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Exploring the world is exciting and can open your eyes to many wonderful things. However, it can also serve as a stark reminder of just how much our planet relies on plastic during day-to-day life. Plastic bottles, bags, straws, beauty essentials permeate our lives without many of us realising the detrimental effects. Before packing up and exploring Asia for the first time alone, I had started to become more aware of my plastic hoarding tendencies. I decided to challenge myself to find sustainable alternatives to my every day plastic possessions which wouldn’t break my cheap traveller budget. This piece will outline some of the swaps I made on my plastic free mission, without a £100 water bottle in sight.
Out in Asia and other areas, tap water is a no-go, so it is no surprise that single-use plastic bottles are a huge part of daily lives. At home, I pride myself on having a stainless-steel water bottle which I try and take wherever I go, including on my travels. I kept this bottle with me at all times and filled it up at any opportunity I could find. Keep an eye out for fountains at an airport, in a restaurant or at a hostel, it will save a lot of plastic and money. Sadly, sometimes buying water bottles were inevitable, and when I did have to do this I made sure I bought as big a bottle as I could carry so I was only buying one, and I reused it wherever I could along-side my own bottle, i.e. filling it up every day at hostels. Investing in a stainless steel bottle is helpful if you are travelling anywhere hot, as they keep your water cooler for longer - I personally love the company Chillys. They are leak-proof, durable and have some beautiful designs so you can look stylish whist you save the environment!
Top tip: Sometimes hostels specify if they have water stations so you can tailor your trip to staying at those, or equally if a hostel provides breakfast, cash in on filling up your bottle/ several bottles at breakfast so you are stocked up for the day.
I wouldn’t just advise packing cubes because they’re more sustainable, but also just because they changed my packing game, FOREVER. Essentially just fabric zip-up cubes you can pack all your clothes in, it kept my backpack organised and stopped me putting everything in plastic bags etc. I made sure I even had one dedicated to dirty or wet clothes, they cost next to nothing and can be used trip after trip, or even at home to keep underwear or socks organised.
In my journey to becoming more aware of my plastic consumption, I realised my biggest downfall were the products I had in my bathroom. It’s all very well having a reusable water bottle, but the bathroom and beauty cabinet is where a lot of plastic hides. I was using handful after handful of plastic disposable razors in an effort to make myself silky smooth. If you are heading out on a big trip, not only is taking months worth of disposable razors a waste of precious space but also horrendous for the environment. After doing a bit of research and watching a lot of YouTube review videos I took the plunge and switched to a metal safety razor. If you are new to a safety razor, they can look a little intimidating, but once you get the hang of it you will never go back. This was one of the best sustainable swaps I made. Not only does investing in this razor and the blades cost a fraction of the price of buying disposables in the long run, but it means no more throwing out plastic razors and the bonus, it gives a super close shave.
Along with a safety razor, a solid shave cream bar is also a great way to reduce plastic and costs. The first time I went travelling I took a solid bar instead of a can or plastic bottle of shave gel, and to my surprise, it lasted the entire 2.5 month trip. Other great purchases are solid shampoo or shower bars. Simply lather them up on your hair and body and they work just like their plastic bottle counterparts and often prove to last longer, making them a cheaper option too. Their only downfall are that they can be a bit of a mess and a faff to store, but if you invest in a metal case or just wrap it in something waterproof you are good to go. Check out Lush, they have a huge selection of plastic free shampoo, shower gel and conditioner bars to get you squeaky clean the eco-friendly way.
Regular contact lens wearers - this one is for you! Last year I made the switch from daily to monthly contact lenses. Breaking out a fresh pair of lenses sealed in plastic every day is another sad addition to the plastic problem. Using monthlies means you reduce your usage from up to 60 small plastic cases, to just one in a month - I’m not great at maths but that sounds like a pretty great reduction. Bonus for us travellers on a budget - it is actually more cost effective to switch to monthlies too!
Pretty simple, but I’ll say it anyway, you can carry that keyring souvenir or that bottle of vodka without a bag just fine, don’t accept a plastic bag and if you need a bag, bring your own! An excellent way around using too many plastic bags is to take a large tote bag, this can be packed down to nothing in your bag and suitcase and you can use it as a day bag, take it down to the beach or on a shopping trip.
The world is slowly waking up to the detrimental effects of the almighty plastic straw. For instance, in places such as Indonesia I was pleasantly surprised to find I was not once given a plastic straw. However, on the whole, a lot of remote places you might explore are a little slower to jump on the plastic-free hype. To counter this, the best thing you can do is simply to refuse the straw. You don’t really need one, and if you need to give your drink a stir, ask for a (metal) spoon or use the end of your own cutlery. Otherwise, think about investing in some metal straws, I always have one in my bag and at home, simple and easy.
Ladies, I've got you covered. Sadly many of the sanitary products available on the market to us all come wrapped neatly in plastic, making it almost impossible to avoid. However, with a bit of research I have found a solution which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ohne are a company which provide organic, biodegradable, non-bleached tampons which can come with a cardboard applicator, or applicator-free. This saves throwing out hundreds of plastic applicators and wrapping every year. Bonus feel good - a percentage of their revenue goes towards The School Club in Zambia working to improve menstrual health education for young girls. Check out their website here for all your plastic free period needs.
Pick a couple of things off the beach as you leave, not too much effort, costs nothing and makes the beach nicer for you and for the next person to enjoy!
It's a mad plastic world out there, but the tides are changing. I know it can be hard to implement all of the above at once, but start with changing one thing when you travel next. We can all do a little bit that collectively will make a huge difference, so I hope this provides some inspiration!