I rode my motorbike from peak to peak as I rolled in and out of clouds trapped between mountains.
I’ll never get over how fresh the air feels on my lungs while riding along the crest of the Annamite Mountain Range.
These mountains separate Laos and Vietnam.
The greenery of this area is difficult to capture with a lens.
The rainy season pushes the greenery to an almost luminescent level, and each mountain that comes into view seems more green than the last.
That is, until I come around a corner and see it.
It quickly takes the Majesty of the mountains from my mind and replaces it with a stomach turning sense of disgust.
I’m talking about the garbage patches.
Countries like Laos and Vietnam are full of them.
There is little to no means of solid waste management in these countries and so every town ends up with a dumping ground for garbage.
They try to hide it behind a mountain, or under an overpass, but I came across hundreds of garbage piles on my expedition.
These piles sit out in the open and are exposed to the elements.
On a stormy day these garbage patches get blown everywhere, and the plastics especially end up all across the countryside.
I wan’t to appreciate the beauty of the countryside, but it’s difficult to turn a blind eye towards all the trash.
I don’t have to add to the problem
There are a lot of challenges to the trash problem both domestically and internationally.
From my research, tourism is one of the most damaging industries in regards to ecosystems.
With increased tourism comes increased consumption.
Coupled with the fact tourists use more single use plastics while travelling than at home, and the math adds up to disaster.
While I have begun to take even more steps towards a no single use plastics lifestyle at home, I also plan to apply this on the road.
In my experience it would be almost impossible to avoid plastics all together, but we can greatly reduce out use and consumption of plastics in hopes our efforts give these remote locations the capacity to reverse the damage to their ecosystems.
The less damage we do as tourists, the more local municipalities can dig themselves out from this situation.
It’s a collective effort where everyone must play their part.
How I plan to reduce my use of single use plastics while travelling:
#1 I’ll carry a folding tote bag
Packable tote bags like the Matador Tote Bag are a great way to keep a reusable bag handy.
Plastic bags are one of the worst single use plastic elements in the world.
With half a trillion bags being manufactured every year, and few ways to recycle them.
Bags are the poster child for the disaster of single use plastics.
Having my own bag on hand is one of the easiest ways to avoid using them.
A number of businesses make packable tote bags that can fit in your pocket, or the bottom of your backpack.
Next time I’m wandering a street market I’ll pass on the plastic bag and reach for my own instead.
#2 No Carry out or bring my own container
Most restaurants in Asia, even the little street stalls offer reusable bowls and utensils when sitting down to eat, but the second I mention take away, they start reaching for the plastic bags.
While travelling I’m rarely in a rush to be anywhere, so I usually dine in wherever I find a place to eat.
For the occasions when I do opt for carry out, I plan to bring my own collapsible bowl, utensils, and produce bag on hand.
I’m sure it will be awkward at first as I present my own bowl for them to fill, but the awareness it will bring to the stall owners and the other tourists around me will hopefully trigger a trend.
#3 A UV pen and Water bottle
I hated the water bottle I brought with me on my last trip.It was one of those collapsible canteens.
I rarely used it and instead reached for disposable water bottles instead.
Next time I’ll go with something more user friendly.
I could often find filtered water at hotels, hostels, and some restaurants while travelling, but I am looking at getting one of those UV pens for my next trip.
I’ve heard good things and am currently exploring my options there.
#4 Bring my own liquid containers
I was shocked to see how many liquid related items travelers throw out at hostels.
At the end of a trip, travelers will either toss out their leftover sunscreens, lotions, etc., or they will leave them behind in the showers or on their bed.
Backpackers will often buy large containers of liquids when they get to a destination, not realizing how little they actually need.
I already take advantage of this to score some free stuff, but their leftovers are often more than even I need.
If I had some reusable containers, I could split some of that stuff with other users.
I’d squeeze some in my containers and pass on the rest to others.
I’m not delusional.
I don’t believe my efforts will make a dent in this issue, but I don’t have to be a contributor to the problem.
I can only control my own actions and hope that policy changes and education in these destinations and globally lead to more sustainable solutions to this dilemma.