15 easy ways to reduce plastic waste while traveling

Traveling offers a first-hand glimpse of just how catastrophic the world's plastic problem is. It's up to us to embrace sustainable travel and reduce our plastic footprint. Read on for 15 tangible ways travelers can take action and help make a difference!

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Janaína

Apr 07, 2020

5min

how to reduce plastic waste while traveling

Since 2019 it's been estimated that our oceans contain 12.7 million tonnes of plastic. It's difficult to fully comprehend such a huge amount of plastic waste floating in our beautiful oceans and what that really means for sea life, underwater habitats and communities of people who live near the sea.

The impact is devastating. It can be seen in shocking images of sea creatures trapped in plastic all tangled up or birds choking to death on plastic waste. Nobody needs persuading of how disastrous the problem of plastic waste is, but an important question to ask ourselves is what can travelers do to help?

Embracing sustainable travel

Committing to reduce single use plastic consumption is part of a much bigger picture of embracing sustainability as a whole. 

Sustainability is a word that describes a way of living and working that meets the needs of the present without having a negative impact on future generations, the environment and the local community

Sustainability is best known as these three pillars: economic, environmental and social.

Sustainability comes from an ethical viewpoint about how to live well in a way that benefits the whole. It's about making decisions that are ecologically sound, community-minded and practical. 

Projects like Worldpackers offer travelers a way to collaborate with hosts to make the world more sustainable via bio-construction, permaculture, organic farming, social impact work and more.

How to use less plastic when you travel

Whilst many people may have got into a routine of reducing plastic at home, sometimes that can go out of the window on the road as people tend to opt for convenience. 

The fact that we are even backpacking around the world means that we are already in a privileged position and with that privilege comes a responsibility to do what we can to travel more sustainably

Plastic can take 1000s of years to break down so it's a matter of urgency that we all reduce plastic use. 

Here are 15 ways travelers can reduce their plastic consumption whilst on the road:

1. Stop buying bottled water

2. Always carry a reusable shopping bag (or 3!)

3. Carry your own cutlery

4. Use a bamboo or wooden toothbrush

5. Bring a reusable thermos cup

6. Bring a camping bowl or tub

7. Choose eco-minded tour operators or hostels

8. Rethink what toiletries you use

9. Use a menstrual cup or period pants

10. Join a local litter pick

11. Say No Thanks! to plastic straws

12. Invest in gear that lasts

13. Plan ahead for your flight 

14. Start conversations

15. Use matches instead of plastic lighters

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1. Stop buying bottled water

This is a biggie because understandably one of the main concerns for travelers is access to safe drinking water. However there are other solutions that do not involve buying plastic bottles everywhere you go. 

You can take a refillable bottle as most hotels, hostels and homestays should offer filtered water refills or at least boiled water. There's also the option of buying a bottle with an inbuilt filter or carrying purification tablets.

2. Always carry a reusable shopping bag (or 3!) 

It's really easy to get hold of lightweight, reusable bags that can pack up small and go in the pocket of your backpack on the road. If you always have a few with you wherever you go then you are guaranteed to not need to use plastic bags.

3. Carry your own cutlery

There are countless times that people get given plastic forks, knives or spoons with their food, takeaway or otherwise. If you already have your own cutlery with you then you will never need to use plastic ones out of convenience.

4. Use a bamboo or wooden toothbrush

This is key for anyone's plastic-free journey whether at home or traveling. The great part about traveling with a bamboo toothbrush is that everyone else will see you using it and might be inspired to reduce their plastic usage too!

5. Bring a reusable thermos cup

If you drink a lot of coffee or tea then it's a really good idea to carry your own flask or thermos cup so that you never have to get a single use plastic takeaway cup.

6. Bring a camping bowl or tub

You'll most likely want to feast on all the delicious street food that you can get all over the world but street vendors nearly always dish out their grub in single use plastic containers! If you travel with your own camping bowl or tub you could save a lot of that plastic going straight into the trash can.

7. Choose eco-minded tour operators or hostels

 A lot of tourism companies are taking steps to actively reduce their plastic consumption and to offer more sustainable alternatives on the road. All it takes is a little bit of extra research to support companies that are aligned with your decision to travel more responsibly.

8. Rethink what toiletries you use

For example rather than buying travel size toiletries every time you fly, keep the same 100 ml bottle to refill. Better still, ditch plastic bottles completely to use shampoo bars and bars of soap.

9. Use a menstrual cup or period pants

If you menstruate then there are now some really great options for a more sustainable period. You can invest in a reusable menstrual cup or re-usable period panties. Organic tampons and pads are also an option but washable pads, period pads and cups are even better as they can be used multiple times and don't have plastic packaging.

10. Join a local litter pick

You'd be surprised how many places organize clean ups, not only is it a great way to clean our natural spaces of plastic but it helps to build community and make new friends.

11. Say No Thanks! to plastic straws

If you really need to or want to use a straw for whatever reason then travel with a reusable straw. Otherwise just say no thanks to a straw when ordering your drink. Easy!

12. Invest in gear that lasts

It can be tempting to buy the cheapest of everything when traveling on a budget but it makes way more sense for the planet to spend a bit more on gear that will last rather than having to throw it away and replace it.

13. Plan ahead for your flight 

Flying in itself is problematic for the environment but if you do have a flight then try to make it as plastic-free as possible. Airlines love wrapping everything in plastic but you can be one step ahead. 

Take your reusable water bottle in your hand luggage. Bring your own earphones and blanket so you don't have to use the ones provided wrapped in plastic.

14. Start conversations

You don't have to go round preaching about plastic-free living but you can start conversations with other travelers, local businesses, street vendors and whoever else to raise awareness of the plastic issue.

15. Use matches instead of plastic lighters

Whether you need to start a campfire, light candles, smoke or light up a gas stove, you can carry matches instead of plastic lighters.


Ways to reduce plastic use

When it comes down to it, these are all relatively easy switches to make or things to do. 

Reducing our plastic footprint on the road simply requires a bit of thought and pre-planning

Plastic is everywhere so it's easy to just accept it as the way things are. However it is our responsibility, as travelers, to do our own research and take action where we can.

Let's start a conversation. If you have any other ideas or ways to reduce plastic on the road, please comment!



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