Plastic waste travelling

Average reading time: 7 minutes

We were horrified seeing the footage of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II where the albatrosses were ingesting plastic, or the sea turtle with the straw up its nostril. But it’s not just these cases: all animals that are living in and off the ocean are being endangered by pollution daily. Scientists even believe the oceans will be filled with more plastic than fish in 2050 – a shocking prediction.

But here’s the good news: we can all make a difference. By making (small) adjustments to our lifestyle and daily patterns, we can seriously impact the amount of waste that ends up in our oceans. That’s why we put together this guide that will help you re-evaluate and change your waste consumption while travelling. Firstly, we’ll dive into some key facts about plastic pollution to give you a clear idea of what’s currently going on*. Then we’ll hand you useful and practical tips & tricks on how to ban plastic waste while travelling. One plastic bottle, plastic bag or plastic straw at a time!

Plastic pollution
Plastic pollution

Key facts about plastic pollution

  • Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center estimate that there’s 150 million tons of plastic in our oceans, which is the same weight as the Burj Khalifa times 300;
  • The weight of plastic in our oceans increases with 12,7 million tons every year, which comes down to one full truck every minute;
  • One third of the waste consists of microplastics, which are not larger than one millimeter;
  • Coca Cola produces 120 billion kilograms of plastic bottles every year, which is enough to go around the earth with seven times (if you put them one after the other);
  • In 2015, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that around 90% of all seabirds have plastics in their stomach;
  • In the United Kingdom, less than half of the 13 billion kilograms of plastic that is used every year is being recycled.

Now let’s get into the tips & tricks on how to minimize your plastic waste while travelling! All mentioned brands and products are linked so you can find them easily.

Tips & tricks on how to minimize waste in your toiletry bag

From liquid to solid
Think about your body wash, shampoo, conditioner and creams: chances are they’re all liquids wrapped up in plastic bottles. It can be difficult to find stores that refill these bottles, which is why they’re almost always thrown in the bin after they’re empty. That’s why we suggest ditching your liquid products and switching to solid ones. Lush is a company that ethically produces body wash, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants and creams in solid form. They offer tin cans to store your cosmetics in. Lush has stores all over Europe, the Middle-East, Asia, Australia and New-Zealand. 

Minimizing plastic waste

Plastic-free cosmetics
The actual cosmetics you’re using can contain tiny pieces of plastic (hardly visible to the naked eye) as well. These are called microbeads and are intentionally added to your product because they have the specific function to scrub and exfoliate. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to filter out these microbeads, which is why they end up in our oceans. If you want to find cosmetics that don’t contain microbeads, you can visit the website of Beat The Microbead. You can also check your bottles yourself by keeping an eye out for polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or nylon. These are the ingredients you should avoid!

Plastic-free shaving
Banning (single-use) plastic razors can be done by shaving the old-fashioned way. Invest in a traditional metal safety razor, shaving brush and shaving soap. Some brands, such as Kairn, specialize in plastic-free shaving. If you’re interested in waxing instead of shaving, MOOM can help you out with their plastic-free strips and organic wash.

Plastic-free oral care
Toothpaste is most commonly sold in plastic packaging, but there are some brands, such as Truthpaste and Georganics, selling it in glass jars. You can also consider making your own batch of toothpaste before you start travelling with this recipe from Going Zero Waste. Besides, you can switch to a bamboo toothbrush. These toothbrushes have around the same lifespan as the plastic ones, but are compostable at the end of their life. Still, it’s good to mention that the bristles are mostly not compostable. Only toothbrushes with pig hair are, but those aren’t suitable for vegans. The toothbrushes from Brush with Bamboo are made from 62% castor bean oil which is the most plant-based bristle on the market. 

Minimizing plastic waste

Plastic-free cleansing products
Regular cotton swaps all contain plastic, so you can consider investing in bamboo cotton swaps. The same goes for single-use cotton pads, which can be replaced by washable, organic pads. Check out Sin Plástico for some good cleansing alternatives.

Plastic-free sun protection
Sunscreen is extremely important when travelling to warm, sunny destinations. But we don’t want that sunscreen to damage the oceans and its marine life (which the chemicals in regular sunscreens usually do). Some brands, such as BeeYouEmpireSquid and Savonnerie des Diligences offer plastic-free and in most cases also palmoil-free, vegan, organic and ethically sourced sunscreen for you to take along your travels.

TIP: Looking for a sustainable packing list for your next backpacking trip? Check out our packing list here!

For the ladies: plastic-free menstrual products
Even tampons and sanitary towels contain plastic. Considering women use around twelve to sixteen thousand tampons in their live, you can imagine how much this contributes to the plastic issue. The European Commission even found that menstrual products are the fifth most common product found on Europe’s beaches. There are some options, though, to make sure your menstruation period is plastic-free or even entirely waste-free. Companies like Natracare and Tampon Tribe produce compostable menstrual products. You can also invest in an Organicup: this is a vegan reusable cup which will last years instead of hours.

Tips & tricks on how to minimize the waste with your textiles

It came as a shock when we found out our clothing also contains plastic. We learned one third of all plastic waste comes from microplastics in clothing. The University of California in Santa Barbara even found a single fleece jacket contains up to 250.000 microplastics. These plastics escape our wastewater treatment plants and eventually end up in the ocean. 

You can avoid contributing to this problem by simply buying less clothing. Clothes generally last quite some time if you treat them carefully and repair holes or other broken parts. Besides, if you do buy new clothing, try to avoid synthetic fabrics. Instead go for cotton (vegan), silk or wool, or buy secondhand clothing. If you’re looking for outdoor clothing, Fjällraven and Patagonia are some of the most sustainable options.

Other ways to prevent the microplastics from getting to the ocean is by washing your clothes with colder water and with a fuller washing machine. In this way, less microplastics will come off. You can also try a GuppyFriend washing bag, which prevents microplastics from leaving the bag.

Minimizing plastic waste
Minimizing plastic waste

Tips & tricks on how to minimize plastic waste on the go

Last but not least: how to minimize your plastic waste when you’re on the go. This might be one of the easiest aspects where you can make a difference. All you need is a few reusable items to do the trick.

The first thing is investing in a Life Straw water bottle. This bottle has its own internal filter and purifying system. Therefore, you can fill your water bottle up with contaminated water, which will be filtered and cleaned so it’s instantly safe to drink. You won’t ever need to buy a plastic bottle again after investing in a Life Straw. 

Minimizing plastic waste
Minimizing plastic waste

Also invest in a strong canvas bag or small backpack which you can take with you when you’re making a daytrip. The advantage of a canvas bag is that it doesn’t take up too much space in your regular luggage and is therefore easy to bring along. 

Minimizing plastic waste

Furthermore, you can avoid plastic packaging by bringing your own beeswrap. This is a natural alternative to plastic packaging. If you do use plastic packaging from stores, check to see if it has a recycling logo. If it doesn’t, the packaging won’t end up in a good place and you can better not buy it. 

Finally, go to your local camping shop and get yourself a Spork (a spoon and a fork in one) and maybe some bamboo or steel straws. When you’re getting a meal or a drink to go, there won’t be any need for single-use cutlery or straws!

We sincerely hope this guide to helps you to start minimizing and eventually banning the plastic waste you produce when travelling. Maybe you even take the tips & tricks back home and slowly shift to a completely plastic-free lifestyle.

If you have any questions regarding banning plastic waste while travelling, please drop a comment in the comment section below!

*The information in this article is based on the insights in the book How to give up plastic: a guide to changing the world, one plastic bottle at a time by Will McCallum, the Head of Oceans at Greenpeace UK. If you’re interested in further reading, you can order this book here

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