Our impact as travelers begins before we set foot in a destination, and well after we have left it.
Zero Waste Ways in Travel + Impacts of Plastic Pollution
When travelers think of Responsible Travel or “Sustainable Tourism”, we try to look for experiences, operators or accommodations that have sustainable practices, support local communities, conserve environments, protect wildlife, etc. One of the visible issues every tourism stakeholder (whether traveler, tour operator, accommodation or destination) can relate to is plastic waste.
In the Philippines, destinations such as Masungi Georeserve provides guests with refillable water stations vs. having disposable plastic water bottles for sale. In the mixed-use Lio Tourism Estate in El Nido, Palawan, restaurant owners are prohibited from using plastic straws, plastic bags, take-away packaging and utensils.
In Danjugan Island, coastal cleanups are done regularly and integrated into their camps to make attendees aware of the impact of plastic waste pollution (among other rubbish). Their regular site for coastal cleanups is a mangrove-dense area, where roots catch waste brought in by the waves and tides from all over.
On a recent visit to the island, we (just 4 people for about 30 minutes) conducted a cleanup and were surprised to find a whopping 790 pieces of trash, including all sorts of plastic (plastic bags/food wrappers, hard plastic pieces, bottles, straws, lighters, diapers, etc.), styrofoam pieces and other bits!
Relevant read: The Cost of Convenience vs. Zero Waste Living
Responsible Travel = Sustainable Living
Evidently, even a place that upholds environmental principles such as Danjugan is not invulnerable to the impact of plastic pollution. Though we call different bodies of water different names, all of the Earth’s water moves around our one singular planet.
At least 8 million tons of the 300 million tons of new plastic produced each year (half of which are for single use) find their way into our oceans. That’s the equivalent of one dump truck’s worth garbage into the ocean every minute. 
The trash or toxins we create wherever we are, whether at the workplace (browsing for your next travel destination over your lunch break), or at home (remembering trip highlights as you unpack your bags, souvenirs, clean up and do chores), all wind up in sea, back to these places we claim we love.
It made me rethink, how much of this trash did we really need to create? What items could we reuse/recycle more so that we don’t need to throw them away? How can we make them last longer?
So in my mind, the desire to be a responsible traveler is not merely a goal to travel responsibly, but to live more responsibly as well. One way is by finding more ways to significantly reduce our plastic footprint by:
- Buying products that don’t come in plastic packaging
- Choosing to reuse or refill containers whenever possible
- Switching to more plastic-free alternatives like bamboo toothbrushes, metal straws, beeswax wrap, etc.
- Encouraging friends, family, business owners (restos and cafes you go to, hotels you visit, etc.) and government to actively support plastic reduction
These are not things we should only think of in the context of a weekend getaway, but in our everyday lifestyle habits.
So, more than asking how we can create a waste-free travel experience, the question should really be how can we create a waste-free life?
Want to learn more, share ideas, buy package-free, and meet other advocates of a Zero Waste life? Join us for a MUNI Meetup on Zero Waste Ways at Home & in Travel on September 30, 2017.
We’re also creating MUNI Travels, an exclusive, mindful travel experience through Negros Occidental in 2018. Majority of the trip will be spent on Danjugan Island, but also includes opportunities to connect you with other like-minded changemakers into social entrepreneurship, agriculture, tourism and so on. We’re still working on final details and registration, but in the meantime, sign up for your interest here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jen Horn is community engagement consultant, responsible travel & consumption advocate, and founder of MUNI. She enjoys being in, on, under, or near the water, eating veggies, witty remarks and sarcasm,and learning about link between psychology and pro-environmental behavior. She works to strengthen the Force and use jedi mind tricks to help the world triumph over apathy, single-use plastic, among other things we don’t need in the world. Follow her at @nomadmanager.