My friends at responsible tour operator Better Places Travel know that life in plastic isn’t fantastic. I share this mindset and am thrilled to announce on World Tourism Day that I have teamed up with them to join their initiative to go plastic waste-free by 2020. Better Places Travel is one of the first travel organization to pledge to completely ban single-use plastic on all of their trips. They’re the first travel brand in the Netherlands to receive B Corp accreditation which certifies their strides towards social and sustainable goals. Will you join us and go plastic waste-free in your travels by 2020?
There’s a growing global awareness of plastic pollution. Discussions of the harms of plastic goods are becoming commonplace and the time to act is now. Better Places Travel’s timing is crucial. Our environment is threatened by global plastic consumption. Over 8 million tons of plastic end up in the sea annually. There’s already about 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating around under the sea. You can see the impact of our waste as 40% of the surface of the ocean is covered in trash, 90% of which is plastics.
The war on plastic is expanding widely and rapidly with countries implementing new laws against the pollutant–most recently Jamaica joined the good fight with legislation to ban single-use plastic bags, straws, and styrofoam.
Better Places Travel isn’t alone in taking the pledge to become plastic-free by 2020. Global Citizen recently launched the #UnplasticthePlanet campaign in order to remove 8 million tons of plastic from the ocean by 2020. Those who are passionate about sustainable travel are on board as well.
Plastic can be a major hardship for tour operators–especially plastic water bottle during long day-trips in places where potable water doesn’t flow freely or epic adventures in nature. Travel is a major contributor to single-use plastic pollution as many travelers use tiny plastic toiletries, multiple plastic water bottles a day, plastic coffee lids, and grocery bags. According to Better Places Travel, an inpidual traveler uses around 30 plastic bottles during a two-week trip.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Trust me, I’ve already eliminated many of these single-use plastic items from my lifestyle. Here’s my confession: I am not a zero waste traveler, yet.
I used to be completely unaware of just how much plastic I was using as I traveled. I would justify buying 2-3 plastic water bottles a day when I was out exploring because I didn’t want to carry a heavy bottle of water around and finding places to refill with potable water were far and few in Madrid, Florence, and India–all places I was living from 2015-2017. This is a sorry excuse and I’m ashamed of my actions in the past. By being more aware of my surroundings and keeping track of the abundance of plastic I used every day it became obvious that I needed to start to find sustainable alternatives for my daily plastic use in order to create a greener world for future generations.
I began to be more conscious of my plastic use after utterly failing at Plastic-Free July in 2017. I went all in and tried to use absolutely no plastic which was nearly impossible in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. I was so overwhelmed by how ubiquitous plastic is in Asia that I basically gave up before I got started. Anyone who has traveled to Asia won’t be shocked to learn that China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, and Bangladesh are some of the top countries contributing the most amount of pollution in the ocean. You may be astonished to learn the United States is 10th on the list. Why? Well, because we trash 2.5 million plastic water bottles an hour. About 30 tons go to landfills and just 2.3 million tons are recycled. Daunting, isn’t it?
I’m thrilled to see that Better Places Travel is urging all of their travelers to be more eco-friendly and stop using single-waste plastic while traveling and providing them the tools to do so with ease. Better Places Travel’s commitment to being a sustainable company is nothing new–they’ve already been giving guests beautifully branded refillable Dopper water bottles on their trips. Now they’re beginning to identify where refill stations of potable water are by collaborating with their local experts. One such program they’ve been supporting is RefillMyBottle, which was a lifesaver for me while traveling in Indonesia as they clearly mark where travelers can refill their bottles for free or a small charge.
Many of Better Places Travel’s hotel collaborators have agreed to implement refill stations after learning about the toxic damages of plastic waste from the tour operator. Traditionally, hotels make additional income by selling small single-use plastic water bottles to their clientele. It couldn’t have been an easy task to convince the accommodations to phase this out and instead offer free-flowing potable water. This is how change is made, one step at a time, from person to person. Other incentives to help travelers cut back on plastic waste include gifting guests with a cloth reusable bag in order to eliminate the need for plastic shopping bags.
In many countries, it’s a challenge to find healthy drinking water. As I’m often in such places Better Places Travel sent me a GRAYL waterbottle to help me minimize my plastic waste. I already have been using eco-friendly reusable water bottles for ages but often found my self in the dilemma of not having access to drinking water to refill or being out on a hike and in need of quenching my thirst. Often I’d end up refilling my water bottle from large plastic coolers which felt counterintuitive although it ultimately was still slightly less harmful than consuming small single-use plastic water bottles. GRAYL swiftly solves all of these problems as it boasts a filter right within the water bottle.
My GRAYL arrived in Laos where it’s absolutely impossible to drink tap water. There’s a fantastic Southeast Asia initiative, Refill not Landfill, recently helped business owners implement refill stations–mostly in Luang Prabang. This made it relatively easy to have access to water while I explored the gorgeous river town. Both properties where I stayed–Luang Prabang View and Lotus Villas, had refill stations as did all of the Ock Pop Tok fair-trade shop and class locations and many other places that I visited.
It wasn’t so easy to go without plastic in the rest of the country. It was the perfect place for me to try out GRAYL. I first used the bottle in the Tham Chang cafe in Vang Vieng, Laos. I figured the cave water couldn’t be that bad for me if I drink it unpurified. I just looked it up though and not all cave water is safe to drink–just so you know.
I was a bit skeptical at first about using the GRAYL filter as I didn’t understand the science behind why or how it worked. I hadn’t watched a video on how to properly use GRAYL. My first attempt was a total fail–just like this lady. Avoid following in my footsteps by making sure you push down the filter without the lid screwed on. Fill, press, drink, and then add the cap back on. Oddly, in many of the videos on GRAYL they appear to be pushing the water down with the cap on, but this doesn’t work. Once you figure it out it’s very easy to use.
The GRAYL has a replaceable purifier cartridge that uses pressure and a filter to remove 99.9999% of pathogens like viruses, bacteria, protozoa, particulates, chemicals, and heavy metals–all things you don’t want to be drinking. They do all this without any chemicals, lengthy process, or energy from batteries. When you press the bottle down properly it takes less than 15-seconds to have a refreshing gulp of safe water.
In Costa Rica, where I’m currently traveling, almost all tap water is potable. Some of the free-flowing water is even naturally alkaline from the tiny country’s 50+ mountains and volcanos. Knowing this I’ve been saving my GRAYL filter uses (recommended to change purifier cartridge after using it on 150 liters of water which is about 300 uses) for treks to waterfalls, open-air yoga sessions with Toby Israel, jungle journeys spotting wildlife like in Manuel Antonio with a local travel guide from Tucanes Tours, and long lazy beach days on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. I haven’t tried to filter out the ocean water, who dares me to give that a go next?
The best part of using the GRAYL isn’t just the easy access to clean water, it’s the conversations it sparks. In both Laos and Costa Rica locals and tourists alike have stopped dead in their tracks to stop me from drinking water from dirty sinks or rivers. It’s given me an opening to discuss with them my reasons for eliminating single-use plastic from my life and let them try out using the GRAYL themselves. I’m a firm believer that tiny moments like these are what can heal our planet. After all, as they say, there is no planet B.
After using it for the last few months I’m fully on board with the sentiment that GRAYL is the holy grail of water filters. I’ve never once felt ill after drinking it’s filtered water. However, LifeStraw or SteriPEN also allow travelers to filter water to make it safe for drinking.
My best advice to avoid getting overwhelmed in the process of becoming plastic waste-free in your travels is to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and decide to tackle one form of single-use plastic at a time. In the last two years, I’ve stopped using plastic water bottles, bags, and straws completely. I’ve reflected on the different methods that have worked for me personally as I’ve traveled around to minimize my plastic consumption. I hope these ideas will help you take your next steps towards consuming less single-use plastics.
The future of tourism depends on travelers becoming more conscious of their impact–including plastic waste.
This article was made possible due to a collaboration with Better Places Travel. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions and photos are my own. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.