For decades, plastic products seemed perfect for travel: lightweight, unbreakable…and disposable. Downside? What downside?
So why is plastic-free travel suddenly a hot topic? Because the the planet is choking to death on plastic. And we travelers are part of the problem.
How did this happen?
Like many new discoveries, the invention of plastic in the early 20th century seemed miraculous. Humans no longer needed to rely solely on materials from nature; plastic was extremely cheap and versatile. World War II made it indispensable. Post-war, Time magazine said, “plastics have been turned to new uses and the adaptability of plastics demonstrated all over again.”
Plastic went hand-in-hand with the prosperity of the 1950s. Think about it: From Tupperware to telephones to toys, plastic was everywhere. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when marine biologists noticed they couldn’t accurately record plankton counts, that plastic pollution was recognized as an eco-problem. (Plankton counts correlate with the health and productivity of the ocean.)
Travelers embraced plastic, too!
When commercial airlines ramped up–again, in the 1950s–passengers had to be able to handle their own luggage. The solution to previous heavy leather? Plastic, of course! It was a logical step to lightweight packing accessories: bottles, organizers, and storage bags. Modern travelers had to schlep luggage across the ever-growing airports without relying on the porters of the train-travel era.
When did things go bad?
Certainly, plastic disposal was not well managed from the get-go. But the rise of bottled water in the late 1980s brought the problem to the forefront. A “technological breakthrough” led to the development of polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET) and the ability to mass-produce bottles to tote water. Shazzam! Suddenly perfectly good tap water became obsolete. Coke and Pepsi spoke…and we listened. “The biggest enemy is tap water,” said a Pepsi VP in 2000. “When we’re done, tap water will be relegated to irrigation and washing dishes,” said Susan D. Wellington of Quaker Oats, the maker of Gatorade.
And there was the non-stop cascade of other plastic products: styrofoam, straws, holiday decorations. Germaphobes demanded individually-wrapped everything: cups, tableware, you-name-it.
The plastic tsunami built up quickly. Plastic “islands” have been in our oceans for over thirty years.
Plastic-free travel: Time to do our bit!
We love our planet. Every single person can help. Especially travelers, because we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the world as much as we do. Let’s pull together, shall we?
- NO MORE BOTTLED WATER! Barring some unknown bacteria or parasite, stop paying for ordinary water in fancy plastic. Period. (For an interesting interview with Elizabeth Royte, author of “Bottlemania,” click here.) I’ve already begged travelers to carry a water bottle, and if you need a suggestion, click here or here.
- NO MORE HOTEL TOILETRIES! Yes, those cute little bottles of shampoo and conditioner are handy. But step away. Bring your own refillable bottles. Or simply carry solid toiletries.
- NO MORE PLASTIC SHOPPING BAGS! Many cities and countries have banned plastic shopping bags, or charge a fee for purchasing one. Think like a local, and bring your own bag, wherever you go. I got mine at Target for $3, over five years ago, but if you need a suggestion, click here.
- NO MORE STRAWS! I’ll spare you the reasons straws are not a good idea, but will double-down on how plastic straws are killing innocent animals, especially in our oceans. Either give them up or bring your own.
Okay, enough of the all-caps. You get the idea. These may seem like little things, but every single bag, bottle, and straw matters. We’ll return to this in the future. But for today, please do your part!
More Plastic-Free Travel Resources: