Plastic is Not Fantastic
It floats through life with a momentary purpose of convenience, preservation or decoration – and then it is forgotten. Gone, disposed of, lost or let free. It’s single-use design carries an unknown life expectancy. Alone, but not lonely, ready to go where the wind takes it next.
Sometimes it pauses to rest in the bushes, or drifts aimlessly out to sea, only to return and lap against a sandy beach. Most of the time, the ignorant and desensitised walk past and don’t even register it exists.Still, there are a growing few that feel a heavy tug on their heart strings when they see it; they find it impossible to go by without picking it up so that the hungry turtles and birds don’t mistake it for nutritious food. They know full well that, even post-digestion, it lives on. Polluting waterways, becoming smaller but not ready to decompose in our lifetime; the devastating result of a product built to last.
We’ve all seen it somewhere. The horrors of plastic over-use amplified by a culture that makes it inconvenient and awkward to refuse, reuse or recycle. Instead, plastic is strewn across our landscapes, never decomposing, drifting, floating, and strangling the natural world.
As consumers, it’s difficult not to contribute to this environmental disaster. Disposable towels, disposable wipes, single-use food pouches, plastic wrappers, even plastic water bottles.You name it, man has created it. Whether buying organic produce (or even bananas) almost everything we use comes wrapped in plastic and it can feel unavoidable.
Most of us have the right intentions and want to change, but our current society makes it difficult to do so.
Deep down however, we can feel it – a movement is changing our culture. People are opening their eyes to the reality of the situation and creating alternate ways of inhabiting planet earth. Momentum is gathering.
Whether you are forging the way, knee-deep in the trenches of waste-free living, or still on the side-lines (curious but not yet convinced), the following two tales offer hope and opportunity. Triumph amidst the tragedy.
Jess takes her family’s zero waste experiment out of the house and across Australia, creating car-camping conversions that will curb your impact.
While Laura, having sailed, cycled and paddled around the world, shares tips on how to reduce your impact when travelling in countries where waste is more in your face.
You will see how a little pre-planning can go a long way to preventing plastic pollution and contribute to cultural change.
“We had been cycling down the main arterial highway that connects North and South Vietnam for almost two weeks. The dust, exhausting car fumes, and muggy humidity were taking their toll. My inner mermaid was dying for a swim, so when I saw a turn off with a symbol that looked something like a beach, I took it. Sure, it would add a 15 kilometre loop to our journey, but right now, it seemed like a great idea. Visions of the aquamarine beaches I had seen littered in the travel guide tantalised my mind. As we made our way down the dusty side road we were met by three curiously amused children who held their hands out for a high five. I took it as a good sign.
The dirt became sandier and my heart beat lightened as the sea breeze cooled my face. We pushed our bikes onwards, past the strange looks and ramshackle houses towards the horizon. As we made it to the sand, I dismounted my bike and began running towards the delightful, refreshingly cool ocean. De-robeing and de-shoeing as I raced.
But then I stopped. And gasped.
Sure it was overcast, so the dazzling azure waters were a strange shade of grey. And yes, the gritty sand did not quite live up to the white, squeaky beach I had dared to imagine. To add to the picture, the local fishing wharf was providing a unique marine-inspired aroma of its own. Fortunately, when I am dying for a swim, the tiniest murky puddle becomes an alluring oasis. Well, most of the time.
As I ran towards this particular paradise, I spotted strange things floating in the water. At first I thought wow: Vietnamese jellyfish come in pink, blue and yellow! Then, as I got closer, I realised, the same realisation that turtles often make too late, it’s not a jellyfish: it’s a plastic bag.
My gasp was quickly followed by another as I attempted to wade through the sea of plastic. For every three metres, there were at least four plastic bags. And it just kept going. On and on, the sea of plastic. Out beyond my limit of sight, plastic, plastic, plastic. I looked back ashore at the unphased fishermen, surely this must clog up their nets and make them feel strange about the environment in which they base their livelihood? My limited Vietnamese and their limited English prevented further investigation. The small village of 30-40 huts lay behind me, a sea of at least three thousand plastic bags lay ahead of me. I just could not comprehend how this could happen.
As I look back through my memories of adventuring throughout the world, it has been my experiences in the lesser developed countries where the reality of rubbish has really stood out. One image springs to mind, of young kids playing in the beautiful waters of the remote atoll Tabeuran in Kiribati. I join in with them, only to discover they are throwing a disposable nappy at each other...Yuk! My mind flashes to a paddling trip through the remote gorges of the upper Amazon in Peru. We stand around the coals of our fire, poking the last embers of our plastic waste and trying not to inhale. We know if we don’t burn it ourselves, the next village we leave it in will.
My mental memory flicks on to when I was watching the sunset in Majuro, Marshall Islands. Out of the corner of my eye I watch helplessly as the high tide laps up and over the breakwall of the dump, dragging a fresh pile of plastic out with each wave.
A lack of rainfall in some areas has meant soft drinks and packaged foods are now cheaper and more accessible than drinking water and fresh vegetables, so the waste production had boomed.”
“Seven years ago, we were walking along the stunning stretch of Cinque Terra’s rugged coastline in Italy. The lush nature trails and clean salty air felt like freedom. We were on a trip of a lifetime, hiking the picturesque cliffs that joined the Cinque Terra’s five famous fishing villages.
But, during our walk, something happened that has stuck with me forever.
A hiker ahead slowed down as they reached around into their backpack and pulled out a plastic bag which looked like it was holding a nappy. I could see them fumbling around with the bag for a few minutes and then they tossed the bag right off the cliff – into the pristine sparkling ocean that we were so captivated by.
I was shocked and instantly felt saddened. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed.”
As travellers, we understand that limited access to refuse services, lack of environmental education, and the abundance of cheap single-use plastics, all exacerbate our environmental problems. But for those who look on in disgust at the situations in other countries and shake their heads like the first-world cares more, the reality is: we are just better at pretending that we do while we hide the truth.
We live in such a convenience driven world and have become really good at throwing stuff ‘away’ but not thinking about the consequence of where ‘away’ is.
For every village of forty houses in our homeland of Australia there is no doubt a much bigger ‘sea’ of plastic waste exists, hiding in our landfill. Stumbling across another example of unmanaged plastic waste polluting a landscape should inspires us to take more steps to refuse letting plastic into our lives – wherever we are in the world.
We know the routines of home help facilitate our waste minimisation, with bulk food orders, fruit and veggie boxes, and easy access to products that support our values. While travelling entails many unknown, there are a few simple things you can take with you, to help keep your travelling experience turtle-friendly. Although the night-before packing extravaganza is hectic at the best of times, if we want to be swimming in water rather than plastic, there is no better time to start making a change than now. So, wherever your feet plan to take you for your next adventure, pack well, so you can do your best to leave only footprints. Footprints with plenty of space on this beautiful earth for others to enjoy in the future. We want our children to be able to travel, explore and enjoy the natural wonders of the world, free of the plastic tainting its natural beauty. We are the generation of change. The generation that can empower and have a positive impact on our environment. Come join us.
Turtle-Friendly travel: Tips for plastic proof packing
Here are some of my top things to travel with to reduce my plastic footprint
A durable, reusable water bottle
The benefit of a some of the more durable designs are, not only will they last your entire journey but often you can fill them up with boiling water. Great if you are travelling in an area where tap water is not drinkable as you can boil it for a few minutes first, thus reducing your need to buy plastic bottled water.
A water filter
You can get a range of travel filters but I really like the mini sized ones as then it never feels like too much to throw it in ‘just in case’. Many come with handy attachable bags/bottles making it easier to fill from streams and waterholes. Great for all outdoor adventures - planned or impromptu. Can also been used to filter tap water in villages.
A water bladder
I have a 10 Litre water bladder, which I find really great to support a travelling duo. I fill it up prior to those long bus rides, or when I am camping, hiking or paddling away from a fixed water source. Some brands also allow you to fill the bag with hot water - great to snuggle with in the snow, and they also makes a comfortable pillow. You can often get a fitting that attaches your water bladder to a filter, so they can be used in combination. They roll up pretty small when empty, and also comes in 4L, 2L and 1L varieties. A cheaper version of this would be a goon sack (wine cask bag), but they cannot hold hot water and are more prone to air bubbles or holes.
Grape seed extract
The only natural water treatment I have found yet, other than traditional charcoal particles. Add ten drops to 1 litre. It has a slightly bitter flavour that I overlook by justifying that it won’t be killing the good bacteria in my stomach (unlike many other chemical drops that do). As I learn more about the links between gut flora and mental health, I think grape-seed extract is definitely worth the investment of about $30 a bottle. It comes in a handy travel size and is available at some pharmacies and most natural health food stores. Good for taking care of the micro-bacteria that some filters won’t get out.
A reusable bag
I really like to bring a roll-top travel backpack. They pack down super small and also double as a comfortable daypack. It allows me to go shopping and not need a plastic bag to carry my goods. Having an alternative bag makes it easier to refuse plastic wherever I am. Especially in countries where the plastic phenomenon is relatively new, there is often a tendency to put one thing in two plastic bags. I am not sure why, but “No plastic” appears to be universal in all languages from my experience - or atleast a well defined head shake and point. So do what you can, even if you come across as a weird foreigner. Little things like getting the weight sticker put directly onto you fruit and vegetables, rather than having them individually placed in a plastic bag, will definitely save a turtle or two!
A reusable mug
Not only is this great for reducing the amount of polystyrene ending up in the water system, it also gives you an avenue to staying hydrated on the go. Drinking herbal tea is a great way to access safe drinking water – just ensure it has boiled for a few minutes. Tea drinking rituals are ingrained in many cultures because of this, so embrace the opportunity on offer when you can. Alternatively, if you are travelling in the tropics, coconut water is the safest form of clean hydration going around – and it should even come in its own compostable packaging (the coconut husk) if its authentic!
Refillable containers or mesh bags
I throw in a few mesh bags and tupperware containers, which often hold clothing until the markets take priority. These are great for filling with nuts, rice, beans, fruit and vegetables or other small loose items that would normally come in a plastic bag. You can often purchase these products loose from small markets (which are a cultural experience in themselves) or from bulk food stores.
Laura is a barefoot ocean-lover and explorer who loves to write about her adventures. When she isn’t travelling or picking up rubbish, she lives in Cabarita Beach, Australia. She teaches outdoor and environmental education, hosts Greening our indust-tree and co-founded Journey Outdoors in Nature, to create adventurous avenues for people to rediscover their natural wellness.
Jess’s Zero Waste Camping Experiment
At the beginning of this year we made a commitment to work towards actively reducing our household waste and living a zero waste life.
Over the last few years, I had become more conscious of our waste but still never took it seriously. I recycled, and occasionally took my own bags to the supermarket, but I wasn’t looking at the bigger picture.
Then, late 2017, after watching the War on Waste television series on the ABC, something clicked. The fire inside of me, that had built up over the years since witnessing the rubbish being ditched over the cliff in Italy, had finally reached boiling point – it suddenly became clear that I needed to change. So my zero waste journey began.
What is zero waste? The definition is essentially not contributing to landfill. We went from an overflowing weekly landfill bin to completely empty in just five months. We now compost all our food scraps, buy less plastic, opt for loose produce, the kids are in cloth nappies, we take our own containers to the butchers, get a local fruit and vegetable box delivered weekly, and DIY our own cleaning and bathroom products.
Recently, we set off on a five-week camping trip from northern Western Australia to Alice Springs for my hubby to do the Finke Desert race. Afterwards, we saw Uluru, Darwin, Kakadu and Broome – using very little plastic and minimising landfill waste. We travel light, taking only the bare essentials: our camper, car, clothes, and the kids.
We took our own water containers and water filter with a universal tap; had a portable fridge full of pre-cooked frozen dinners in reusable bags; breakfast and lunches were prepared from scratch; and had plastic-free snacks ready to go on the ten thousand kilometre journey. We always have our zero waste essentials with us including cutlery, coffee cups, bamboo straws, food containers and smoothie cups. We also kept four separate waste bins for compost, landfill, soft plastics, and recyclables, and disposed of them appropriately at the end of the trip.
Living zero waste takes preparation, especially when going camping, so here are my tips for camping with a little less waste:
Ditch the disposables and opt for durable plastic or stainless-steel reusable plates, cups, cutlery, utensils. Check your local op shop
Replace paper towels with tea towels or cut up some old towels into squares
Invest in a large durable plastic or stainless-steel water container
Buy a universal portable water filter to fill up your water container and reusable water bottles
Take collapsible food containers to save space and hold any leftovers
Meal plan and pre-prepare food at home to portion sizes and freeze in reusable bags
Take your own condiments, rice, pasta, beans etc in recyclable cans and reusable containers
Avoid buying roadhouse food. Pre-prepare car snacks such as mini quiches, homemade yoghurt pouches, bliss balls, and whole fruit like bananas, mandarins, dates, apples and kiwi fruit
Keep your reusable coffee cups in your car for roadhouse stops on those long drives, or pull over and boil the kettle and fill the thermos for the next stop
Avoid buying ice. Use a portable fridge/freezer, or plan ahead by making block ice or frozen water bottles as ice packs
Borrow or buy good quality second-hand camping gear. Buy only what you absolutely need
Invest in a canvas bin and ditch the plastic bin bags
Separate your waste into landfill, compost, recycling and soft plastics (REDcycle) and dispose of appropriately. Compost can be dropped at community gardens
Pick up five pieces of rubbish each day and leave your campsite cleaner than you found it.
Zero waste isn’t about being perfect – it’s about doing what you can and making better choices. If we all just do one thing each day to live a more sustainable life, that one simple change will have a huge, positive, and long-term impact on our beautiful mother earth. Don’t wait. Be the change you want to see and start reducing your landfill waste today!
Zero waste winter camp breakfast (great for the whole family)
Porridge mix (pre-make prior to trip and store in air-tight container)
4 cups oats
2 cups pitted dates
½ cup chia seeds
Blend for 5 seconds
Add 1 more cup oats, stir through
½ tin coconut milk
½ cup filtered water
1 peeled chopped apple
1 cup porridge mix
Add more water if thickens to quick
Cook apple in milk and water first
Once softened add porridge mix
Use other half of coconut milk in smoothie
Buy oats, dates and chia seeds from bulk store
Rinse, dry and recycle tin
During the summer, prepare the porridge mix and coconut milk in a container before bed and pop in the fridge!
Zero waste smoothie
All pre-chopped and frozen at home
1 tsp greens powder
Handful loose spinach
½ tin coconut milk
Top with filtered water
Blend and enjoy
Jess is a passionate zero waste enthusiast and Naturopath who loves to motivate and inspire others to tread a little lighter and greener. Jess lives in the far North of Western Australia with her husband and two small children; exploring, camping and adventuring while being mindful of her environmental impact. Follow Jess’ journey to zero waste on her Facebook page Jessica Louise Wellbeing or E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Story by: Laura Stampa and Jessica Brosnan