Right now, cutting down our waste, and especially cutting down the amount of plastic we waste, is a very important topic. As responsible travellers, it’s something that we need to take into an account when planning a trip to Southeast Asia.
With loads of new information coming out about the environmental impacts of single-use plastic and just how much of it is polluting our oceans, coastlines and ultimately, our planet, there’s never been a better time to start thinking about how to be as plastic free as possible and make our lives more sustainable.
Coming from a country where switching to plastic-free alternatives is relatively well publicised and therefore is becoming more mainstream and much more accessible, we’ve found that travelling throughout Asia, where this generally isn’t the case, has been a bit of an eye-opener.
In many Southeast Asian countries, plastic is by far the main, and sometimes the only, material used for everyday items such as straws, bags and water bottles.
Inevitably, paired with underdeveloped waste management, this means that after being used once, these plastic items end up all over the place!
We’ve especially seen this on the coastline and in the oceans – just about every beach we go on has some sort of plastic debris littering the shoreline.
So we thought, what can we, as travellers, do to try and cut down even a tiny bit of this waste, and ultimately reduce our impact on the environment?
How to Travel Plastic Free! – 8 Plastic Free Travel Essentials
To avoid the need for using plastic items, we carry a few essentials which are plastic-free and take them with us almost everywhere we go! Curious? Well, here’s 8 plastic-free travel essentials that not only help the planet, but also will save you money!
1. Reusable Metal Water Bottle
It’s absolutely crazy how many plastic water bottles we would end up going through if we didn’t own a reusable metal water bottle! Not only are these practical, but they also majorly reduce the amount of plastic waste we leave behind us every single day.
If you are going travelling, having a reusable water bottle is a must. Many hostels or restaurants will have free drinking water on hand for you to just fill up whenever you need, so you’ll be saving money too! The only downside is that these water dispensers may be made of plastic, but at least by using them we reduce the amount of smaller plastic bottles going to waste.
The water bottles we travel with are Chilly’s Bottles, and they also keep the water inside cool for 24 hours (which is lifesaver in Southeast Asian temperatures!) or alternatively, hot for 12 hours. Klean Kanteen have also released a range of plastic-free bottles and plastic-free cups which look amazing!
If you want to go one step further, you can invest in a filtered water bottle, like the fantastic Lifestraw Go Drinking Bottle. These amazing inventions filter bacteria and other germs out of your water meaning that you can drink straight out of the tap without any worries about getting sick! Read more about the best water purifiers for travel here.
2. Bamboo Toothbrush
What’s one of the main plastic items we see washed up on the beach? Toothbrushes. They are everywhere! It’s recommended that a toothbrush is changed every three months, so where does that old one go – straight into landfill, with many making their way to the sea.
So, to stop our toothbrushes ending up littering the oceans, we’ve made the switch to bamboo alternatives. Cheap and, most importantly, biodegradable, these gems will break down completely after they’ve been thrown away – no more sandy toothbrushes brushing up the shoreline!
One slight problem is that it’s sometimes difficult to find bamboo toothbrushes for sale in Asia, so be sure to pack some in your bag before leaving, and when you see them being sold, grab a few and stock up (they don’t weigh much). Also, it might be that in some makes, the bristles are plastic – if this is the case, just snap off the top and pop that in bin before composting the handle – at least it’s reducing some of the waste!Check out this great set of bamboo toothbrushes on Amazon.
3. Reusable Canvas Bag
Unlike in many parts of Europe, where a plastic bag fee has recently been implemented in order to deter people from taking one when doing their shopping, plastic bags in Southeast Asia are still very much in use – to the point where before you’ve realised what’s happened, you’re single item of food (which is probably also wrapped in some form of plastic packaging for no reason at all) has a plastic bag all to itself!
A good way to combat this, besides simply refusing the bag and carrying the items without one, is to travel with your own reusable non-plastic bag and take it along with you to the shop. We’ve got a little canvas one that does that job perfectly!Add your own design to this canvas bag for a unique sustainable travel accessory.
4. Metal or Bamboo Straw
Probably one of the single-use plastic items most widely publicised about (even in many parts of Southeast Asia), the drinking straw is an easier fix than most when switching from plastic to plastic-free. If you need a straw to drink your drink (which sometimes makes an ice filled cup much easier to finish) grab yourself a metal or bamboo straw!
We started out with bamboo, but found that they deteriorated quite quickly after being used a lot, so recently switched to metal straws (they cost us 50 baht/about £1 GBP!). We’ve found it’s a great thing to have with us all the time, because 99.9% of restaurants we’ve eaten at since travelling will automatically pop a plastic straw in your drink without blinking.
Now, we just show them we’ve got the metal straws when ordering and they don’t bring one with our drinks. It seems like it might be a little annoying having to remember to take it everywhere, but you never know, that straw that you just refused could have been the one to get stuck up another turtle’s nose.Choose a bamboo straw here or a metal straw here.
5. Menstrual Cup or Reusable Pads
One for the girls! Menstrual cups and reusable pads are becoming more and more popular as the world becomes more aware of the impacts of plastic waste. Before travelling I invested in a menstrual cup (made from organic materials) and it is honestly one of the best decisions I’ve made! Leading brands include Mooncup and Organicup.
Not only does it make the time of the month ten times easier, but it saves a tonne of money buying products that just get chucked away. Also sanitary products, especially tampons, are not the easiest thing to find whilst travelling in Southeast Asia, so having a menstrual cup is a life saver in that sense as well.
It can take a bit of getting used to, but I highly recommend that ladies out there make this an essential part of your Southeast Asia packing list – or just your life in general! There are loads of brands available, but for a great tutorial on how to use menstrual cups, check the Organicup website. For more information on reusable pads see my fellow blogger Olivia’s post here.
Choose a menstrual cup from the list here.
6. Metal Spork
This is a new one for us (Will’s mum got us sporks for Christmas!), but we are sad that we didn’t have this essential earlier in our travels! If you’re into camping, you probably already have something similar, but if not, buying a spork, or any set of compact reusable cutlery for that matter, will definitely help you out of some sticky situations when travelling in Asia.
Whether that situation is that the cutlery you’ve been provided is gross (happens at times) or that the only option is plastic cutlery – or that you don’t have any cutlery at all (although sometimes it’s fun to take part in the local culture and use your hands to eat!) – having a spork in your bag can’t be a bad thing. Ours is from Wild Peak and does the job nicely!
7. Packaging-Free Shampoo and Soap
Another new one for us (we weren’t organised enough to get this before we left the country!), shampoo and soap bars without packaging are definitely a must if you want to try and reduce your plastic usage and waste.
Until recently, we’ve been buying bottles of shampoo and body wash, the bottle of which just ends up in the bin after it’s done with, and eventually will end up in landfill or, most likely, on a beach somewhere. Not great. So we’ve recently invested in shampoo bars from LUSH which a couple of our friends brought from the UK for us.
You can check out more shampoo bars here.
They smell great, are supposed to last for the same amount of washes as three 250ml bottles (so are good value for money) and they are plastic free! Don’t forget to get a tin to transport it around without it going all over your wash bag, and make sure it’s dry before putting it away (otherwise it goes all sticky).
8. Reusable Cotton Cleanser Pads
Cleansing pads are not a major travel essential, but they are something which is useful to have in your bag: especially for cleaning off make-up, all the grime from the smoggy Asian city air or the build up of dust from a day of driving through the back roads on a motorbike!
At home, I used to use single-use cotton pads which went straight into the rubbish after they were used; such a waste! So for travelling, I purchased some pads which do the exact same job, but can be washed and rewashed over and over again – they even came with a net bag so they don’t get lost in the laundry.
Search for cotton cleanser pads here.
So there you have it, 8 plastic-free essentials that you won’t regret packing in your bags when you take off around the world! As I mentioned earlier, they not only help the planet (even if it’s just a little, that’s better than not at all!), but they also will save you money – especially as many of these products will cost more out in Asia than they do at home!
Further reading on eco-friendly travel: Trashpacking – The Newest Backpacker Trend!