How to be a Sustainable Traveler

How can you be a sustainable traveler? Well, the best way is to be mindful of the waste you produce when traveling, especially non-biodegradable waste, like plastic. This is critical as many countries, especially developing economies which are often popular tourist destinations don’t always have the infrastructure to collect and process waste. The plastic water bottle you buy and toss out in the EU or US will be down-cycled (a process that produces it’s own set of issues) while in many other places it will just be tossed into a landfill where it will lay for hundreds of years. A major part of being a sustainable traveler is avoiding single-use plastic when traveling whether you’re in a developed or developing economy.

Picturesque beach now filled with plastic

As you’ve probably seen on social media and in the news, the world is choking and drowning on plastic. Apparently there are several large patches of trash floating in the Pacific Ocean. Many countries, both developed and developing have enacted laws that ban or require a charge for the use of plastic bags, with some destinations now tackling plastic straws. While this is great news for sure, many destinations especially in the Middle East, South East Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa still struggle with single-use plastic, often clearly visible along highways and streets.

Why is single-use plastic a problem and an avoidable one at the same time? The world produces an astonishing 300 million tons of petroleum-based plastic each year, with only about 10-13% being recycled and the rest being through into a pit or the ocean. A lot of plastic can’t be recycled and if it is, the process of recycling is highly toxic and energy consuming. Petroleum-based plastic is not biodegradable and during the process of breaking down, it releases toxic chemicals into the ground or ocean. While the situation is not good, there is something you can do now while traveling or even at home. The simplest way to prevent your contribution to the problem of single-use plastic is to be mindful of the items you use when traveling. Reduce and reuse is the best possible way to be a sustainable traveler.

You as a traveler you play a role in consumption and the production of waste when visiting a country. Even though you may visit a country for a week or less all the single-use plastic you use will lay in the ground, on the beach, or along the side of the road for centuries well after you’re gone. So how can you prevent this and be a sustainable traveler? Well, it starts by not using single-use plastic items.

Here’s what you can do to be a sustainable traveler.


No plastic straws

The problem of plastic straws in the ocean has been well publicized, but yet many people still seem to use them. You really don’t need a straw with your mixed drink and if you do need one why not bring your own bamboo or metal straw? This keeps them out of the ocean and ground where they will remain for a while.

Remember the next time you order a mixed drink, glass of water, or any drink you think a straw might be put in it, simply tell the server you don’t need a straw.

plastic takes 500 years to decompose

No plastic utensils

This is an issue when you get delivery (or at some restaurants). If there is a way to say you don’t want plastic utensils then say something. If you’re traveling you can bring your own bamboo set to reuse. This ultimately keeps the single-use plastic utensil out of the ocean and ground.

plastic littering a beach

No plastic cups

If you’re out at a bar and you see certain drinks being served in plastic cups, then try and avoid that beverage and opt for one being served in a glass or bottle. If everything is being served in a plastic cup then maybe you should find another place to drink. Just saying.

plastic cup on the beach

No plastic water bottles

Most of us have reusable water bottles, so why not bring it with you and refill it whenever you can when traveling. If you go to a restaurant or cafe and they offer you one of those miniature plastic water bottles simply say you don’t need it. Plastic water bottles are probably the second biggest offender when it comes to single-use plastic waste. I see them littered alongside the roads in parts of Jordan, and am confident this is the case in other countries too. By reusing your own water bottle you’ll cut down on the waste from single-use plastic water bottles.

plastic littering the forest

No plastic bags

The biggest offender for single-use plastic are plastic bags, which is why most action against them has occurred globally. If you’re going to go shopping at a local market, supermarket or store bring your own bag (non-plastic) or tell them you don’t need a bag. Many shop owners are all too happy to save a bag.

plastic at the beach

Being mindful and adjusting your consumption and waste habits while traveling you can have a positive impact and thus be a more sustainable traveler. As many single-use plastics are not-recyclable and if they are the process of recycling can be just as toxic so it’s best to avoid using them in the first place. Reusable alternatives exist and you can easily bring them with you when you travel, such as water bottles, bags, and utensils just to name a few. If you don’t already you can apply a more sustainable lifestyle at home too! By reducing our single-use plastic we keep it out of the ocean or landfills, keeping the countryside, beaches, oceans, and parks free of single-use plastic.

Next time you travel remember “reduce and reuse”.


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