responsible travel reducing waste with plastic free alternatives

Responsible Travel #1: Reducing Waste with Plastic-Free Alternatives

responsible travel reducing waste with plastic free alternatives

No matter our travel style differences — budget, luxury, adventure, shoestring — we travelers all have one thing in common: we love to explore the world! If you are a world lover, shouldn’t you be an Earth lover, too? We can all benefit from reducing our negative impact when we travel by being responsible travelers. 

What is responsible travel?

With terms like ecotourism, voluntourism, ethical travel, green travel, sustainable travel, etc., definitions blur and it’s not as easy to tweeze them apart, but there are differences!

Responsible travelers do research to become socially, culturally, and environmentally aware and act accordingly. They examine their options and make choices to make a positive impact while minimizing negative impact, all to achieve the goal of sustainable travel. Such actions to be a more responsible traveler include:

  • Learning phrases in the local language.
  • Deciding when it is appropriate to take a photo. If you must take one of a person, ask before doing so.
  • Dressing appropriately. For example, covering shoulders and knees when entering Buddhist temples.
  • Choosing accommodations and tours with sustainability programs.
  • Practicing culturally appropriate etiquette and manners.
  • Thoroughly research before booking tours having to do with wildlife. Swimming with dolphins, riding elephants, and taking photos with baby tigers may sound adventurous, but it may be distressful for the animals.
  • Supporting local businesses.
  • If you choose to volunteer, evaluate your skills and think about how much impact you can actually do in the given amount of time you have. Consider if your voluntary work has the potential to take away a job from a local person. One thing I do not recommend is volunteering in orphanages for the short-term. This can do more harm than good. I recommend HelpX or WorkAway to do some work in exchange for accommodation.
  • Travel slowly. Stay longer in one area and try to avoid flights when possible.

The first post in the Responsible Travel series is how to make your global footprints a little greener by reducing waste. A good step in this direction is to switch to plastic-free alternatives. Some places do not have the facilities nor resources to recycle, so the amount of plastic waste can be confronting in places like India and Bali. I deeply regret not having a LifeStraw in India and having to rely on plastic water bottles. Your health is of utmost importance, so do not drink the tap water in India to reduce your plastic usage! Plastic pollution is not just a problem in developing countries, it is problem affecting the entire earth and its inhabitants. These suggestions aren’t just for travelers – anyone can incorporate these substitutes in their daily lives.

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Seeing plastic everywhere is confronting. Everywhere in the world, especially home in America. We don't want to shame anyone; there are other issues people may need to worry about, like health, clean water, human rights, and education, yes. But one passion of ours is the environment and that's where we'll focus now. These issues affect all life–Earth, humans, wildlife–and the way the world works now is unsustainable. . . What can we do as travelers who want to explore the Earth while taking care of it? Flying is the worst offender, so do so as a last resort by traveling slower in one place. Some tips to reduce plastic waste: here in Bali, we fill up our water bottles at refill shops or our guesthouse if available. Ask for no straw or bring your own bamboo/glass/metal straw (saw these for sale in Ubud). Sit down in the cafe to have your coffee instead of taking away. Get a reusable utensils kit – this has come in handy so many times! Never take a plastic bag. These are small ways to reduce plastic waste and to get the conversation started (so many confused looks about "no straw"). We're not perfect but every little bit helps. What tips do you have to reduce plastic waste? . . . . . #bali#traveler#travelgram#sustainability#sustainableliving#igtravel#instatravel#ecoliving#traveltips#travelblog#globetrotter#earth#instapassport#iamatraveler#savetheplanet#intentionalliving#balidaily#climatechange#travelblogger#worldtraveler #globalwarming#seetheworld#sustainabletravel#zerowaste#thebalibible#explorebali#litterati#noplastic#balibible#plasticfree

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It’s pretty easy to reduce plastic consumption with the rule: avoid anything that’s meant for one-time use. There are a number of sustainable substitutes you carry with you to avoid using plastic disposables. Bamboo, glass, paper, and wood are better than plastic because they are compostable or easily recycled, whereas plastic never fully breaks down and when it is recycled, it takes an enormous amount of energy to do so. It is impossible to carry everything when traveling light, so evaluate your habits and decide which alternatives would be the most valuable.

But if you have plastic items now and are still in good condition, don’t throw them away to buy alternatives. Waste is still waste. Might as well use everything you have already. I have been using the same plastic coffee pourover for 7 years and will not throw it away just to buy a fancy stainless steel one.



    • Reusable water bottle. Adam and I both travel with Klean Kanteen stainless steel water bottles. They have been going strong for two years now. I had the sport cap, but recently changed to the regular twist cap because the sport cap started to break apart. I’ve been through a number of bottles from CamelBak to Thermos, but they both broke after heavy usage. We went through great lengths to find clean water to refill instead of buying plastic (possible in most parts of Asia!), but we often didn’t find many options in India. So you might want to invest in a purifier such as the LifeStraw if you’re traveling to countries with questionable water quality. We will be bringing LifeStraw Bottles to Africa. I also heard good things about SteriPEN.

My beat-up bottle is on the right. Decorated a bit with fun tape! It’s been through a lot but still does the job.

  •  A cloth shopping bag – These take up very little space and are useful to carry snacks and other things you purchase at markets. Shops will often give you a plastic bag automatically, but don’t be shy to take the item out and give the plastic bag back with a smile and pointing to your own bag. This helps initiate the conversation and is a step in the right direction of making it the norm to not use plastic bags. Linen and canvas are the most sustainable materials; try to stray away from synthetic if possible. You can easily make shopping bags from old t-shirts!
  • Cloth napkin or tea towel – Useful in so many situations! I love my Shiba tengui towel from Japan.
  • Stainless steel lunch box – Useful if you are getting street food or something to go – ask them to put it in this! Try to avoid plastic, especially when eating hot food, because chemicals can leach into food. I have been searching for various lightweight stainless steel lunch boxes that are leakproof, but haven’t found any besides Klean Kanteen Food Canister. It’s a bit too heavy for me and not big enough. I just bought these stainless steel containers with silicon lids. They are small but will do the trick.
  • Reusable utensils – Useful for eating at festivals, food trucks, street food, and on the airplane. You can buy lightweight ones in a pack or just carry around regular utensils wrapped in your tea towel. I have a thing for little spoons 🙂 
  • A cup for hot beverages – If you like coffee to go, consider purchasing a Keep Cup or something similar. Some cafes will give a discount if you bring your own cup! I personally use a stainless steel vacuum seal cup as well as a stainless steel cup for brewing coffee, which leads me to the next bit!
  • Brewing your own coffee – I’m kind of a coffee addict, so I brew my own coffee while traveling to save money and time. Plus I love finding local beans – they’re great in Vietnam! I have been using the same pourover or 7 years. If I ever lose it, I’ll switch to an Aeropress or French press. Yes, they are plastic, but ceramic and glass aren’t very practical for travelers. These won’t shatter and will last forever. Before buying new, always look for it secondhand!
  • If tea is your hot beverage of choice, opt for loose leaf tea. I love my little chili pepper tea strainer a friend gifted me 10 years ago. 
  • Reusable Straw – Made from steel, glass, or bamboo. I used the bamboo straws for smoothies in Bali. It was difficult to remember to ask for “no straw” at the beginning and often, servers habitually gave us plastic straws anyway, but it’s not the end of the world. 

Bamboo straws in Bali


    • Bamboo Toothbrush – I’ve heard mixed reviews about these because sometimes the bristles are made from plastic and some don’t do a great job. Yet, others rave about them! It’s all about personal preference. I have not tried these yet as I still have a bunch of toothbrushes to use (and reuse), but I will try bamboo when it’s time to replace.
    • Dental Lace – A box of floss can last me several months, so it isn’t a priority for me to use compostable floss, but if you use floss frequently, this might be a good option for you. The container is glass and you can buy refills.
    • Shampoo Bar  – I love the idea of shampoo bars. No liquids so you can take them on a plane easily, lightweight, no plastic, last a long time, but I’ve heard mixed reviews about its effectiveness. Like most beauty products, results depends on your hair type. I haven’t tried these personally, but I hear great reviews about Lush and Ethique Shampoo Bar. Please write a comment if you recommend any (particularly if you happen to be East Asian with straight thick dry black hair!!). Some people swear by the no poo method (no shampoo), but it doesn’t work for me. 
    • Menstrual cup and/or reusable pads. I LOVE my Diva Cup. Haven’t bought tampons in nearly 10 years. There are so many kinds of menstrual cups nowadays. They are sanitary, safer (no risk for toxic shock), produce no waste, and you can keep them in for longer than tampons. It makes that time of the month much more manageable when on an overnight bus ride or long flight. I don’t have recommendations for specific reusable pads; everybody has a different preference. I recommend checking some out on Etsy! They are also easy to make.
    • Safety razor – I’m blessed with being nearly hairless, so I don’t really shave. But zero wasters rave about these safety razors that last forever.

I do not avoid plastic 100%. It is nearly impossible, so don’t beat yourself up if you use plastic. Assess what is most important to you and do what you can. Every little bit counts!

In the next post, I’ll go over ways to reduce other forms of waste, like food and textile waste.

Please share in the comments what efforts you make to reduce the amount of plastic you consume or if you have any new tips/product recommendations!

Disclaimer: There are links in this post that contain affiliate links. So, if you click on it and decide to purchase that item, I will earn a tiny commission (like pennies) at no extra cost to you. These pennies help support the time spent on providing information through this website. I would encourage you to purchase second hand locally whenever possible before buying online. If you do buy online, consider purchasing a bundle from one store so there is less packaging and shipments. Thank you for your support!

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