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Last Updated on 08/05/2021

It’s now more important than ever to reduce our single-use plastic consumption as it has become a scourge on the environment. The reality of it hit me when during a trip to Croatia I wandered down towards a secluded beach. 

It seemed pristine at first glance; a haven of perfection until the illusion was shattered by the floating balloon of a plastic bag brushing up against the rocks. 

This was a beach in Croatia but even in the most untouched corners of the world plastic has become an ugly resident. 

The reason? 

Because there’s just too much of it and it won’t go away any time soon. A whopping 50% of everyday plastic is single-use only. Once thrown out it ends up in landfills, in the environment and eventually converges in our waterways. 

Great islands of plastic float on the surface of the water. It gets into the bodies of mammals and seabirds. Even humans have been tested positive for BPA (a chemical found in plastic). 

Plastic in the ocean has also become a serious problem. With plastic outnumbering marine life six to one in some parts of the ocean and industries producing more than we can get rid of it’s time to make a stand before the earth becomes a plastic-coated wasteland. 

Luckily, when it comes to your packing list, travelling doesn’t have to adhere to the single-use plastic trend. In fact, packing smart with an awareness of your habits and activities abroad can help you reduce single-use plastic and even save you money on your trip. 

Here are eight easy ways to reduce single-use plastic while travelling:

1. Bamboo cutlery kit 

reduce single-use plastic

A bamboo cutlery kit is a useful investment if you’re going to a country which is known for its street food or if you know you’ll be indulging in a takeaway here and there. 

This simple addition to your packing list will save you from using and throwing away plastic forks every time you eat when you’re out and about. The bamboo is smooth so you won’t feel like you’re eating your dinner with splintery lollipop sticks. Better still, bamboo is sustainable and easy to recycle. 

Of course, if you’re the type of traveller who prefers to cook all your meals at home then bamboo cutlery might be a bit excessive. Otherwise, they’re a perfect way to reduce single-use plastic while visiting food markets, enjoying takeaways or picnics. 

Buy a bamboo cutlery set here

Want to get more plastic-free packing inspiration? Check out these ethical gift ideas for sustainable travellers.

2. Canvas or cotton tote bag

canvas bag with cedar branches

Plastic bags are one of the biggest offenders of single-use plastic pollution with an estimated one million of them being used every minute worldwide. Instead, why not pack a cotton or canvas tote bag to stash shoes or laundry? 

If you need something a little sturdier and you’re in the mood for a bit of DIY then you can easily waterproof a canvas bag with wax. 

If not, you can buy bags made out of strong synthetic fibre. These ones do contain plastic but many of them are either recycled or recyclable and they last a lifetime. 

These bags come in handy if you’re doing a food shop abroad and they’re guaranteed to help you reduce your plastic use.

Buy a canvas tote bag here

3. Bamboo toothbrush and case set

reduce single-use plastic

We all need toothbrushes. They are without a doubt a travel essential. In fairness, we do tend to use a single toothbrush more than once but once they’ve served their purpose billions of tonnes of them end up in landfills and oceans every year. 

Oral health is important but should the environment be compromised? We no longer have to make a choice when we now have FCA-certified bamboo handled toothbrushes. They still aren’t 100% biodegradable as the bristles are made of nylon. But despite this imperfection, it’s certainly progress for the world of oral hygiene.

 You can even buy a bamboo case to protect your toothbrush when travelling. Lightweight and naturally bacterial, they’re a step up from those grubby plastic alternatives.

Buy a bamboo toothbrush here

If you want to know more about sustainable travel, find out what it all means in this handy guide.

4. Metal straws

reduce single-use plastic


Single-use plastic straws are enormous ocean pollutants and they also have the unfortunate habit of blowing off landfill sites into the surrounding wildlife. They get stuck in the noses of turtles and wound around the intestines of birds. 

Many establishments have kicked plastic straws to the curb, favouring their paper cousins instead. I’ve even heard of one bar using long pasta tubes as straws.

If you happen to like straws and you’re keen to adopt a minimal waste lifestyle while you’re travelling, a metal straw makes for an ideal alternative. They’re nifty, reusable, and don’t take up much space in your bag. 

Metal straws are a classy way to reduce your single-use plastic at home and abroad. You can get metal straws that come with a bag and cleaners like these ones here. 

5. Silicone takeaway coffee cup lid

reusable coffee cup

Photo credit: Amazon

A soothing cup of tea or coffee is great for long journeys but the waste from takeaway beverages is a serious problem. Don’t be fooled by the cup’s cardboard ruse, it’s often mixed with a binding agent which is not easy to separate or recycle. 

Carrying your own reusable coffee cup and lid is a great way to cut down on waste. But if you find the cup a bit bulky and impractical or you’re not really that fussed about a hot cuppa every day then a reusable silicone coffee cup lid is a handy solution. 

Packing a reusable coffee cup is an important step in reducing plastic use. With governments calling a ban on unrecyclable takeaway coffee cups, it won’t be long before a biodegradable alternative is mainstream.

Buy a reusable takeaway coffee cup here

6. Reusable water bottle

reusable water bottle

A reusable water bottle is essential if you want to reduce your single-use plastic waste while travelling. It can also help save you money. Granted, it’s not a lot but every precious penny saved can go towards something more meaningful in your trip. 

The biggest concern about reusable water bottles is whether the water is safe to drink or not. Water is potable in places like Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Canada but if you’re unsure then invest in a bottle with a water purifier or purifying tablets. 

This water purifier bottle may have a heft price tag but it eliminates waterborne pathogens and makes the water safe to drink on all 7 continents. 

According to Plastic Pollution, eight million metric tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans each year. To put that into perspective, the charity says that it’s the equivalent of five shopping bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world. If you want to reduce plastic waste when you travel then swap single-use plastic water bottles for a reusable one. 

Discover more sustainable travel tips in these eight easy steps.

7. Solid toiletries

reduce single-use plastic

Ditch those tiny travel-sized bottles of toiletries and opt instead for solid toiletries. They’re more economical and ecological simply because they last longer and some of them don’t even contain packaging. 

You can get a solid version for most of your toiletry essentials, including toothpaste and cleansers (I’ve mentioned a few of my favourite solid toiletries here). 

It takes a little while to find a solid shampoo and conditioner that works for you if you haven’t made the swap before. Make sure you give yourself and your hair time to adjust before your trip so you don’t get paranoid about those dreaded bad hair days. 

Once you’ve compiled a good quality selection of solid toiletries you’re on your way to having a single-use plastic-free packing list!

Check out ethique’s range of solid beauty bars for men and women 

8. Stainless steel safety razor

steel safety razor

Disposable plastic razors are a big part of the daily routine for some people but the problem is they’re incredibly wasteful because you can’t generally recycle them. In order to reduce plastic pollution when you travel you can swap plastic razors for stainless steel safety versions. 

On top of being more environmentally friendly, stainless steel safety razors are more economical as a single blade can last for years. They’re also better for people with sensitive skin because they’re less likely to cause irritation. 

You do have to be a little careful of baggage restrictions when packing your safety razor. Most airlines will only let you take them in your checked baggage as you can’t take them into the plane cabin. 

If you do prefer to only pack a carry-on when you travel these disposable razors by Preserve are made with recycled plastic and you can send the handles back to the company for them to recycle properly. 

Buy a stainless steel safety razor here

Plastic Pollution: Final Thoughts

You might not think that you’re making much of a dent in the single-use plastic consumption but if we all made changes to our packing lists and indeed how we value the environment, it’s a step towards halting the tide of pollution. Let’s put an end to unrecyclable single-use plastic once and for all. 

Do you have any ways to reduce single-use plastic while travelling? Comment below!


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