During our recent visit to Borneo the reality of how I live and travel, in regards to being eco-friendly became abundantly clear. I’ve always thought of myself as being friendly to the planet, focusing on recycling and protecting our planet in any way that I can. But our trip to Borneo made it really hit home how extremely important our action or inaction is. It showed me in person, how our small daily actions add up to huge issues in the world, specifically in the oceans.
Prior to this trip I had no knowledge of zero waste travel or what it meant to be an eco warrior. Ultimately, my biggest take away from our time in Asia relates to being more eco-conscious in travel and at home.
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Eco Warrior in Training
On a picturesque tiny sandbar in the South China Sea near Pulau Tiga my heart broke. Here I was at a place so amazingly beautiful on the surface, but just outside of the camera’s view, the island was littered with plastic trash.
This quick stop in the sea was the start of my real awareness of how the plastic we use in our daily lives really mounts up all the way out here in the middle of the ocean. Granted most of the trash we saw probably had nothing to do with our usage at home in California, but all the years of images I have seen of trash in oceans came crashing into my mind.
This realization hit home further on our last stop in Borneo just outside of Kota Kinabalu. The beach was absolutely dreadful. It was filled with so much trash that even with 3 people cleaning for an hour almost zero difference could be seen. Plastic bags, plastic bottle tops, candy wrappers, you name it and it was there. The hotel said that even with daily cleanups, it just piles up more than they can control.
This just made me so sad to see. Here I was with my 7 year old cleaning up this disgusting beach watching fisherman out in the same waters looking for the next meal. This is not just what we are looking at, it is what we are eating.
Eco-Warrior Set in Motion
As with everything, a confluence of factors need to arise for real action to happen. The next stop on our trip was to Singapore where we stayed with a friend who also used to live in Mumbai. Her husband and kids dub her an eco warrior. She is hardcore. She lives her message more clearly than anyone I have ever met. While it was somewhat daunting, it was inspiring at the same time.
She buys very little if any packaged products. She tries to get all of her and her children’s clothes and toys secondhand. She eats natural, sustainable products. She reduces her one time use plastics to almost zero. She routinely does everything that is listed as the major steps to reducing personal waste.
Being around my friend for a few days helped me see how each one of us can make even small impacts on the road and at home. I can’t go all the way.
I am too accustomed to my convenience life. I like to shop. I like new things. But this experience did help me to realize that so much of what I purchase is just more of the same. It’s made me stop and think ‘Is this something I really need more of? Can I do with the 1, 2 or 3 I already have at home?’ I am a work in progress.
Going out with my friend in Singapore, we noticed she carries her own chopsticks, metal straws, cloth napkins and a reusable takeaway container. It’s all so simple, but so genius.
My son remarked that we would garner stares if we did this in the US and asked if we would be embarrassed. I remarked that we were fine doing it in Singapore, but he somehow thought everyone did it there. Nope, just my friend!
Zero Waste Travel & Living
We are in the midst of a movement gaining speed. For me it started a few weeks before my trip with a friend posting on Facebook all the ways she was working to reduce plastic waste in their lives. It planted a tiny seed in my mind.
Fast forward to our trip to Asia and seeing the damaging effects of plastic waste in real life and witnessing my friend’s eco friendly behavior in action.
Since returning home only several days ago I have read that Starbucks has banned straws, American Airlines has banned straws and plastic stirrers, and I stumbled upon an article about a traveler challenging himself to a 9 day trip of zero waste travel. All of this surrounding my eye opening trip to Borneo has set me in action.
So here we are, on a path to become more eco friendly in our daily choices. Some of these we have done for ages, others are a daily struggle.
Carry a Reusable Bag
I have done this for years because the city I live in does not allow plastic bags and charges for paper. Yes, I’m that cheap that I won’t pay 10 cents for a bag! I have several cloth Trader Joe’s bags for grocery shopping, but my favorite all around easy to carry reusable bag is from Baggu. Love the colors, selection and how small it folds up.
Carry Metal Straws
This is a new behavior for us influenced by our friend in Singapore. I have just ordered our set and can’t wait to get them into use. Make sure you tell shops and restaurants NO straws before they bring them out. Otherwise they will often still throw them out.
Carry Reusable Cutlery
This is another new behavior for us. I always have our plastic spork/knife combo with us for camping, but never thought about taking it with us regularly. Now I will. I have it in the car waiting for our next food outing. If using combo plastic sets isn’t your thing there are some really great metal and/or bamboo sets that also look great.
Use Water Bottles
Using our own water bottles instead of plastic bottles is something we have done for ages now. We LOVE cold water, so our Hydroflask is always in hand filled up with ice cold water. It’s amazing for travel as well because my ice will stay frozen for days! They have kids bottles and all shapes and sizes for grownups as well. Expensive, but worth it.
Bring Take-Away Containers
I would have never thought of this, but seeing my friend in Singapore do it made me realize how great of an idea it is. We were at a pizza restaurant and she knew there would be leftovers so she brought a big Tupperware container with her to load it all up. Genius! This takes a little forethought, but if you go out spontaneously, keep a few Tupperware containers in the car for those spur of the moment outings!
Use Reusable Ziplock Bags
In looking through our home, we realized we use way too many ziplock bags to keep things fresh. In our effort to reduce this, we have ordered these silicon reusable ziplock bags to use on a regular basis.
Limit Products Packaged in Plastic
This is another work in progress for our family. As we have looked around our kitchen we see that some things we just can’t help, for example my son’s favorite oatmeal is packaged in plastic. I will investigate purchasing oatmeal in bulk. I haven’t noticed it before, but I bet it’s possible! One of the most often plastic wrapped foods we use are the individually wrapped foods used for snacks! It’s so convenient, but we are looking at how to reduce these to a minimum! Otherwise, we will begin to look at what we purchase to make sure we are doing everything we can to reduce plastic packaging.
Pack Lunches in Reusable Containers
We have packed all lunches in reusable containers for years, mostly because after year of living in India I became obsessed with using tiffin containers! Our favorite stainless steel containers are To-Go Ware, but there are tons of options available on Amazon.
If you want to join us on this move to reduce single use plastics, check out this great 7 day family challenge we have also started with the Global Guardian Project.
Are there other ways your family has started to reduce plastic waste? Please share your tips with us!
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