This post contains affiliate links.
Whilst I admire those following a zero waste and/or plastic free life, it is a challenge many of us will struggle to achieve, even if we aspire to it. But making even small changes to reduce our plastic footprint is a step in the right direction with regards to reducing trash and plastic in the oceans and landfill.
Did you see this article in the news about 38 million pieces of plastic found on the uninhabited island of Henderson Island?
If you don’t want to read it, I suggest you at least watch the short video that accompanied it, its so sad. Shocking. And disgusting.
Literally, what on earth are we doing? So much plastic in the ocean and now in our food chain through fish.
All this got me thinking about how much waste I’ve discarded in countries throughout my travels.
In India, we often bought street food and it was sometimes served in newspaper or some other type of disposable wrapper – such as a banana leaf – and eaten with just our fingers.
Yet slowly and surely I could see an increased use of plastic cutlery and those horrible orange polystyrene food cartons – one day I saw them piled up in a lake near a small town, it was heartbreaking to see that mess building up; polluting the water and killing the ecosystem. Such a dreadful shame.
Simple ways to reduce your plastic usage
I have vowed to find ways to reduce my plastic footprint when I’m at home and when I’m abroad.
Now, I’m not suggesting you start knitting your own yoghurt and wearing wholemeal sandals but there are some simple actions and product swaps that you can take today to reduce your plastic use.
These are my 7 simple tips to use less plastic both at home and when travelling; and how you can reduce trash with these alternatives to single-use plastic products.
1. Don’t use hotel toiletries & amenities
I know it’s tempting and sometimes I do succumb, but reducing the use of hotel amenities by taking your own soap and decanting toiletries into long-lasting reusable containers will reduce the number of tiny plastic bottles in circulation. Even though often those bottles are super cute!
I like the selection of bottles available from Muji and Humangear’s GoToob bottles. I’ve had mine for ages and I love them because they have a wide mouth so it’s fine for creams as you can almost use it like a pot. They come in a range of sizes including carry-on friendly sizes. I know there a lot of imitators out there now but I still think these ones are the best. Mine has never leaked and is still going strong after more than 5 years!
2. Take a non-plastic water bottle and don’t use plastic drinking straws
I know, it’s so tempting just to buy bottled water throughout your day, but all that plastic mounts up. If you’re based somewhere drinking water is available from a tap, taking your own non-plastic water bottle is a perfect solution. You can also take empty ones through airport security and refill airside at an airport from a fountain.
When we’ve stayed somewhere for a few days or more we buy the biggest bottle we can carry and refill our bottles from that. It’s still plastic but often larger bottles can be repurposed for other uses and used time and again in a way that smaller bottles are forever consigned to be single use.
I like these bright coloured stainless steel insulated bottles by Sho. They come in three sizes: 500ml, 750ml, 1000ml. They can keep cool drinks cool and even take ice cubes!
As for drinking straws, if you really do love a straw you could take your own stainless steel drinking straw (and cleaner). Or you could…you know, drink from the glass – but I do appreciate in some situations you’d probably prefer a straw. I have seen drinking straws being reused in a restaurant in India, so if that doesn’t put you off a plastic drinking straw I don’t know what will.
This set has four stainless steel drinking straws as well a mini brush to clean them.
It’s always good to learn some of the language in a country and this post has a handy list of how to say ‘…no plastic straw, thanks’ as well as three other helpful phrases in four different languages.
3. Switch to a reusable coffee cup
I feel like I was the last person in the world to find out that ‘paper’ coffee cups aren’t actually recyclable. When I think of all the single use cups I put in the recycling bin at work, feeling like it was ok as it could be recycled. I feel ashamed.
This is an interesting stat from 1MillionWomen.
If you do like a take away coffee, I strongly suggest investing in a cup that fits the size of coffee you like. I say invest as if you make the right purchase in the beginning it will last longer, although it is a bit more expensive it’s probably only the cost of few tall-skinny-decaf-sockamocka-tumeric-mylk-chai-lattes!
I like these cups by Keep Cup .They come in a range of sizes with glass and plastic options that are manufactured using recyclable materials.
They even have replaceable components and are BPA-free and non toxic. That’s nice to know!
4. Take collapsible food containers for street food or picnics
When travelling in S.E. Asia we purchased street food or food from the Thai food markets pretty much every day. I shudder to think of all the containers and plastic bags that went into the trash.
I like this set of collapsible food storage containers and will definitely invest in good quality food-grade collapsible silicone food containers for my next trip.
Great for taking snacks on a long journey too. Probably not a good idea for soup though!
5. Take your own cutlery/chopsticks
I sat down in Vietnam to eat some delicious street food and in the centre of the large communal table was a tall glass filled with cloudy water. In the glass were well-used chopsticks for the patrons to use. There’s recycling and then there’s taking recycling too far in my eyes! I immediately popped to the shop across the road and purchased my own sticks.
I’m not a big fan of sporks, I either cut my mouth on the serrated edge or worry I’m just about to.
I much prefer the look of this set by Joseph Joseph, which looks ideal. It’s compact and made from high quality stainless steel. The design is magnetic too so it stores together neatly in it’s own case and is dishwasher safe.
If you’re able to hold chopsticks better than me (and lets face it, it’s likely that most people can) then this set includes chopsticks. It’s metal too so easy to keep clean and has a neoprene carry pouch which comes in a range of bright colours, so easy to find in the depths of your bag.
If you’re flying with hand luggage only do check guidelines to see that you can bring them onto a flight.
6. Say no to plastic bags
Even if you don’t intend to go shopping, having a bag on you anyway so you’re prepared means you can say no to plastic bags more often.
I have this Osprey Ultralight Stuff Rucksack. It folds down small, is washable (so I don’t care if dirty veggies from the market go directly into it, I can wear it on my back or hold it.
No…it’s not cheap but if you’re going travelling it’s super handy as a lightweight day bag too. It even has space for your water bottle (because of course….you’re taking your own bottle now), a small zip pocket with even smaller internal pocket with velcro closure and a key chain.
It’s a great lightweight versatile bag, but any reusable bad is suitable too.
7. Take your plastic waste home with you to be recycled
If you’re in a country you know doesn’t (or suspect is unlikely to) recycle waste, or has dubious options for dealing with it, then you can always rinse it out and bring it home to be recycled in your home country.
Obviously I’m not talking about dirty waste and tin cans, but I take my empty shampoo bottles and other finished toiletry items back to the UK to be recycled. They weigh virtually nothing and it means I don’t have to witness them tossed in the pit in the ground or think about them piled up on a beach somewhere or polluting the ocean.