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How to avoid using single-use plastics on holiday

by Martha Hales

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It’s shocking to think that in an average year, 8.8 million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans. As we are all becoming aware, this is gradually killing sea life as well as having a detrimental impact on the rest of the planet and must be stopped. Reducing the amount of plastics that end up in oceans worldwide may seem like an insurmountable challenge, but change starts with individuals, subsequently spreading to communities and eventually to society as a whole. Make your stand and contribute to the momentum that has been gaining force in recent months to turn this environmental catastrophe around and do your bit by reducing or perhaps even eliminating your consumption of single use plastics. We’ve gathered together some top tips that can help you to reduce your reliance on single use plastics anywhere, but they are especially relevant when you are travelling.

Man hiking with waterbottle

Preparation is key

Consider your trip, the locations you will be visiting and the situations you will come across. Anticipate the kinds of scenarios where you might need to substitute plastic items and how you could do that. Running through a few possible scenarios in your head beforehand means you are less likely to forget your mission to travel without the need for single use plastics, and you are more likely to be successful at avoiding them. If you are determined to complete your trip with a tally of zero single use plastics in the global bin, you may have to prepare yourself to abstain from a few treats or groceries if they simply aren’t available in any other form of packaging.

Assemble a simple survival kit

The majority of disposable plastic items you are likely to come across on your travels are fairly easy to do without or can be replaced by a non disposable item you can carry with you. For example:

  • Pack some reusable food containers which you can hand over when you are buying takeaway food or loose dry items such as nuts and dried fruit. A few different sizes of container come in handy, as do travel friendly collapsible versions.

    Market food in Vietnam

  • Water is an essential when you are on the road, but instead of relying on buying disposable bottles of drinking water, take hardwearing reusable bottles which you can fill and refill as required. If you are travelling to a destination where tap water isn’t drinkable (and you are very determined not to resort to bottled water), you should also pack a UV sterilising pen kit in case drinkable water isn’t easy to obtain.

  • A reusable beaker is perfect for all those occasions when coffee, juice, beer etc isn’t available without plastic cups, lids, straws or stirrers.

  • Take a tough, stainless steel, reusable straw for each member of your party, or a pack of paper straws (make sure they don’t have a plastic coating) to last you the duration of your trip. Some places are already trying to combat the use of plastic straws (like below where they're using reed straws) but you making an extra effort will help to spread the word!
    Reed straw in a coconut

  • Toiletries is another danger area. The freebies in a hotel room alone are a minefield of single use plastics. Take your own solid soap and a reusable bottle filled with shampoo. You can feel smug when your daily shower doesn’t involve dozens of pieces of plastic waste. Another great tip is to pack a bamboo toothbrush, which is far more environmentally friendly than its plastic counterpart.

  • Cutlery is another cheap and disposable plastic item which can easily be swapped for something with far less environmental impact. Carry a compact set of metal camping cutlery or, if weight is important, a wooden set, and you will be set up for mealtimes.

  • A strong fabric shopping bag, even better if it’s one you can fold up small, is indispensable. Plastic bags are a major pollutant in many parts of the world so brandish your reusable version with pride.

reusable shopping bag

Shop wisely

It’s not always easy, but try to avoid throwaway plastic packaging when you are stocking up at the shops. Look for loose goods that you can ask to be decanted into your sturdy containers, or simply avoid buying anything that is over packaged in wasteful layers of plastic. Picnic items are usually easy to buy without any packaging - bakery products, meats and cheeses, fruit and veg are usually sold unpackaged. Look for drinks sold in glass bottles, too, and remember to recycle where you can.

Vegetable stall

Speak up

Be proactive. It would make little sense to make all the preparations for your environmentally friendly trip if you don’t follow up and use your greener alternatives. Remember to ask the street food vendor to pop your chosen foods into your reusable container before you order, and don’t get distracted at the crucial moment when a single use plastic cup is being filled with your smoothie. You’ve made the effort to plan for eco-friendly travel, don’t fall at the final hurdle. Before you know it, using alternatives to disposable plastics or doing without them altogether will become second nature.

Apply a fun factor

It can add quite a fun ‘challenge’ element to your trip to try and reduce your single use plastic footprint to zero. Why not keep a tally of all the times you avoided adding an item of plastic waste to the millions thrown away daily? There may be times when you simply cannot find a way around using some items, but with a little forethought and planning you can definitely make a big impact. The world and its oceans will thank you for it.

humpback whale breaching in Iceland

Make it happen

Many of the destinations and local experts we feature have outstanding eco credentials, and may be able to help you achieve your single-use-plastic-free trip, just let them know about your goal and they may even have some suggestions specific to their destination. We challenge you to make your next trip a zero disposable plastic waste zone, so good luck! To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898.

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