India, Responsible Travel
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This World Environment Day, 5 Steps to Reduce Single Use Plastic – On Our Travels and In Everyday Life.

About this post: The theme of World Environment Day 2018 is “Beat Plastic Pollution” – an urgent call to reduce single-use plastic in India and around the world. A good day for us to pledge to use more eco-friendly products in India, including bamboo straws, biodegradable pads, cloth bags, cloth pads and other zero-waste products. In this World Environment Day article, I have tried to create an easy resource of single use plastic alternatives and eco-friendly products in India – that can help each of us reduce our single-use plastic consumption.

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A hard-hitting campaign by National Geographic – Planet or Plastic? Photo: Nat Geo.

The more I travel, the more I realise how much power each individual has to shape the destiny of our beloved planet.

In Kerala, I met a humble auto rickshaw (tuk tuk) driver who has been taking bank loans to plant and nurture native trees, creating green spaces around his village. In Japan, I heard of a visionary local who literally saved the Japanese Macaques (snow monkeys) from extinction, by fighting an order permitting their hunting. In Mumbai, a well-off lawyer decided to personally clean his neighbouring Versova Beach, giving momentum to weekly clean-up drives for two years, resulting in the return of Olive Ridley turtles for their mating season after a 20-year hiatus!

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The humble tuk tuk driver who has taken loans to green his village.

This World Environment Day, as we celebrate such inspiring individuals, it’s also time for each of us to get off our lazy butts and commit to five simple things that can make a difference. Because if we don’t, all we’ll ever encounter on our future travels are mountains and oceans of plastic.

World Environment Day 2018 theme: This year’s World Environment Day theme is “Beat Plastic Pollution” – an effort to reduce single-use plastic waste around the world. And since India is the official host of this year’s World Environment Day, I’ve decided to highlight companies across the country that offer eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic.

What is single-use plastic? Like the name suggests, single-use plastic consists of all plastic products that are only good for one-time use and must be discarded thereafter. Single-use plastic items include plastic shopping bags, plastic straws, plastic cutlery and plastic drinking water / beverage bottles. The plastic used in each of these products is low-grade plastic – not recommended to be reused, often leeches chemicals and hard to recycle. It lands up in dumping grounds around the world, and gradually in our oceans, where it threatens marine life.

Here are 5 simple steps we can follow to cut down our mindless consumption of single-use plastic – on our travels and in everyday life:

STEP 1: Say a firm NO to plastic shopping bags

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The foldable green Quechua bag I always carry.

Consider this: It is estimated that every year, the world uses 500 billion plastic bags! This is no surprise considering we’re offered a plastic bag each time we buy anything – at a fancy mall, at a kirana (neighborhood) store, at the vegetable shop, even when we’re piggy-backing food. Each of us could easily – and unconsciously – be accumulating 5-10 plastic bags in a day.

This habit of asking for, or accepting plastic bags, needs to go. And it’s really simple too: always carry a reusable bag with you. Keep it in your handbag or car at all times – and remember, cloth bags can easily be washed, so it doesn’t really matter if you put veggies in or something spills over.

Alternatives to plastic bags in India:

Cloth Bags: I bought a Small Steps bag,produced by Upasana Design Studio in Auroville, over four years ago, and I’m still using it. It folds up into a tiny pack for convenience, can be washed easily, lasts for years and has allowed me to say no to thousands of plastic bags! The initiative employs village women, so your purchase helps sustain their livelihood too.

Where to buy cloth bags in India: Small Steps || YellowBags

Biodegradable ‘plastic’ bags: If you’re looking for bags that are as handy as plastic bags, consider buying their eco-friendly version – they look like plastic, but are made of vegetable starch and natural extracts, and decompose in 3-4 months. These are easy alternatives for garbage bags, wrapping covers and shopping bags.

Where to buy biodegradable, eco-friendly plastic bags in India: Regeno Bio Bags || Envigreen

Upcycled plastic bags: If you really want to make a statement against plastic shopping bags, consider buying a bag made from upcycling discarded plastic bags – cleaning, shredding and manually weaving them on a handloom. The initiative also creates livelihoods for tribal women in Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

Where to buy upcycled plastic bags in India: Aarohana online shop

Any bag or backpack you own: Chances are, you already own a small bag or backpack to carry your stuff while out of home, or when you travel – made of jute, denim, cloth or fabric. Use those bags to keep your purchases. Every time you say “no” to a plastic shopping bag, you are contributing towards a greener earth.

Also read: Simple Ways I’ve Changed to Travel More Responsibly

STEP 2: Stop buying plastic bottled water and accepting complimentary bottles

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Easy to carry and refill a durable water bottle.

If you’ve travelled anywhere in India, you’ve probably seen how our hill stations and tourist hubs are littered with discarded Bisleri and Aquafina bottles. Picking them up and throwing them into a trash can is not enough – only 2% of these bottles are recycled globally. The rest will take atleast 500 years to decompose. Doesn’t that suck for our earth?

Like every other traveller, I’m guilty of having purchased mineral water bottles in my earliest travel days; what alternative do I have for safe drinking water? I always wondered. Turns out, the alternatives are aplenty, only if we decided to commit to not buying plastic bottles.

Eco-friendly alternatives to plastic bottled water in India:

Durable water bottle + filtered water: I swear by this easy solution, not just in India but around the world, on public transport, even in hotels. It is easy to buy a good-looking, durable, BPA-free water bottle and keep it in your backpack at all times. Over years of travelling, I’ve almost never had trouble refilling my bottle with clean, filtered water – at homestays, guesthouses, hotels, restaurants, cafes or a local’s home – and it’s mostly free! That’s a lot of plastic bottles (and money) saved.

Where to buy a water bottle in India: Any supermarket, sports store or on Amazon

Water bottled fitted with a filter: A safer alternative to a regular water bottle is one fitted with an in-built filter. You can fill water anywhere, in a regular tap or even a waterfall, let the filter work its magic and suck out clean water. Many of my friends swear by the LifeStraw Go bottles – which pack in a powerful 2-stage filtration system to remove 99.99% of waterborne bacteria, parasites and microplastics.

Water bottle fitted with a filter in India: LifeStraw Go ||  Tata Swach 

A portable water filter: For a long time, I used the SteriPEN – a handheld water filter that I could stir around in any water to purify it using ultraviolet technology. It was easy to recharge and convenient to carry, until I lost it somewhere along the way. LifeStraw also offers a travel-friendly water filter, that you can stick into any water and suck pure water from – super convenient for long hikes and camping.

Portable travel-friendly water filters in India: SteriPEN || LifeStraw 

Water purifying tablets: I’ve met many travellers who swear by water purification tablets – drop a pill in and drink up! These are worth getting for a short trip and sensitive tummy.

Water purifying tablets in India: Amazon

Should you accept complimentary plastic bottled water on trains and flights, and in hotels?

My suggestion: No. I know everyone feels like they’ve paid for it and therefore should take it. But take a second to think of the greater cost to the environment. I always make sure I carry my own water on trains and flights, and say no to the complimentary ones I’m offered – I shudder to  imagine just how much plastic bottle waste is generated from a single train or flight journey.

For a long time, I hated hotels because it seemed like there was no alternative to those complimentary bottles of mineral water (since I hadn’t replaced my SteriPEN). But in recent times when I’ve stayed in a hotel – in India or elsewhere – I call in-room dining and ask them to send me a jug of filtered water everyday. It works beautifully – and considering that 10,00,000 plastic bottles are consumed in the world every minute, every little step counts.

Also read: I Love Spiti: How Travellers Must Help Save India’s Surreal Himalayan Desert

STEP 3: Consider if you really need a straw – and if yes, opt for a plastic alternative

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Bamboo straw with my Acai Berry Smoothie at Samsara Cafe in Guatemala <3

Isn’t it crazy how the whole world has taken to straws to suck liquids out of a bottle or glass? This isn’t about cleanliness – considering we already trust that the bottle or glass is clean enough to hold whatever we’re drinking. This isn’t about convenience either – I mean, how much easier is sipping a liquid through a straw than picking up the bottle or glass to drink directly?

It certainly feels pointless when you read how single-use plastic straws are landing up in the ocean and choking turtles and other marine creatures.

On my part, when I order a drink, I try to remember to say I don’t need a straw. And curse myself every time I forget. Luckily many restaurants and cafes around the world have begun offering alternative straws – including steel and bamboo straws. I recently picked up a pair of straws made with recycled paper, you know, for drinking coconut water 😉

Eco-friendly alternatives to plastic straws in India:

Natural bamboo straws: I’ve tried these at some eco-conscious cafes, and I love them for their natural texture when you suck on them. They are washable (with a special brush), reusable and bio-degradable.

Where to buy bamboo straws in India: Bamboo India || Bare Necessities

Stainless steel straws: Another popular alternative to plastic straws are stainless steel straws – washable, durable and reusable.

Where to buy steel straws in India: Steel Straws || Suckin

Paper straws: I feel conflicted about using paper straws – since they tend to disintegrate while you’re still sipping your drink and can only be used once. I haven’t come across recycled paper straws in India yet.

Other natural straws: I just heard that someone in Mexico has come with straws made of avocado seeds! And it was recently reported that “doodly straws“, made of coconut leaves, will hit the Indian market soon.

Also read: Dreaming of Ladakh? It is Upon Us to Conserve This Incredible Place on Earth

STEP 4: Think before you buy: Plastic toothbrushes, sanitary pads and disposable cutlery

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My bamboo toothbrush – a reminder every morning of everything else I need to do.

It’s pretty horrifying to look around and realize how much of what we use in our daily lives is made of non-biodegradable plastic – right from toothbrushes and sanitary pads to pens and disposable take-away containers and cutlery. While it’s not easy to eliminate these and lead a more sustainable, zero-waste lifestyle, we need to start taking little steps towards re-evaluating what we buy.

Eco-friendly lifestyle products in India:

Toothbrushes: Even though we end up using a toothbrush for a few months before discarding it, it certainly adds up over a lifetime – and in the trash ground or ocean where it remains over the long decomposing period. After resisting for a long time, I finally switched to a bamboo toothbrush a couple of month ago – and I couldn’t be happier. Every morning, while brushing my teeth, I inadvertently think of other ways to reduce my plastic footprint.

Where to buy a bamboo toothbrush in India: Bamboo India || Bare Necessities

Sanitary pads / tampons: The dreaded monthly menstruation days can be just a little less dreadful if we switch away from non-biodegradable sanitary pads and tampons (imagine the monthly waste we create!), to more eco-friendly alternatives. Although I haven’t been able to get myself to use the menstrual cup yet (some of my friends love it), I’ve been using the biodegradable HeyDay and Drion pads and swear by them. I also intend to try the period-proof Thinx underwear when I visit the US this time.

Where to buy eco-friendly sanitary pads in India:

Food containers and cutlery: The thing that bothers me most about ordering in food or getting a takeaway is the plastic waste that comes with it – plastic spoons and fork, foil and plastic containers. I always indicate in my order that I don’t need plastic cutlery or a plastic bag, but there is more I hope to do – like buy reusable (collapsible) food containers and biodegradable cutlery.

Where to buy eco-friendly food containers, cutlery and tableware in India: 

Sustainable travel kit: Not sure where to begin? Buy a pre-made Sustainable travel kit on EcoTrunk, featuring a bamboo toothbrush, bamboo straws, natural soap and more.

Also read: How An Entire Village Transformed from Poaching Birds to Protecting Them

STEP 5: Reconsider your choices – where to eat and stay, and who to travel with

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Our travel choices can protect or ruin this beautiful world.

It is upon us, individuals, to convince accommodations, travel companies and restaurants that we care about their choices. That it bothers us when they offer complimentary bottled water or plastic straws. That their commitment to be a no-plastic zone makes us pick them over their competitors. That we are watching them.

How can we do that? Social media, of course. Many of us use Twitter to highlight cafes in India who say no to plastic straws, for instance.

Travel companies and accommodations that take a stand against single-use plastic:

What else can we do? Spread the word:

  • Use the above single-use plastic alternatives in everyday life and while travelling and inspire others to take action too.
  • Chat with the owners of our favorite cafes / restaurants / accommodations to replace plastic straws and packaging with eco-friendly alternatives.
  • Encourage our offices to go single-use plastic free.
  • Gift single use plastic alternatives to friends and family; we can all use a little push sometimes.

Let’s stop thinking of protecting the earth as someone else’s business, and make it our own.

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I Love Spiti – an initiative to create awareness against plastic bottled water in Spiti.

How have you pledged to reduce single-use plastic? What eco-friendly alternatives have you tried – in India or elsewhere? What are your challenges?

Big thank you to everyone who shared ideas for eco-friendly alternatives with me on Instagram and Twitter! Would you like to see more such posts on this blog?

Got interesting ideas around travel and environmental protection? Collaborate with me to initiate a new Passion Project.

*Note: The Amazon products mentioned in this post are affiliate links; if you choose to click through these and buy, I’ll earn a little bit at no extra cost to you. This allows me to spend more time and effort creating meaningful posts.

Connect with me on InstagramFacebookTwitter and Google+ to follow my travel adventures around the world!

28 Comments

  1. K K Maurya says

    Its nice to see that how a travel writer/blogger can help to keep this world beautiful and sustainable….thanks

  2. Excellent post, Shivya. It’s tough to give up plastic completely but small things like carrying your own shopping bags and refusing plastic straws/cutlery is a start. Wish people saw how simple that one act could be. And in offices where meetings are littered with tiny plastic water bottles, this has to stop. Gonna share the hell out of your post. Thank you for all the useful links too. Especially for sanitary napkins. I’ve been looking for those.

  3. Krishnan subrananjan says

    Hi
    I am Subramanian and a member of Rotary club of new bonbay seaside
    We have been running a project say no to plastic for the past six years
    We provide high quality as sturdy jute bags for a nominal donation
    Bags are good for when going for shopping especially groceries veggies
    They can also be good to picked as return gifts and many teachers in schools here are using these bags
    Pl connect if you would like to know more about this
    Tauruskvs@gmail.com

  4. Viks says

    This looks like a genuine post from a person who actually is willing to take responsibility unlike other commercial bloggers who do it for publicity.

  5. Love, love, love this Shivya!
    We were just in Goa a couple of days ago. As we were walking around Aguada Fort, we couldn’t help but felling shitty about how many bottles there were between the fort walls and the ocean. Such a beautiful setting ruined by us, humans. Your tips are very good and you’re doing a great job at raising awareness. Keep it up!!

  6. Thank you for this, Shivya! I’ve done away with many single-use plastics in my daily life; one of the most beneficial swaps I’ve made is bringing reusable bamboo cutlery with me, wrapped in a cloth napkin. It’s very lightweight and doesn’t take up much room in my purse. I can wrap it back up afterwards if I’m not immediately able to clean my fork, although usually a little bit of water does the trick.

    I love your idea about asking for a jug of filtered water at hotels. I’m visiting India this summer for a wedding, and I’ve been stressed about the idea of relying on bottled water. I never use it at home, so the idea of using it while traveling just doesn’t appeal. Do you have any other tips for avoiding bottled water in India? My partner in particular is very nervous about getting sick, so I want to ease his worries while also being a good environmental steward.

  7. Hi Shivya. Thank you for this post. It’s sometimes easy, when travelling, to neglect our usual recycling practices, simply because we’re far from home and in a strange environment, but this article shows that, in actual fact, it’s easy to help everyone and everything on the planet, wherever we are.

    I’ve shared this on my blog and other social media in the hope that others can benefit too.

  8. Great post! Practical tips instead of vague suggestions. I will look up the eco-friendly sanitary pads you’ve mentioned. Want to switch to the cup but it’s gonna take me some more time to get there.

  9. Awesome post, Shivya. I love that you’ve provided real alternatives to plastic instead of just asking people to stop using it. I’m going to purchase a bunch of these alternatives right away so I can diminish my own plastic consumption.

  10. Kamakshi says

    On that path Shivya, I promise to reduce as much as I can through all the alternatives mentioned above. Keep adding more to it as and when you know like you could add to the above list buying loose groceries instead of the prepackaged branded ones (Rice, Pulses, etc) Wonderful post.

  11. Great post. Though we cannot completely eliminate plastic at once, such small steps can make a big difference. Started using reusable straws and bamboo toothbrush already.

  12. Sheethal says

    Nice article Shivya, very useful……I really hope people change their habits and make careful choices in their life.
    But what about the plastics that are used by amazon, flipkart,ebay,…… every other e-commerce company that delivers our needs. There’s so much plastic that goes into packaging that I’m terrified, I make an effort to write to them in the form of feedback to reduce the usage of plastics in packaging and look for alternatives like shredded paper. But I haven’t seen any drastic change in these big companies.
    These are the companies that should hit it off being green and eco friendly as there are millions of people who use their services worldwide.
    It’s high time people wake up to this call and make a CHANGE for the BETTERMENT.
    I would also recommend posting ‘Illuminations’ from Racing Extinction on this Environment Day.
    I really hope we bring a greener future to the younger generations.

  13. Pingback: How to make travel more sustainable | Science News

  14. This is such an amazing post written by the most genuine blogger I know. Thank you Shivya. Yes every small step counts. But most of us are aware of it and do preach it widely than practically doing it ourselves. We get so busy in our daily lives that we are as mindless in using plastic as ever, though I have become quite conscious of this since last few months. However I would confess I haven’t really taken appropriate and serious steps towards this cause. This post has practical information and makes it much easier to go ahead and find alternative to plastic .

  15. The way plastics have entered our lives it’s really difficult to lead a plastic free life… It’s sounds like a campaign which was launched few months back – Boycott “Made in China” products.. It’s impossible to do…

    However collectively we need to find out ways on how we can recycle plastics…I wish we had a small gadgets at home where we would dump all our used plastic items and it would recycle it to produce toys or other items which can be used again…

    • Shivya Nath says

      Haha, oh well, didn’t hear of that boycott. But yes, you’re right, plastic has invaded our lives so deeply that it’s really hard to say no to it all. I think saying no to single-use plastics is a start, then slowly taking it forward with sustainable ways. I hope there will be more recycling innovations soon.

  16. Wonderful post! Even I have realised my mistake of using plastics and I’m trying my best to give up on it. Sowly and gradually I’m sure Ill get rid of it. Good practice is what it takes and this post is inspiring enough to keep me going.

    • Shivya Nath says

      That’s great to hear! I think we’ve all been using things mindlessly, awareness is the first step in changing that. And once we change it for ourselves, we can inspire those around us to do it too.

  17. Pingback: This World Environment Day, 5 Steps to Reduce Single Use Plastic – On Our Travels and In Everyday Life. - Environment Friendly Living

  18. Shikha Singh says

    Really useful post with great ideas. Thank you for giving links where can we buy the alternatives.

    I was looking for plastic ‘garbage bin alternatives’ and came across: ‘https://gogreenbug.com’. Its startup by a couple from Bengaluru. They use ‘Discarded newspapers, Starch glue’ to make these bin bags. I am going to make my first order from them.

    Thank you for this wonderful post..

    • Shivya Nath says

      Thanks for sharing! That sounds like a good solution.

  19. Niki says

    Hi Shivya,
    So glad you are taking the lead. Another option for filtering water bottle is the one from eureka Forbes. I have one and it works fine.
    It also helps to carry snacks/food while on a trip.

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