of wrappers too, straight into your bag for life.
4. Coffee cup
I have an amazing insulated Klean Kanteen coffee cup that keeps my hot drinks hot for hours, and keeps my cold drinks cold too. I’ll use it not just to get coffee in, but takeaway juices and beer in bars that are otherwise serving it in a plastic cup. You really will save on so much plastic by religiously using it at every opportunity. You can also use it on the aeroplane instead of the million plastic cups the lovely hostesses seem determined to give you.
This year I travelled with bamboo cutlery. I’ve used it up mountains with my rice, on deserted beaches on SUP expeditions and in airports. It’s super light and durable and can save on a lot of unnecessary plastic cutlery that’s used for a matter of seconds. You can buy it at the Surfers Against Sewage shop. Alternatively, steel cutlery from your drawer at home will do just as well.
6. Shampoo and soap bars
Check out Lush’s range of shampoo and soap bars – these take up a lot less space and weight than traditional bottles too. They also make deodorant bars which are lighter and less bulky, and plastic free!
7. Beach cleans
On one beach in Indonesia last year I collected over 100 straws in under 20 minutes, along with plastic toothbrushes, water bottles and sanitary products. Not only does cleaning beaches physically remove that waste from the environment and limit the harm it can have, but this particular clean up got the attention of locals, some of whom joined in as well. I find beach cleans always re-stoke my plastic-free fires as well; after a few minutes of picking up unnecessary single use items in areas where turtles hatch in Barbados, I suddenly wanted a straw in my drink even less.
8. Bamboo Toothbrush
This is a good one for every day living, but particularly for travelling if you normally have an electric toothbrush and are looking for something smaller. Be aware – Bamboo toothbrushes often have nylon bristles which aren’t compostable. You can get one on the Surfers Against Sewage shop.
9. Sanitary wear
One of my favourite topics of conversations! Much to the dismay of pretty much all my male friends. Ladies – get a Mooncup. For the love of all things convenient, safe and empowering, get a Mooncup.
Travelling light is such a joy; having half your backpack stuffed with bulky sanitary towels or tampons is not. Having to pay £10 for an imported pack of tampax in a foreign country is not cool, nor is finding yourself in a country where tampons are just not used and being unable to surf for a week. Menstrual cups eliminate all plastic waste from your periods, are incredibly convenient, and save a heap of money. They can be understandably a little daunting at first, and I would really recommend trialling it a few times before relying on it to travel with (took me 3 months to get used to mine; I’m so glad I persevered), but now I don’t even have to think twice about travelling or surfing with my period abroad. Total life changer, and no toxic plastic waste to try and dispose of in a country that isn’t set up to deal with that. Mooncup have excellent support if you’re struggling to get the hang of it, please ladies, give it a good go at least.
10. Sun protection
Buy sunscreen in bulk and choose reef-friendly varieties. There are a some ingredients in certain sunscreens, including oxybenzone, which bleach coral reefs even in small amounts. Alternatively, opt to cover up every now and again instead of slapping on the sunscreen – it’s better for your skin, wallet and the planet. For some of us paleys, sunscreen isn’t even an option: I regularly have to dress head to toe ninja style when surfing to avoid the burn. And I mean socks too. Make sure you wear a decent UPF 50 rash vest or similar – check out Finisterre’s range of gorgeous Econyl recycled fishing net swim tops. There are some beautiful sea leggings out there too – check out Olas Leggings, UK-based and made out of recycled plastic bottles.
Have a safe trip, have all the fun in the world, and I hope you feel happy and proud to be actively protecting something that is giving so much back to you. Thank you for doing so!