A recent spate of news reports, including a Reuters story, showed entire bodies of water in the country completely disguised by overflowing mounds of plastic trash as far as the eye can see. The message of the images is clear: it is incumbent upon us all to be more thoughtful and responsible about our impact on the planet, and that includes when we travel.
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Many people go to great pains to live a sustainable lifestyle while at home, but what about when globetrotting? From the modes of transportation you select, to purchasing carbon offsets for flights and even packing key eco-friendly travel gear, there are numerous ways to lessen your impact when traveling.
Bus Versus Car
Opting to travel via Megabus rather than renting a car or driving your own vehicle is one way to limit your carbon footprint while still fulfilling that wanderlust. Each year, Megabus keeps more than five million cars off the road, thus minimizing carbon emissions. Megabuses operate in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, and emit the least carbon dioxide per mile when compared to other vehicles. They're also seven times more energy and fuel-efficient than single-occupancy automobiles. An added bonus: fares begin for as low as $1, making it the perfect solution for eco-friendly travelers on a budget.
Bring Your Own Straws
The elimination of plastic straws has gained serious momentum in the travel industry in recent years, with hotels, cruise lines and tour operators all announcing they plan to ban these harmful items, which inevitably end up in the ocean and injure marine animals. To help the movement along, or if you're someone who likes to drink with a straw, pack your own stainless steel alternative. Reusable straws are sold on Amazon and in many other places.
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Ditch the Single Use Plastic Water Bottles
By now there's little excuse to still be drinking disposable plastic bottled water, particularly when traveling in a foreign country where recycling programs may not be as commonplace. It is simple and inexpensive to purchase a reusable stainless steel water bottle and bring it along on your trip.
Purchase Carbon Offsets
Another way to reduce the impact of your travels is by purchasing carbon offsets each time you fly. This approach to environmental stewardship is growing in popularity and a variety of websites exist to facilitate such purchases. One of the most well-known is TerraPass. The carbon offsets purchased through TerraPass support emission reduction projects in communities around the United States. Every 1,000 pounds of offsets purchased destroys greenhouse gases equivalent to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, or the burning of 51 gallons of gasoline. Prices start at as little as $4.99 per 1,000 pounds purchased.
Leave the Plastic Bags at Home Too
Items such as plastic bags can take up to 1000 years to decompose in landfills. If you're headed to a foreign country, or even exploring in the United States, pack a linen bag or cotton bag for use during trips to the local market or to tote your souvenirs. The bags don't take up much space in your suitcase and are inexpensive to purchase.
Pack Eco-Friendly Sunscreen
Last year, in a bold and historic move that was applauded by environmental advocates, the governor of Hawaii signed a bill banning sunscreens deemed harmful to coral reefs. Hawaii was the first state in the country to pass such a ban, which takes effect in January 2021 and prohibits the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. Used in more than 3,500 of the most popular sunscreen products, research done by US scientists shows oxybenzone and octinoxate are one of many factors contributing to bleaching of reefs around the globe and are particularly toxic for young coral. To help do your part, be sure to pack sunscreen that is environmentally friendly when traveling.
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Countless restaurants around the globe still provide plastic utensils with food, particularly with take-out orders. Pack a set of biodegradable utensils for your travels and then decline plastic forks and spoons when they're offered to you on the road. Better yet, make a point of politely explaining that you prefer not to use such environmentally harmful plastic materials if they're offered to you. Your actions can help to turn the tide.
Reduce Your Food Waste
Throwing away leftover food is more than a mere waste of food, it also causes a significant negative impact on the climate. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, 30 percent of food is wasted globally across the supply chain, contributing eight percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. As The Washington Post reported, if food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of impact on global warming. Eating out when traveling is a big part of the overall experience, immersing yourself in a culture and its cuisine. But when on the road, few people think to take their leftovers with them. Pack stainless steel food containers and you can make taking leftovers back to your hotel room much easier while also doing the planet a favor.
Change Starts With You
Each of these suggestions are small measures on their own, but cumulatively, they can have an important impact on the planet each time you travel. We all have a role to play in protecting the Earth for future generations and the change starts with you.