Six further ways to cut your plastic habit

Last year I wrote a post about the steps I’m taking to reduce the plastic footprint I produce on my travels, and at home. It gave suggestions of small, easy-to-take steps to reduce the single-use plastic items I consumed, those everyday things we all encounter; shopping bags and plastic bottles, takeaway drinks cups and eating tools. I hoped that it would spark others to start thinking about their own impact.

Read: Six simple ways to reduce plastic use as you travel

Single-use plastics, and issues associated with disposal and a lack of recycling facilities in many regions of the world, were highlighted in the BBC documentary series Blue Planet II. But as things move on, the immediacy of the need for action is starting to fade from our minds. More than 300 million tonnes of plastic are manufactured every year, generating far more waste than the planet can handle. It’s virtually indestructible, and invariably some end up in rivers, lakes and the ocean.

It causes distress to marine life in many ways: a risk of entanglement; ingestion, filling stomachs without giving nutrition; and tiny fragments accumulate toxins which are pervasive through the food chain. Marine ecosystems face massive threats.

There is no away. Because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible. When you cast it into the ocean, it does not go away.

Sir David Attenborough

This time, I’ve been thinking about the toiletries I use and take with me on my travels, and how I can ensure the choices I make have the minimum impact on the environment.

Read: 10 Must-Watch Films about the Ocean

Toothbrush

While my toothbrush certainly isn’t a single-use item, we still dispose of millions of used plastic brushes every year. Sustainable, compostable alternatives do exist, with handles made from bamboo, the fastest growing plant in the world, and are becoming increasingly available in supermarkets or high-street drugstores here in the UK.

If you’ve got gappy teeth like me, or wear a orthodontic brace, you’ll probably also use tiny interdental brushes as part of your routine, and these are also available with bamboo sticks.

Refillable bottles

My travel style means I rarely stay in the type of hotel that provides those tiny wee bottles of shampoo and shower gel, but I’ll admit I am usually tempted to take them. I’m not a complete eco-saint, and who wouldn’t want to smell like pink peppercorns and grapefruit when the opportunity presents? But the best plastic reduction strategy is to forgo these, and take your own toiletries.

More usually, I’ll take my own refillable travel-size bottles, topped up from bigger bottles at home (which I usually take to my local refill shop to top up from even bigger bottles). It’s still plastic, but plastic that’s used again and again. These refillable pouches from Matador roll-up when empty, saving space in your soap bag.

If I’m travelling with a group, like on the sailing voyages I’ve been part of, we’ll often share a full-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and the rest between us. As well as cutting down on plastics, it saves a bit of money too.

Solid soaps and shampoos

I’ve been experimenting with various solid shampoos and conditioners, and I love a gorgeously-scented bar of soap. It means I don’t have to worry about liquids leaking into my bag. I pack the bars in a Matador dry bag, which allows the bar to dry out and stop getting mushy without allowing moisture to seep out by some kind of witchcraft.

Cotton buds

We all saw that shocking photograph of a seahorse published by National Geographic. Also known as Q-Tips, I see the plastic stalks turn up regularly in beach cleans. They get there after being flushed down the loo and passing into the drainage system, where they block filters and cause an overflow of wastewater, getting accidentally discharged into the sea.

But the good news is that most major brands have now ditched the plastic and returned to paper sticks. Be sure to double-check the composition when you buy, and bin the buds rather than flushing them.

Safety razor

Razors with multiple blades get clogged up with soap and hair, making the blade lose its edge more quickly, thus needing to be replaced more frequently. If you clean and dry the razor after use, it stays sharp and usable for longer, but plastic disposable razors and cartridge razor heads still generate a lot of waste that cannot be recycled. Around 2 billion of these end up in landfill every year.

A traditional safety razor produces a fraction of the waste of a disposable and can be recycled.

I have a traditional style safety razor from Naked Necessities, with a double-edged blade, made of metal with a wooden handle. The only part which needs disposing of regularly is the thin stainless steel blade, which is easily recycled. And though it was initially expensive to make the switch from a razor with changeable heads, it’s something that’s saved me quite a bit of money in the long term.

Find my plastic reduction toiletries packing list here

Tampons, period pants and menstrual cups

Plastic tampon applicators are found on beaches so frequently that surfers coined the name beach whistles for these pervasive plastic presences. I find them washed up on the beach often, and I’m not alone as the Marine Conservation Society estimates up to six items of sanitary waste are found for every hundred metres of shoreline in the UK.

Plastic tampon applicators turn up on our beaches after being flushed.

For a start, tampons, applicators, sanitary towels, and wet wipes are things that should NEVER be flushed. Wrap them, and dispose of them in a bin after use. Look for plastic-free period products, like TOTM or DAME, which use paper applicators and packaging, or reusable applicators. Some brands offer a subscription service so you can stock up on exactly what you need before a trip, especially if you’re going somewhere your usual products might not be available.

Menstrual cups and period pants go one step further. These are reusable silicone cups and washable absorbent pants designed to be used over and over, immediately cutting out the amount of landfill waste created. Though I still use applicator tampons at times (often I find myself in places where it’s difficult to wash the cup for reuse) I’m a fan of both solutions. They’re compact and easily packed for travel, and are also cost-effective alternatives in the long term.

With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you are connected to the sea. No matter where you live.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

Not all of these products are as easy to come by as their cheap, convenient, plastic alternatives, and some might take a bit of forward planning to incorporate into your travel schedule. But with the future health of the oceans at stake, upon which we all depend, it’s high time to make these changes.

Read more on the extent of the problem at Plastic Oceans, and get involved with various initiatives trying to raise awareness and tackle the issues, like Surfers Against Sewage, 2 Minute Beach Clean, and End Period Plastic. Small things done by many people will eventually have a significant cumulative impact.

What do you do to reduce your plastic footprint? Share your advice in the comments below.
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This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through my link, I will make a small commission* at no additional cost to you. These help me to continue to run this site, providing tips and advice, and sharing stories from my adventures. Thank you for supporting me.

*Maybe enough for a coffee.  Not enough for a yacht.

What I’ve been reading this month | Black Lives Matter

Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And that is the only way forward.

Ijeoma Oluo

I’m from a rural area in the northeast of Scotland, and I have spent my career working in conservation, environmental education, and countryside access across the UK, with the occasional diversion into nature tourism and outdoor recreation in the UK and Northern Europe. I write here about my interests in travel, the outdoors, expeditions at sea and on land, and connecting with nature.

I occupy space in this world that is exceedingly white. I do not have to fight for my place in these areas due to the colour of my skin.

While I like to think I am not racist, I’m a beneficiary of the structural racism that winds through our society like bindweed, and that through my silence in not it calling out when I see it, I am complicit. It is vital we, as white people, start to see what has long been evident to Black people, however uncomfortable it may feel in the process; it’s time to grasp the nettle.

To start, we must educate ourselves. By being better informed, we can find a way to see more of the landscape that surrounds us, and be better allies to people of colour. We can start to open outdoor spaces that were once and are still exclusionary, and amplify the voices of those that are underrepresented in our fields.

This is what I’ve been reading this month:

Racism and White Privilege

The long-form article by Reni Eddo-Lodge that forms the basis of her eye-opening book of the same name.

An old Guardian article which probed the slave-owning history of Britain, and the legacy of fortunes made from the labour of enslaved people and the compensation for their emancipation. It ties into a two-part BBC documentary Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, which is still available to view on the iPlayer.

An online portal providing articles and resources to help prompt conversations about racial identity and racism.

An informative blog post by Eulanda and Omo of Hey, Dip Your Toes In! laying out ways in which we can learn from, support, and advocate for the Black people in our lives, and ensure others aren’t excluded from opportunities arising from our white privilege.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou

Travel, Outdoors and Nature

Jini Reddy talks writing which views the world through a different prism, and shares some of the works that influenced her.

An action plan for increasing diversity in the US National Parks system, and wider outdoor industry, working through barriers to access and offering potential solutions.

A powerful piece by ornithologist J. Drew Langhan that explores how living in fear as a consequence of race impacts on freedom and the opportunity to pursue the things one loves.

Through the history of Yosemite National Park, Nneka M. Okona tells how Black presence in the outdoors has been attenuated through intergenerational trauma and cultural baggage.

Anthropologist Beth Collier gives perspective on the relationship Black and Asian people have with the natural spaces and rural settings in the UK.

The outdoors is not a space free from politics. Experienced hiker Amiththan Sebarajah writes eloquently on why viewing the outdoors as an escape from confronting reality is a mindset of privilege.

  • Whiteness in the Outdoors

Environmentalism

In this article Hop Hopkins tackles the legacy of white supremacy that impacts on working to resolve the global environmental crisis.

Leah Thomas introduces intersectional environmentalism and sparks a conversation on the need for anti-racism to be a cornerstone of climate and social justice.

This is just a beginning. I understand that it will not be quick or an easy process, and there will be times where I get it wrong, but it’s time to be idle no more. No lives matter until Black lives matter.

Six simple ways to reduce plastic use as you travel

Plastic. It seems that’s all we’re talking about right now, thanks to eye-opening documentaries like A Plastic Ocean and Blue Planet II. Specifically plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. Single-use plastics. Things that become waste products within minutes, sometimes even seconds after we lay our hands on them.

Plastic isn’t inherently bad. It’s cheap, lightweight, hygienic, versatile, and virtually indestructible. But as a society we’ve become overly dependent on it, manufacturing more than 300 million tonnes a year, and generating far more waste than the planet can handle. Not enough is recycled, landfill is filling up, and invariably some plastic waste ends up in rivers and seas. And it’s virtually indestructible.

We have become addicted to plastic.  We have transformed the nature of the ocean.  Without the ocean, life on Earth could not exist – including us.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

According to recent research, there is now no corner of the earth which is completely free from plastic contamination, from the polar seas to the deep ocean. And the problem is multi-stranded: large, free-floating items pose a risk of entanglement or choking; medium to small items are ingested, filling stomachs without providing nutrition; and tiny fragments of degraded plastic floating in surface water accumulate toxins, poisoning through the food chain. Marine ecosystems face catastrophic damage.

Read: 10 Must-Watch Films about the Oceans

Whilst various governments, NGOs and businesses have recognised the scale of the problem and made commitments to future change, how long til the effects percolate down into our everyday life? I think it falls to us to take our own steps, and force change from bottom up.

Surely we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity – and indeed all life on Earth – now depends on us.

Sir David Attenborough

There are several ways we can reduce our reliance on plastics, especially single-use items, take responsibility for what we consume, and use plastics only when there’s no better alternative. And the good news is that many of these measures are simple and can be incorporated into our everyday lives, at home and on the road.

These are just a few of the tips I’ve picked up from my work in conservation and on my travels, and some of the bits and pieces I’ve invested in to help make it easier to avoid unnecessary single-use plastics. I hope it gives a few practical and affordable solutions you can use on your travels, and at home too.

Carry Canvas Bags

The nations of the UK, along with many other countries in Europe, introduced small levy charges on single-use plastic carrier bags as a prompt to encourage people to think about their reliance on them. A success, the amount of bags distributed has been cut by up to 90% in some countries, and the proportion of plastic waste made up from bags found in marine surveys has dropped significantly.

Other countries, particularly across Africa and South Asia, have gone further and outlawed the use of plastic bags completely. I always have a canvas bag or two in my handbag or daypack while I’m on the move, and I store others in my car and office desk drawer so I always have one handy for shopping. You can pick up canvas bags almost everywhere, and sometimes promotional bags are available for free.

Bring your own bottle

I always carry a refillable water bottle with me, a habit from many years of working outdoors and in remote areas. Using a refillable bottle also has the added benefit of saving you money in the long term. Bottled water is an unnecessary expense in most locations, and more and more places are now providing water fountains or free refills to help tackle plastic use. Just be sure to empty your bottle before going through airport security.

Find My Plastic Reduction Packing List Here

Just say no to straws, spoons, and stirrers

Until recently most of us rarely gave straws a second thought. Then we all saw that footage of the turtle, and realised these small, single-use items sum-up our throw-away relationship with plastic. Cheap and convenient, but rarely essential, most of us can easily do without them.

However straws help some drink independently, make it easy for small children to avoid spills, and make cocktails feel, well, fancy. So if you can’t do without, pick up a pack of paper straws instead, or invest in a reusable bamboo or metal alternative (which usually come with their own cleaning kit), and channel that old fella drinking maté you saw in Buenos Aires.

Take a reusable cup to the coffee shop

Takeaway drink cups are usually lined with polyethylene to stop leaks, and in the UK alone more than 7 million of these “disposable” cups are given out every day. This adds up to an astonishing 2.5 billion a year, and due to the mixed materials in their composition only around 1% are ever recycled. The remainder will end up as litter or in landfill.

Many cafés and coffeehouses, both chains and independent stores, offer a discount for customers bringing their own cups. I keep my reusable cup, by ecoffee, in my car for an occasional takeaway drink, others are available including collapsible cups to pack for travelling.

Read: Six further ways to cut your plastic use

Change your Coffee Culture

Takeaway coffee is not that common in many countries. In the Scandinavian countries, the world’s largest coffee consumers, most people will sit down in a café, with or without friends, and savour their brew in a glass or ceramic cup. Even Italians stop for espresso in a dainty demitasse at the bar rather than grab something to go.

So next time you fancy a coffee, think about taking the time to sit in and savour your drink. It’s one of the nicest and most affordable experiences when you travel, and cuts the need for single-use drinks cups at the source whether you’re home or away.

Take your own eating tools

A spork is a simple, small thing that you can stick in a daypack or handbag to cut out the need for single-use plastic cutlery with your takeaway lunch, street food snack, or budget hotel breakfast. It’s an essential for hiking and camping trips too.

If I’m travelling anywhere for more than a few days, I might also stick a lunchbox, a clip-top tupperware tub, into my bags. It lets me prepare my own lunches, and save leftovers, and cuts down on the amount of waste I create from buying pre-packaged salads, sandwiches, and pasta. To minimise the space it takes up in my bag, I stuff my toiletries inside, reducing the likelihood of liquids leaking into my clothes too.

In winter, I have a food flask I use to take hot meals or soup with me while I’m off exploring the outdoors.

I realise there’s likely to be times where I don’t always follow my own advice, but I hope that I’ve made you question your reliance on plastics, and given you some suggestions that can be easily incorporated into your routine. They’re just small steps, but if more of us make them, and keep raising awareness of the issue, we become part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.

How do you cut out single-use plastics on your travels? Share your tips in the comments below.
Inspired by what you’ve read? Why not pin this post?

This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase through my link, I will make a small commission* at no additional cost to you. These help me to continue to run this site, providing tips and advice, and sharing stories from my adventures. Thank you for supporting me.

*Maybe enough for a coffee.  Not enough for a yacht.

Armchair Travel: 10 Travel Podcasts

A selection of travel-themed podcasts to inspire your next adventures.

This newest edition of Armchair Travel steps away from previous form, to bring you inspiration and escape from the everyday through some of the podcasts I’ve enjoyed.

I love the flexibility that listening to podcasts and audiobooks gives.  Unlike with reading a book, I can get deeply engrossed in a story or conversation as I walk or run, drive my car, or soak in the bath.  (I’m quite obsessive about the condition of my books*, and there’s no way I’d allow anyone, even myself, to risk taking them into the steamy, damp bathroom).  I even listen to podcasts while I’m working as a bosun on a ship, perched aloft in the rigging to serve, seize, and whip.

*Fold corners over?  You’re now on the list of people I don’t lend books to, along with other barbarians like my Dad and my oldest friend Shel.

So here are ten of my favourite podcasts to travel without moving.
Continue reading “Armchair Travel: 10 Travel Podcasts”

In the Garden of Eden: A guide to exploring the Eden Project

A detailed guide to getting the best from the Eden Project experience in Cornwall.

Hidden in an old china clay pit near St Austell in Cornwall are three enormous interlinked geodesic domes, like the secret greenhouse hideaway of a malevolent horticulturist from a Bond film*: the Eden Project. In my opinion, its one of the best visitor attractions in the region, especially for families, and worth including in your Cornwall travel itinerary.

*The huge biomes were actually used for the filming of Die Another Day, doubling for the villain’s diamond mine and ice palace in Iceland.

Describing itself variously as the world’s largest conservatory, an exciting educational playground, and an inspiring environmental resource, the Eden Project is a huge botanical garden, both outdoors and inside, which highlights our human interconnectivity with the natural world. The well considered exhibits explore our place on this earth, and our roles in shaping the future of the planet.

Here’s my guide to exploring the Eden Project.

Continue reading “In the Garden of Eden: A guide to exploring the Eden Project”

Where I’m going in 2018

I know its getting a bit late in the month now, but Happy New Year to one and all!

Now the celebrations are past, first footing is long over, and resolutions may be wobbling, it seems to be a good time to reveal the new look for These Vagabond Shoes, and to share some of my plans and goals for the year.

first_foot_at_compton_small

I known it’s fairly standard fare for bloggers to create a post like this in early January, but I’ve found it’s been really helpful in laying out my thoughts and identifying my priorities for the year ahead. A kind of roadmap for the year ahead, albeit a vague one sketched in pencil. Whether or not I’ll stick to these plans remains to be seen, but hopefully there’s a few of the goals I’ll be able to say I’ve achieved by the end of the year.

Continue reading “Where I’m going in 2018”