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Practicing Plastic-Free

Human hand holding a plastic cup full of water over the ocean

When we travel by plane, plastic cups hold our in-flight ginger ale, thin plastic bags carry our airport purchases, and plastic utensils wrapped in more plastic shovel our layover lunches into our mouths.

By car, plastic water bottles and plastic-encased snacks promise convenience at gas station pitstops, plastic lids and plastic straws hold our drinks, and plastic packaging cradles our meals.

We are raised to see past all the plastic our lives are packaged in, but it’s becoming difficult to ignore the effects of plastic production on our planet.

Pollution permeates the lifespan of plastic. Plastic production adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and plastic disposal increases landfill waste and ocean garbage masses. Plastic’s greenhouse gases create a blanket effect in our atmosphere, heating up the planet. Rising temperatures lead to more frequent forest fires, heat waves, droughts, and hurricanes. Cities and nations find themselves unprepared to cope with these unprecedented changes.

Single-use plastics boast convenience, but they ultimately lead to climate changes that will greatly inconvenience everyone.

If we want to witness the beauty of our planet through travel, we need to be more conscious about the effects we are inadvertently causing. The more frequently we travel, the more single-use plastic we consume and discard—unless we make a conscious effort to be better. In order to be good stewards of the planet, something needs to change.

We can change.

But change can be overwhelming in a world where corporate giants push out plastic products to cheaply meet our immediate needs. We have busy lives, and we can’t reasonably throw our silverware drawer in a carry-on bag to avoid the plastic utensils in the airport. Completely eliminating plastic in our lives would interfere with the level of productivity and ease we all strive for, and yet the amount of plastic we use daily is unsustainable.

Luckily, we don’t have to start eating with our hands when we are away from home, and we don’t have to try balancing our groceries, gifts, and souvenirs awkwardly in our arms to avoid the pervasive plastic bag.

There are things that we can do on an individual level to mitigate our daily plastic consumption. Small changes make a large impact when we add up a lifetime’s worth of swapping out a plastic bag for something more reusable.

Food packed in Stasher bags

To help us minimize our consumption of single-use plastics, various companies are popping up with products to replace plastic without adding inconvenience to our lives. These products offer affordable and easily-packable alternatives to plastic so that we can enjoy traveling the world while doing our part to take care of it.

As a budding environmentalist, I have dabbled quite a bit in the product world of single-use-plastic replacements, and I have fallen in love with several brands because of their durable, trendy, and easily packable designs. As we all do our best to choose reusable options when we can, we will reduce the general plastic waste and remake ourselves into sustainable travelers.

Stasher bags, a colorful alternative to Ziplock bags, come in different shapes and sizes to hold anything from headphones to cookies to soup. They boast versatility as an oven-safe, microwave-safe, freezer-safe, and watertight product. To further improve sustainability, this woman-owned company offers a free recycling service for old or damaged Stasher bags so that they don’t end up in landfills but are instead repurposed.

Compact and lightweight brands like Baggu offer sustainable alternatives to plastic bags. With more durability in their fabric, Baggu eliminates the embarrassing plastic bag split-and-spill scenario we’ve all experienced. Whether you need to carry your lunch foods, beach necessities, or plane essentials, these bags are sturdier than plastic bags and come in various sizes to suit your needs. They offer a plethora of patterns and colors to match the season or your destination, and they can be washed and slipped into a pocket for your next adventure.

Plastic utensils are everywhere when we travel. We pick them up, use them for five minutes, throw them away, and repeat at the next meal. On average, 40,000,000,000 plastic utensils are discarded each year—a number so large that we can’t comprehend its consequences (Habits of Waste). Imagine what would happen if we each carried a reusable utensil set in our bag to replace all those plastic utensils that end up in the garbage. To-Go Ware bamboo utensil sets contain a fork, knife, spoon, and chopsticks, all in a small cloth pouch that can clip onto your bag or slide into a back pocket. These travel utensils are easily washable, and one set can last for years, eliminating countless grab-and-go plastics at the airport or on the road.

Plastic seems convenient, but the cost of this convenience is too high. Our planet is suffocating under the plastic waste we use once and throw away. To become considerate travelers, we have to be conscious of the harm we are doing to the home we all love.

All these products, lightweight and easily packable, offer reusable replacements for the myriad of unsustainable plastic products we encounter while we travel. By making these simple swaps, we can reduce our plastic trail, both by car across the country and by plane around the world.

Brooklyn Hughes