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Crossing land borders in South East Asia has been unusually stressful this trip thanks to the big bag of  white powder I am carrying in my rucksack. No we are not funding our trip by an ill advised foray into drug smuggling but trying to back pack plastic-free. Which means no plastic toothpaste tubes. So we have brought a sack of home-made tooth powder with us. While carrying tightly wrapped packs of dentifrice may be innocent, it sure doesn’t look it. I dread the day I have to explain to some grim-faced custom official. The response I fear  involves rubber gloves.

So why do it?

Well we are visiting wild and remote places, the kind of places you have to walk to. Places with no garbage collection service and your rubbish goes onto the village dump just out of town. A system that has been in place forever and that used to work.plastic pollurion mabul featured

But in the old days of course most trash was biodegradable, animals ate some of  it, the rest would compost down, it was safe to burn and the ashes could be used as fertilizer. The system was not perfect, but people have lived like this for centuries and maintained  sustainable landscapes. The introduction of plastic rubbish has changed everything. Because most plastics  do not biodegrade plastic lasts for a long time  possibly for ever. It cannot be eaten, does not rot or compost down and it is difficult to burn.

You can see some photos of plastic pollution in remote tourist places on our Facebook page Planet Trash 

When it does eventually break up or degrade, it only breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic. It cannot be left in the landscape as before. Basically every bit of plastic rubbish has to be collected up and specially disposed of either by being  buried in landfill, incinerated or recycled.

Whatever your method of plastic disposal, it requires amongst other things a decent infrastructure, some roads, machinery, power, vehicles and a lot of cash. You don’t get that the places we go. So  now the ditches alongside the rice paddies are choked with plastic crisp bags, the beaches littered with plastic water bottles and  plastic bags cover huge swathes of land. Many communities can only deal with their plastic waste by burning it. Evil smelling bonfires of smoldering plastic trash are now as much a part of the backpacker experience as tinkling temple bells. These filthy fires add to air pollution and global warming and worse; certain types of plastic, when burnt release release extremely toxic carcinogens.

Bali rubbish featuredAnimals that forage amongst the rubbish for food will often accidentally eat plastic. Which is a poor diet and sometimes a fatal one. Here are a few facts;

If plastic trash is not dumped, rubbish is often thrown into rivers to be carried off down to the sea.   Encyclopedia Brittanica states, “it has been estimated that 6.4 million tons of debris end up in the world’s oceans every year and that some 60 to 80 percent of that debris, or 3.8 to 5 million tons, is improperly discarded plastic litter “. In our years of travelling we have seen plastic pollution increase massively and we  don’t want to add to that pile of everlasting, carcinogenic, potentially lethal trash. That is why we travel plastic-less.

Here’s how.

 

Top Tips

DON’T Buy bottled water.You may not need to – check out this site that tells you if the water is safe to drink

If it isn’t use a Steripen  to purify  water.   . This fantastic bit of kit works by UV light, weighs next to nothing, is tiny and purifies water in 90 seconds…. if you bought only one thing. Of course you will also  need a refillable water bottle

We shop at local markets and bakeries for unpacked tasty plastic free snacks and we  take our own bags to put them in – including a reusable carrier bag and produce bags. . Because so much street food comes in disposable plastic we take

12 thoughts on “Travel

  1. Thank you. yes India is bad, very bad. So are a lot of other countries. Myanmar is like a rubbish dump. And you want to hope the plastic being burnt was safe to do so. Lot’s isn’t! We as consumers have to say no to this kind of senseless use of plastic. If you have photos you might want to post them on out FB page https://www.facebook.com/planettrash. Thanks for dropping by

  2. Great post! Yes, its heartbreaking seeing the plastic mess that just won’t go away. Walking around India I was convinced we’ve gone too far and won’t be able to fix things. The smell of people burning their plastic waste will never leave my senses. We need to push/promote/support your ideas as much as possible. I would love to see legislation about responsible packaging be introduced. Way too much blasé attitude.

  3. Quite agree with you – lush are not perfect – but better than many.

    I use soap and it works fine and is much cheaper – sometimes I use ecover washing up liquid (SLS free – refillable bottle) which also works really well.

    Thanks for the reccomendation – I will look out for them.

  4. I just wanted to point out that anyone getting a shampoo bar from Lush should be very careful and check the ingredients. Some of the Lush shampoo bars contain sodium lauryl sulfate! (OMGS, why would anyone put that horrid stuff in a shampoo bar?? D: )

    Lush makes a big deal about being handmade, but a lot of their stuff is not very safe. Too many unnecessary additives. Better to look for something that’s really all natural.

    I can recommend shampoo bars from Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve, or Just Soap. If anyone wants to look for those but doesn’t see them at their local Co-Ops or whatnot, they both have websites that people can look for.

  5. sorry the plug adapter can be used in most countries it comes with a whole range of holes but is very neat and small – will try and post a photo in the next couple of days.

  6. I dont speak the languauge just do that english thing or saying what I want very loudly then I wave my tins at them. I am fairly persistant and I think they do it just to get rid of me. We also tend to be in the smaller towns and maybe people there just have more time. The water machines are great – you can find them in Malaysia too but not on Loas or other places. Here the steripen in fantastic. Have you seen our Water refills list – please feel free to add to it. http://plasticisrubbish.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/world-wide-water-refills/.

    Yes the sun tan lotion does work but it washes off more easily if you are dipping inand out of the sea. I am going to make a really oily one next time. It feels much better on my skin than ready made – though I do get excema so making my own is better for me.

    Hope this helps.

    Are you still in Thailand?

  7. I try to buy chargers that work via USB then charge them from my note book ( which does have a cable and plug) or my travel adapter plug (used to charge my note book). I do have a really great travel plug adapter that I bought in Thaialand at the 7 – 11. It works geat in Thailand Malaysia Laos and Japan .. and has a usb charging hub. I charge my phone via usb -I bought a usb adapter. For my camera batteries I have a small plug in wall charger. I choose to do this because I am disorganised otherwise I could charge my camera battery via USB still in the camera. My kindle I charge via usb from the computer or plug. I dont have a personal music system but listen to music on note book. The only batteries I have to charge are for the steripen and for that I do have a charger and spare batteries. There are steripens you can get that charge via usb but not in the UK sadly.

    Theres more coming – I will post this before it crashes

  8. I have some questions about this! First, how do you handle the rechargeable batteries when you’re changing wall sockets, so you need handfuls of adapters? (I got around this by just not bringing anything that needs batteries, but I’m curious how you did it) I had real problems in Thailand trying to get food in markets, as it came prepackaged in plastic bags a lot of the time — restaurants were willing to pack food into tiffin boxes, but street vendors pretended not to understand what I was talking about. Not speaking the language meant it was hard to explain what I wanted, and I often ended up with extra bags — how do you get around language barriers for this sort of thing? Does the homemade sunblock really work? I’m intrigued at this idea. Also in Thailand, many streets have ionized water purifier machines so you can just refill whatever bottle you have for 1 or 2 baht (about half a cent).

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