It’s the little things that matter.
Sometimes really little things. Like straws.
I’m sad to say that travel and tourism are not, by their nature, particularly environmentally-friendly. There’s the carbon emissions from flying, the water usage from washing hotel sheets and towels, the litter from so many tourists traipsing around the world.
The good news is that travelers and the travel industry have been making efforts in recent years to meaningfully reduce travel’s ecological footprint. Now you can buy carbon offsets for your flights, hotels have been reducing their water and electricity usage, and more destinations have been implementing policies to reduce the impact of over-tourism. Things are looking up.
But there is at least one lingering, troubling environmental concern in tourism: plastic. So. Much. Plastic. It turns up everywhere, on airplanes (plastic coffee stirrers!), on cruise ships (plastic straws! plastic water bottles!), in hotels (plastic shampoo bottles! plastic cups individually wrapped in plastic! gaaa!). All this disposable plastic is having a devastating effect on the environment.
Fortunately, more and more cities, states and countries are taking action on our plastic addiction/infestation. Various bans on plastic bags, straws, and utensils have been adopted around the United States and the world. Costa Rica has plans to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2021; Taiwan has given itself until 2030, but plastic straws will disappear from chain restaurants in 2019. Britain has announced a ban on all single-use plastics that may take effect as soon as next year; the Queen has already eliminated plastic straws and bottles from the royal estates.
The travel industry is catching on, as well. Cruise lines, airlines and hotel chains are starting to phase out disposable plastics, replacing them with reusable, compostable or recyclable materials. In some cases, you’ll only get a straw now if you ask for it; and when you do, you may get a paper or edible variety. The P&O and Cunard cruise ships will eliminate all plastics by 2022; later this month, Alaska Airlines will swap out all of their plastic stirrers and citrus picks with birch ones. Marriott recently replaced toiletry bottles with shower dispensers at 1,500 hotels.
You can do your part, too. If you’re ambitious, you can spend the rest of the month honoring Plastic Free July, but you don’t have to go cold-turkey; baby steps are still steps. I always travel with a refillable water bottle and a cloth shopping bag. You can forego a straw in your drink or buy a reusable glass straw that you can carry with you (check out the pretty ones from SimplyStraws!). Even one less straw in the trash is a win for the Earth.
Considering how much we love exploring the Earth, it’s the least we can do.