Plastic…the new “terrorists” of tourism as they are calling it. Holiday destinations all over the world are struggling to deal with the volume of plastic waste being spat out by the choking seas every single day. Many hotels now pay staff to actually dig holes in the beach sand where they shovel in the mounds of unsightly plastic. The reality of it is shocking. About 8 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year, most of which will take 200 years to biodegrade. Roughly one million sea birds & 100,000 marine animals die each year from plastic consumption. And to put everything in perspective, there is more micro-plastic in the ocean than there are stars in the Milky Way. The biggest culprits? Cigarette butts, plastic bags, fishing gear, and food and beverage packaging. A surprising amount of slip slops are contributing to plastic pollution too, about 170,000 a year are found floating in the sea!
Tourist spots like the island of Boracay in the Philippines and Maya Bay in Thailand are actually closing to rehabilitate. Indonesia has also declared a “garbage emergency” in parts of Bali and the government in Zanzibar has warned tourists not to bring sing-use plastics to the island. Kenya introduced one of the world’s toughest laws against plastic bags in 2017. Those caught producing, selling or even using plastic bags will risk imprisonment of up to four years or fines of about R500 000! So it’s clear, we cannot bury our plastic, but more importantly, our heads, in the sand anymore. And as responsible travellers, that’s where we step in.
Many of the tourist destinations that we travel to do not have appropriate facilities or systems for recycling, so as visitors we need to act responsibly and show by example. Many people, third and first world, still don’t know much about the words “recycling” and “proper disposal” so educating and showing by example will help massively.
The good news is that there are thousands of companies in the tourism sector that are putting their ideas – and money – towards making a difference to the drastic plastic disaster. Growing awareness, and promises of a plastic-free future from most airlines, cruise liners, hotels and thousands of travel-related companies gives us a glimmer of hope for the future. Alaska Airlines was the first in the US to ban straws on their flights. Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Virgin Australia and United Airlines are among other carriers pledging to phase out single-use plastics too. It’s people like this who deserve a huge medal. And so do you if you help the environment. Just preferably not a medal made from plastic!
SO WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
Here are 8 tips on how to help protect the environment when travelling.
- Don’t take wet wipes on holiday. They never biodegrade.
- Those delicious facial scrubs with micro-beads are actually really bad for the environment. Although now banned in many countries, they have not been eliminated worldwide, so do be aware of them when packing and making toiletry purchases abroad. Those tiny plastic balls, or “micro-beads”, make their way to the seabed and cause havoc to the ecosystem. They are also ingested by fish and eventually enter the human food chain (aka your body).
- Avoid single-use plastic products on holiday, these include plastic cutlery, plastic water bottles (I think we’ll forgive you if that’s all you can find and the tap water in the area is undrinkable), disposable plastic chopsticks, plastic-wrapped items in hotel rooms, including slippers, toiletries, shower caps, plastic toothbrushes and combs.Of course you cannot help it if your hotels soap is wrapped in plastic, but be sure to inform management of this plastic faux paux.
- Check hotel recycling policies before booking. Support green, eco-friendly travel companies.
- Bring stainless steel water bottles on holiday and only drink water from reusable bottles.
- Take reusable cloth bags for when you shop and paper bags for if you order a takeaway. This is a great way to avoid taking on more single-use plastic in the form of packets and plastic containers.
- Pack reusable straws!
- Find out about possible beach clean-ups at your destination, and join in!
- One website of note is “Water at Airports” set up by an individual who was frustrated at having to buy expensive water after going through security, as well as being aware of the vast amount of plastic waste. The website invites people to find info, comment and add experiences – so let’s support it and spread the word.