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

8 Activities for Adventurers Staying at Home

A list of indoor activities and things to do around the home for outdoor and adventure lovers.

Though we’re encouraged to think of our current situation with the coronavirus lockdown as being safe while we’re at home, there’s no denying if you’re an outdoor type, you’ll inevitably find yourself feeling stuck at home. Denied that usual dose of adventure, there’s a serious risk of an outbreak of cabin fever.

So, given that there’s unlikely to be an immediate cure to our condition, I’ve compiled a list of activities that can bring the outdoors indoors, and help stave off longing aches for the hills, rivers, forests, and beaches for a while longer. They’ll help you stay mentally resilient, and get you prepared to get back out there when the time comes. They’re fun, and virtually all free, or at least affordable, so give them a go!

If you’ve got any of your own tips to share, let me know in the comments below!

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What I’ve loved this season | Antarctica 2019-2020

A few of my favourite things from the past season.

I’ve just returned from four months in Antarctica, working for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust in the famous Penguin Post Office in Port Lockroy through the southern summer season. It’s been an overwhelming couple of weeks, as I reconnected to the rest of the world and remembered how to do little everyday things that were missing from my life over those 110 days.

Like using money and buying things I want from shops and bars, rather than just asking someone to bring things to me. Driving, and even just moving around at a faster pace. The colour green. Or looking out the window and seeing animals that aren’t penguins. I miss those penguins. (Though the odour of penguin guano is still lingering on in the fabric of my outdoor clothing).

Then there was the added strangeness of adjusting to our new normal in the time of corona. Reuniting with family wasn’t the hugs and long conversations I’d imagined I’d have, but waving through the window of houses as I stood outside in the garden, and staccato notes in what’s app chats and skype calls. It’s tough, but I know that I’m not the worst off in this situation, and for that, I’m so very thankful.

These are a few of the things that I loved over my Antarctic season, living in close confines with a small team, on a little island with no escape. There may even be a couple of things you find useful yourself over the next few weeks as we adjust to living in lockdown.

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Things I’ve loved during the southern summer in Antarctica
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Armchair Travel: 10 Films about the Ocean

I’ve compiled a selection of inspiring ocean-themed films, including Hollywood blockbusters, all-time classic films, and inspiring documentaries. 

This edition of Armchair Travel is returning to the seas for a selection of my favourite films with an oceanic flavour.  Many of these films are documentaries or dramas based on true events, though there are a few tales of thrilling adventure and suspense. 

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How to make a travel repair kit

A travel repair kit has the things you need to deal with whatever the road throws at you.

A repair kit is an essential for extended trips into wild and remote areas.  A good repair kit will help you take the results of everyday wear and tear in your stride, like a small rip in your trousers, and can make you feel more confident handling the unexpected disasters, like a broken backpack or wind-shredded tent.

Carrying a few simple tools and materials will let you carry out necessary repairs in the field, and could make the difference between completing your adventure and turning back early due to gear failure.  Or enjoying your weekend citybreak without stress.

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10 Things to Get Through Winter

A list of little things to help boost my mood and manage seasonal blues.

At this time of year, with the winter solstice just past, and New Year not too far ahead, I usually find myself in a reflective mood, thinking about all the things that have happened through the year, and what might be to come in the year ahead.

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Getting outside in winter has huge benefits for physical and mental health, but can be a real challenge.

I find this time of year quite challenging; living with depression sometimes I’m so lacking in energy and motivation through these months that just getting out of bed feels like swimming through treacle. I’m no fan of the resolutions that January brings, usually involving the denial of alcohol, caffeine and sugar; things that make the dark winter months that bit more enjoyable.

In my opinion, such extreme measures and deprivation are unlikely to do any favours in the long term. I think a more workable way to make lifestyle changes, and to manage the challenges of winter, is to introduce small, enjoyable, things that upgrade my every day, and contribute to success without excluding anything.

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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.
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What I loved this season | Autumn 2018

A round-up of everything I’ve been up to and the things I’ve enjoyed over the last season.
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Making repairs to the mainsail on Blue Clipper  while alongside in Molde, Norway

Where I’ve been:

I’ve just returned to the UK after several weeks at sea on Blue Clipper, crossing from Norway to England, and on to Portugal, followed up by a few weeks of maintenance work based on the Algarve coast.

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Preparing to leave Ålesund, Norway, as dusk falls

Norway is my favourite country and I loved visiting new places on this trip, starting with Bodø, and crossing the Arctic circle as we headed south to Ålesund.  I also revisited familiar ground around Haugesund and Karmøy, when we ended up storm-bound in Skudeneshavn for a week longer than expected.

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Photo Journal: Stormbound in Skudeneshavn, Norway

The name Norway derives from Nordvegen, the north route, a network of sheltered sounds, straits and fjords along the country’s coast providing a shipping route protected from the wild North and Norwegian Seas.  Karmsund, the narrow channel between the mainland and the island of Karmøy, a Viking stronghold, was the final part of the route we’d follow before emerging into the open water of Boknafjorden, north of Stavanger.

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Gamle Skudeneshavn, the old town, on the island of Karmøy, is considered to be one of the best-preserved historic towns in Norway,

We make our approaches to Haugesund shortly before 4am, following a couple of large supply vessels into the port, and picking up the sector lights of the first of the channel markers.  Unlike previous night’s sailing, this was pilotage, picking out lights marking the edge of the channel and counting off the buoys, and in familiar water (I sailed here on Draken Harald Hårfagre in the summer of 2013).

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What to Pack for a Tall Ship Voyage

Tips on how to pack for a once-in-a-lifetime sailing voyage on a traditional sailing ship.

You’ve booked a once-in-a-lifetime voyage on a beautiful sailing ship, and started dreaming about life during the golden age of sail or even rounding the Horn in a force nine.  But as your date of departure cruises closer, what do you actually need to pack?

I’ve sailed on a few tall ships; short voyages around western Europe, island hopping in the Pacific, on long ocean crossing passages, and in the Tall Ships races, so from my experience, here are some recommendations to add to your packing list.

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Crossing the Arctic Circle under sail along the coast of Norway

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