Humans produce more garbage than ever. According to a research led by the World Bank our planet generates 3.5 million tons of solid residue a day, ten more times than a century ago. The World Economic Form assures that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
Traveling teaches us to love the world we live in even more, or at least it is how it’s been for me. As we become more and more aware of the challenges we face against pollution, we must take action in every moment and aspect of our lives. I’ve observed that a lot of us have good practices at home, we tend to recycle, avoid single use plastic, use tote bags for shopping, etc., but when we go on a trip all those practices go out the window. So we would like to share some ways to keep it green even on the go, we’ve learned a lot along the way.
1. Say NO to single use plastic
Saying NO sounds easier than it is. In many countries in Latin America, where we’ve been for the past 3 years it’s assumed you want a plastic cup, straw, bag, utensil, you name it. So the trick is to say from the beginning that you don’t want the item, and then repeat it one more time as a friendly reminder. The auto pilot is on when at work, it happens to all of us, so it doesn’t hurt to repeat ourselves. I go out of my way to say why I don’t want the specific item, how it will end up in the ocean and how it’s really not that necessary anyways.
2. Buy locally
We enjoy cooking a lot, ok we travel in a van, but many times we look for Hostels with a kitchen so we can park and use the facilities without having to set all our stuff out. And you can do that as well. Markets are the most interesting places to learn about a culture, so don’t go the super, find the closest local market, it might be a bus ride away but you will find the freshest and most delicious everything.Remember big supermarkets use a lot of packaging so at the markets you can try new flavors, see the real livelihood of a place, bring your own bags, and support the local, small businesses.
3. BYOE - Bring Your Own Everything
Ok this might seem extreme but it’s really not hard, you just have to learn to make new habits and pack these things every morning as you leave your hotel/home. So when I say bring your own everything, I mean: water bottle, bamboo/steel utensils, steel/glass straw, glass/steel to go containers, and shopping bags.
4. Drink responsibly
Sometimes you don’t want to drink water only, I get it, me either. A cold Coca Cola in a glass bottle is the best, note that Coca Cola is made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup south of the border. Let’s be real, anything tastes better out of glass. In most of Latin America you can buy beer and sodas(personal or familiar) in a reusable bottle, at small stores, not at the gas stations or super markets. If you want that good flavor buy your soda, drink it at the store where you chill for 5 minutes and then keep going, no silly plastic bottle in your hands for 30 minutes for your soda to get warm and then end in the garbage. If you feel like drinking some beers don’t buy cans or a six pack that’s disposable, instead go to the corner store, leave a small deposit for the bottles, take them to your hotel or the beach, drink, save them for tomorrow, buy more beers(now you have your bottles for exchange), and when you leave the area, go return the bottles so you can get your deposit back. Good times, no garbage, no loss. It’s really that easy.
5. Keep it clean with SUSTAINABLE Energy
When traveling long term you will inevitably have to do some laundry. Weather permitting we do our laundry by hand and dry it on a line with the help of the sun. There is less use of water like this and no electricity is needed if you don’t use a washer or a dryer. Yes it is a bit more work but for some reason I enjoy doing my laundry by hand, and a little physical work can’t hurt. Depending on how remote we are sometimes we use a river or a water source in the area but we make sure to have non-toxic detergent like Dr. Bronners handy.
6. RETHINK your FEMALE Hygiene Products
This one is specifically for the ladies. The average woman will use between 11,000 and 17,000 tampons in their lifetime, making up over 140kg of waste. Now a days we really have no excuse, there are plenty of alternatives out there for us, the most popular ones are the menstrual cups and the period proof panties, which is my option of choice. So get on board and stop making so much garbage every month!
Have you heard “A man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? It’s totally true. I will use the example of clothing items. In the consumption society we live in we tend to buy more than we need and get bored of it pretty fast, or attached to it for too long. I learned that less is more and in small living areas what we long for the most is space. I have been giving up things, the ones that were too old are now rags, the ones that I didn’t use I gave away.
I started a tradition with my girlfriends back in NY, we would do it once a year. I would send out an invitation for an exchange gathering only for girls a week or so before, we all had to go through our stuff and take out what needed to go, we’d set up at the the apartment with more space and put up mirrors, hangers, baskets and displays to create a one night vintage store. We would drink wine and walk around in our undies trying clothes for hours, it was a blast, and at the end it made me so happy to see some of my loved items go with one of my good friends to have a new life. All what was left was taken to good will the day after. It is a fun way to rotate things that can be reused.
Recycle means to sort your trash, yes, and I hope you are already doing that. But it also means to salvage, to save, to re-purpose. We have seen so many clever ways of taking garbage and making useful, beautiful things, if there is a will there is always a way.
I was born in Peru, and I grew up fixing everything, there was always the seamstress, the shoemaker, the carpenter, the electrician, the metalworker, nothing would ever go to the garbage, anything could be fixed. So during this journey we have fixed many things, I kinda lost track of them, but there are 3 major repairs that are worth mentioning.
- Our camping stove was inherited from Matty’s dad, it was at least 25 years when we got it. We took it with us and it worked fine for the first year till the second burner started failing, we cooked with one burner for a whole year. We were in the mountains of Colombia where randomly the man who sold propane told us he could fix it, and he did it, fast too.
- Our foldable chairs were already used when we got them, they have been to many music festivals with us and they fit perfectly under our bed in the van. Matty could barley sit on his without falling through. Lucky for me Matt is a real handy man, he can fix anything so he started the process by sanding them and painting many coats of anti-rust paint. We found an artisan in Montecristi in Ecuador who weaved new backs and seats on them and voila.
- The board bag that was on top of all the surf boards we carry on the roof of the van was literally disintegrating, but the bottom part was fine and the zipper had been broken for a year plus already. We couldn’t fathom throwing up such a bulky thing just to get another. We found fabric at a small market in Mancora and a man in the Lambayeque that was able to put the whole thing together plus a new zipper. The total cost was $39. The North of Peru was very good to us.
9. Choose your SUNSCREEN wisely
We surf and stay on the coastal route a lot. Because of that, we are exposed to the sun plenty so we are pretty serious about skin care. We choose reef safe, non GMO, cruelty free sunscreen and when we shop, we shop caring for ourselves but also caring for the environment. Our favorite brand is Raw Elements.
10. Organize BEACH CLEAN UPS
If you have found a place you really like and you realize it’s dirty, and you wish it wasn’t, do something about it. It’s very easy to organize a beach clean up, it doesn’t take much time, and it will make you feel great. While we were in Chicama we noticed the great amount of surfers visiting the place, staying for weeks and not doing anything about the litter at the beach. We decided to choose a date, make posters, stop by all the hotels, invite the schools and clean the beach all together. At the end we sat with the kids and talked about the garbage we picked up, where was it coming from and what could we do to stop it from getting to the beach. Taking action and educating we felt we got the ball rolling for locals to do the same, so when we left we knew this initiative will certainly happen again.