The one thing I didn’t realise about traveling was how much plastic was involved. As I was living out of a rucksack, it meant that my whole bag had to be waterproof, especially essential items such as my sleeping bag, underwear and toilet rolls. This basically meant wrapping a lot of items in plastic bags and having a plastic liner inside both my hand- and hold- luggage.
I have previously swapped plastic coated toiletries for non-plastic (or containers which can be recycled in store), so this wasn’t an issue for me. However, items specifically for traveling, such as sun-cream, after sun and insect repellent only came in plastic bottles. As I was traveling to remote areas, it was essential that I carry my own first aid equipment, including plasters, tablets, resuscitation shields and gloves, all of which include plastic. There is not way of getting around this.
At the airport I was faced with more challenges that were, unfortunately, unavoidable. Luggage stickers/tags are completed plastic and non-recyclable, although I was pleasantly surprised to find that my boarding ticket was non-plasticised paper allowing me to recycle it after use. Security was also a plastic issue as all liquids had to be placed in a plastic bag, forcing me to acquire one. I was expecting to have to purchase water once through security, although surprisingly there were water fountains allocated throughout the terminal – specifically outside toilet entrances, which allowed me to continue to use my own metal bottle to hydrate myself once through the security gate (where all water has to be disposed of).
My biggest shock came on-board my flight. All the complimentary items were covered in plastic, and many were unnecessary as the flight was a day flight (such as a pillow, blanket, toothbrush, and toothpaste), none of which I used, but all of which would be disposed of after the flight – regardless of use. Even the food during the flight was covered in plastic, every individual items, as well as the water, and cutlery, which seemed excessive and unnecessary.
Luckily, once I got to my destination, all my food during the trip was prepared on site and hence had very little packaging. This was very welcome, and was possibly only due to the type of trip I was on (whereby a cooking team accompanied the group on our tour of the country).
Unfortunately though, as the local water was unsafe to drink, I had to have bottled water every day, increasing my plastic use dramatically. Unfortunately, due to the time-span of the trip, and the amount of people in our group, boiling water was not a viable option as that would mean that there would have to be water boiling continuously throughout every day to even balance the water we would be drinking. The country I was in also had no recycling plan available which meant that all waste was burnt or buried (depending on the specific area), regardless of the type of waste. This made my use of plastic all the more frustrating, knowing that there was no way that the plastic could be recouped. An option that I will definitely look into for the future is UV water purification. This emits UV radiation into a specified amount of water to purify it in a matter of minutes. The only downfall to this would be that it requires batteries and/or charging, which would not have been an issue on this trip as items could be charged during transit between sites.
When I was shopping, however, the experience was, on the whole, plastic-free. My souvenirs were mainly wrapped neatly and safely in layers of used newspaper, without plastic bags or bubble-wrap. I left the items in this wrapping for the journey home and I am pleased to say that they all survived without a scratch (despite my bag suffering damage from heavy-handling). I felt this was a massive improvement on my country where all purchases are wrapped in plastic, then bagged in plastic for transportation. This may be due to the economy where plastic in the country I was visiting was an expense that could not be afforded, compared to my home country where it has become a commodity that businesses are rarely seen without.
So far I have yet to find alternatives to those issues discussed, although while at home, most of these are no longer an issue.