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7 Simple ways to reduce plastic use when travelling

7 Simple ways to reduce plastic use when travelling

Whilst I admire those following a zero waste and/or plastic-free life, it is a challenge many of us are unlikely 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. 

Recently I've been thinking about how much waste I’ve discarded in countries throughout my travels.

In India, we often bought street food served in a piece of newspaper or some other type of disposable wrapper - such as a banana leaf - that we just ate with our fingers.

Yummy street food with no need for cutlery or plates!

But slowly and surely there was increased use of plastic cutlery and those horrible orange polystyrene food cartons - which I saw piled up in a lake near a small town one day. 

It was heartbreaking to see that mess building up, polluting the water and killing the ecosystem. 

I’ve vowed to find ways to reduce my plastic footprint when I'm at home and when travelling.

Now, I’m not suggesting you start knitting your own yoghurt and wearing wholemeal sandals, but there are some simple actions that we can all take today to reduce our plastic use. 

These are my simple tips to use less plastic when travelling and how you can reduce trash with these alternatives to single-use plastic products. 

1. Don’t use the hotel's guest toiletries if they are in tiny plastic bottles

Nonot even a tiny bit.  Take your own soap and decant toiletries into long-lasting reusable containers. 

Shampoo & Conditioner Bars are getting much better than they used to be and might be worth a look. 

We always take a soap dish and if we do use the hotel soap we take it with us to continue using.  

Reduce plastic by taking your own soap and toiletries when travelling

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 in a place where drinking water is available from a tap, taking your own reusable water bottle is a perfect solution. 

You can also take empty ones through airport security and refill airside at an airport from a fountain.

As for drinking straws, if you really do love a straw you could take your own stainless steel drinking straw (and cleaner).  

During my travels, I have witnessed drinking straws being reused or played with by a bored worker and then popped in someone's drink, so if THAT doesn’t put you off I don’t know what will.

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. 

Take a reusable bottle when travelling

3. Love takeout coffee? Invest in 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.

Urgh...and don't get me started on coffee shops that serve your coffee in a 'to go' cup when you're having in. Proper cup, please!

Insist on a reusable cup if having coffee in

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 will definitely invest in good quality 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! 

Consider taking your own food container when travelling

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 it 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 took a Spork on our travels to India recently and honestly, it was too unwieldy for me and impossible to even cut a pancake with any sense of decorum. 

I'm going to stick to taking lightweight cutlery that we have at home with me in future or perhaps some bamboo cutlery. 

Take your own cutlery or purchase a bio-degradable bamboo set

6. Say no to single-use plastic bags

Even if you don’t intend to go shopping, take a bag anyway so you can say no to plastic bags if you suddenly find yourself needing to purchase items. 

I have an Ultralight Stuff Rucksack byOsprey.  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. 

I take it on all my travels but any canvas tote is handy as well - I keep one stuffed in my handbag if I'm out and about at home. 

Keep a reusable bag on you at all times so you can easily say no to plastic bags

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 there's less chance of them being tossed in the pit in the ground or piled up on a beach somewhere or polluting the ocean. 

If you can bring your used plastics back with you if there's a chance of better recycling options

I'm not going to say that I do all these things all the time but I feel it's more important to try and make at least one positive change than be overwhelmed trying to do everything and do nothing. 

Before you go you might find these other posts interesting:

Bon voyage!



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Ways to reduce your plastic footprint at home and abroad