How to Avoid Plastic Whilst Travelling: Go Zero Waste and Chuck Those Straws!

how to reduce plastic when travelling

Having grown up with two young hippie parents, the environment, and the fact that it needs saving has never been far from my mind. Did you know that every single piece of plastic ever made is still around today? I didn't know this until recently and it's insane! Think about all the plastic we've ever used, even if it was recycled*,it's still around - most plastic is only used once and then thrown away, and it's still there. Isn't that crazy! It wasn't until I got to the Philippines (btw, have you been to Kitamani?) where I really started to wake up to the problem. Recently we went there, one of the most beautiful countries we've ever been to, if not the most beautiful, but there's a problem: walking along picturesque beaches like this:

you'll find mounds of plastic brought in from the ocean like this:

Every day we spent an hour collecting the plastic, and by the end of the week it didn't look like we'd made any differenceat all. And this isn't unique to the Philippines, we've seen this all over South East Asia from Bali to Krabi and beyond.

Why Can't We Just Recycle Plastic?

Firstly,Only Five Percent of Plastics Are Recycled Effectively. Secondly even if it does get recycled and used again it's still around forever and thirdly, as Eco-expert Eco Cody says recycling should be the last option: re-use it, reduce it, but best of all REFUSE IT.

How Can You Travel Plastic-free?

Lots of plastic-free posts I've read come with a side of privilege (like choosing to shop in container-free shops which are generally way more expensive). Not to mention, most of these tips are frankly downright impractical for most travellers.

But whilst it's hard (read almost impossible) to give up my plastic laptop, phone, camera, transportation etc etc, there are still loads of plastic things we can do without right now that will make a massive difference to our world, whilst still only affecting us a tiny bit (i.e. they're not going to disrupt our life or our travels too much).

So I've come up with this list of 10 plastic items you can start avoiding on your travels. But this list isn't traveller-exclusive, likeveganismif you can do this whilst travelling, you'll find it a hell of a lot easier to do at home too. So sit back, relax, and check out these plastic items you can start giving up today.

#1. Say no to straws!

Plastic straws are the worst, they're used once and then thrown away, forgotten by us, but still around firmly around forever, and it's just so unnecessary! Out of all the plastic things we use, I think straws are among the worst - have you ever really needed a straw?

Alternative: put glass to lips, tilt head and glass back in unison. Fluid gets to mouth. Swallow. Repeat until job is done. Seriously though, I do understand that some people physically have to have a straw - and for anyone that's ever enjoyed a fresh coconut in South East Asia, a no-straw policy sounds a bit harsh. For you guys I recommend the stainless steel straw:

Bamboo straws are great too! And for everyone else, all you have to do is remember to tell your bar tender / barista / significant other that you don't want a straw and that's it! No more wasteful straws.

#2. Ditch the lighters!

Here's a collection of beautiful plastic lighters we found on the beach in the Philippines, one of every colour!! They'll be around forever!

Alternative: I'm not going to sit here and tell you to give up smoking, because that's your choice, and I'm sure you know all about lung cancer anyway. What I am going to ask you pretty please to do is switch from lighters to matches. Easy! Light, easy and you can buy them almost anywhere in the world.

#3. No more plastic bags!

Plastic bags are rank, they're pretty much used once, because they're so flimsy, and then they're thrown away. Many end up in the sea where creatures like sea turtles think they're a tasty jellyfish, eat them, end up with a full belly of nothing and then starve to death :(

Alternative: reusable canvas (or just any kind of non-plastic) bags! Again something that's so easy to do and takes little to no effort, all we have to do is remember to take our reusable bags with us - get ones that pack down easily and keep them in your day bag! Take it a step further, and carry canvas bags for your fruit and veg too - instead of using the little crappy plastic bags you get at the supermarket.

#4. Use your cash influence!

Speaking of supermarkets, if there's a choice at the supermarket, opt for the one with less (or better yet no) packaging. E.g. potatoes - instead of buying the ones in a bag, buy the loose ones (and put them into your canvas bag). Of course this isn't always practical, and the bane of my life is choosing between loose non-organic bananas and packaged organic bananas.. okay not the actual bane of my life, just annoying af.

#5. No more plastic toothbrushes!

Another thing we sadly found an abundance of on the Filipino beaches were plastic toothbrushes. Although these aren't as bad as say plastic bags and plastic straws (in that you hopefully use your plastic toothbrush more than once), they're still unnecessaryand quite frankly are rank to see.

Alternative: You can get 100% Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrushes they do cost slightly more than a normal toothbrush but really only slightly more (£2 a go). Personally I think they feel better, but that might be a bit of a placebo thing.

#6. Say goodbye to shampoo bottles!

Shampoo and conditioner bottles, like toothbrushes aren't thrown out as often, but are still plastic, still never go away and there are still great alternatives.

Alternative: This alternative will kill two birds with one stone: solid shampoo. No need for packaging and you can take us much of it as you like in hand luggage - it's a win-win!

#7. Start packing a packed lunch!

Street food in Asia is cheap and delicious - it also comes in a crappy one-time-use plastic pot - and there's no need!

Alternative: along with your stainless steel straw, start taking an empty lunch box with you when you go out - instead of getting that yummy street food in a plastic container, ask them to put it in your lunch box. People might think you're a bit weird, but they also might think you're cool and start doing it themselves, honestly it could go either way.

#8. Throw out your tampons!

Cis-males this one is for you too! Tampons and pads are a plastical nightmare: used once, thrown away. But there are alternatives, and cis-men don't skip this one, share this with the menstruators in your life!

Alternative: two words: menstrual cup. Okay it's still made from plastic, but you can use it for TEN YEARS (you empty it, clean it, and put it back in). And any tampon wearer can use them - admittedly it does take a bit of getting used to and adjusting, but once you've got it right you'll never look at a tampon again, I promise. It took me about three cycles to get it right, but now I wouldn't use a pad or a tampon if you paid me. Seriously. It's worth the adjustment period. (Pun intended.)

And for those that aren't interested in an internal method of collection, don't worry you don't have to stick to pads - opt for period pants. Again they can be used and used and used again (and again they get washed between use dw). You can also get washable reusable pads too (made of fabric not plastic).

So, between the cup, the pants and the reusable material pads I truly think that there's at least one non-plastic free option for everyone, it's just a case of knowing that these are an option - share the good news! (And whilst I understand that these might not be easy to get everywhere in the world, I'd like to say that I got my cup in Malaysia - a Muslim country where it's hard(ish) to even find tampons. As to reusable pads, they are very easy to make diy).

#9. No more disposable razors!

Disposable razors suck - not only are they obvious bad for the environment (live forever etc). They're also not great for your skin, and when you're travelling, nicks from shaving, ingrown hairs and worse aren't exactly what you need when you're trying to deal with mozzie bites and sunburn too.

Alternatives: luckily they are so many alternatives, most of which will cost you less in the long run, if not a lot less. The first, and probably most obvious is to not shave at all - let your beards and hairy legs run free! Problem solved. But of course that might not suit your personal style.

Electric shavers are of course still made of plastic, but get so many more uses from them that they are much more preferable to disposable razors. Travelling couples, if you don't think it's weird, why not share an electric razor together! There's also epilators, waxing, hair removal creams, and so much more! Andhow about a stainless steel razor and blades?

#10. Say no to plastic bottles!

Last, but not least, plastic bottles. Eugh. This is another one that we saw all over the beach in the Philippines, and really everywhere. Whilst it's so important to keep hydrated, especially in hot countries there are other ways:

Alternatives: First things first, fizzy drinks. Because actually the majority of bottles we did find hadn't contained water, but coke, fanta, sprite etc.

Now I'm not going to tell you to stop drinking fizzy drinks (though I think you should cause they're shit - check out that sugar film). Haha, the very least you can do though is switch from plastic bottled fizzy drinks to glass bottles or cans. I know, you can't sip it and close the lid of a can, but you know what a can can do? Be properly recycled.

Moving on, and to the hard part: WATER. Firstly, pretty anywhere in the west - as long as they don't store their water like in some Southern European countries - if there's tap water you can drink from it: kitchens, restaurants, drinking fountains, even from the bathroom sink. I don't have the strongest of stomachs, but I've never had a problem drinking tap water in Canada, USA, Europe, Australia etc. And if you're addicted to fizzy water, get one of those machines that makes your water fizzy! (Only for when you're at home, I don't recommend carting one of those round on your travels!)

When it comes to places like South East Asia, I do know people who've drunk from the tap water for years and been fine. Maybe their stomach is stronger, maybe they are used to it, I'm not sure but most doctors wouldn't recommend you drink from the tap there and neither do I.

So for places when you can't drink from the tap, what do you do? Firstly invest in a stainless steel reusable drinks bottle and fill it up wherever possible - many hotels have drinking fountains in their gyms etc. Other than that there are water purification tablets, and even better, life straws - which purify the water as you drink it. Not buying plastic bottles for water is hard, and something we still struggle with, but it's such an important issue - even if you're out and about without your reusable bottle, grab a glass of water from a cafe rather than a plastic bottle.

+ Bonus Idea:

For super eco travellers, how about ditching toothpaste and deodorant which come in plastic pots and opting for (possibly handmade) concoctions of coconut oil, peppermint and more. - We've tried a few of these recipes, but so far haven't found anything that works for us - let us know if you have a killer deodorant and/or toothpaste recipe!

Wrap Up: How to Avoid Plastic Whilst Travelling?

Okay, I hope this post was useful rather than preachy and judgy. We just went to a beautiful beach in the Philippines, saw a bunch of plastic and felt really bad about it. We're now trying to be as plastic-free as possible and hope you will too :) Special thanks to Amy and my mum for helping me with this post! Also, here is a video we made recently about how to be eco-friendly on an individual level whilst travelling:

P.S.: If you're interested in an app designed for vegans & wanna support the vegan movement and us, veganvstravel as well, use this link plz to download Abillionveg. When registering, please use our referral code: TRAVELLINGWEASELS. If you wanna know why we think this is a great app, read here.

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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