With plastic bottles, empty chips packets, alcohol bottles, Tetra Pak cartons, disposable cups and plates strewn all over their premises, tourist attractions and heritage sites across the country are often in an abysmal state, and this is something that all of us are familiar with.
The sad fact is that while there are designated bins for waste disposal and specific instructions and signs for the same in these places, even educated tourists exhibit an incredibly irresponsible attitude, which is not just detrimental to the environment but also demotivates state authorities who take great care to maintain so that we have a good experience.
While vacations and trips should definitely be filled with fun and good memories, it is also imperative that people travel responsibly and leave behind only footsteps and not garbage.
Shilpi Sahu, Rinaz Mohammed, and their 10-year-old son, Neil, have set an excellent example for the rest of the country, in this regard.
The couple, who are both Bengaluru-based engineers, recently undertook an 11-day tour to the Northeast, with the resolve to neither using disposable plastics or purchase any along the way.
Living in budget hotels and carrying what they christened a ‘Swachh Bharat’ toolkit comprising a steel cutlery set, the trio travelled to places like Shillong, Cherrapunjee and Tawang. What was interesting about their entire trip was that they insisted on beverages being served in their steel cups even while flying and requested for water refills at hotels and restaurants, instead of water bottles.
“My Swachh Bharat survival kit during vacations/trips: Steel cutlery, fresh fruits and nuts packed from home and replenished at local street vendors. Insist on tea and coffee to be served in the steel cup even in flight. And water refills asked at hotels and restaurants instead of the bottled water. We feel that there is no point in visiting new places without tasting local food and water—we have never fallen sick to stomach viruses despite staying away from bottled water. Also, no point leaving a beautiful place trashed by drinking from single-use plastic bottles,” said Shilpi in a Facebook post.
The efforts of this environmentally conscious family are indeed commendable and quite motivational for us to consider travelling in a similar manner.
Just the way Shilpi, Rinaz and Neil carried their own cutlery and refused to contribute to the mounds of plastic waste in their way, you can also partake in responsible and zero-waste travelling. This is not too hard to practice and only requires one to be willing to make certain lifestyle changes for the sake of the environment.
Here are five simple steps you can take to make your vacations and road trips waste-free and eco-friendly:
1. Carrying your own cutlery
Eateries in tourist locations often end up serving food in disposable plasticware that only end up in landfills and oceans. Also, the aftermath of many family picnics results in disposable plates and cups being thrown randomly along the road or just left behind. What could be a better practice would be carrying your own cutlery like Shilpi did, and you can choose from steel or even biodegradable options! It is a small change on your part but a significant step for the environment.
2. Non-plastic water bottles and coffee mugs
Plastic water bottles create tons of plastic bottle waste every year, and sadly, these are found everywhere—from tourist locations to the street outside your home. As advised by elders and environment crusaders, it doesn’t take much to carry your own water bottle which can be refilled at not just tourist sites but even hotels and restaurants. The paper cups used to serve coffee and tea in roadside stalls and restaurants are not exactly biodegradable either—more often than not these are coated with a layer of plastic or even wax. So, you can also go the extra mile and carry your own coffee mugs for hot beverages.
3. A bag for your trash
Plastic wrappers are the biggest menace and are found anywhere and everywhere. Despite almost every tourist site having multiple garbage bins, most of us are reluctant to use them and dump the plastic wrappers wherever we please, and this is quite worrisome. Not only does throwing waste in bins reduce the workload of the cleaning staff but you are also helping keep the place clean. In case you don’t find any wastebaskets, save these wrappers in a bag and dispose of them when you see a bin while you are travelling. This is a practice that most of us Indians seriously need to inculcate.
4. Soiled diapers and sanitary napkins disposal
Imagine going through a beautiful forest reserve and coming across soiled diapers dumped by families travelling with babies or toddlers, or sanitary napkins, for that matter. Disposing of these items often gets quite tedious while travelling but throwing them out in the open without even wrapping them properly is downright irresponsible and an insult to municipal cleaners.
We are deeply mistaken if we think that we do not have to worry about the waste we leave behind, and this idea has to change. Just like a bag for plastic waste, you can keep aside a bag for used sanitary napkins or diapers and dispose of them when you see a bin or incarcerator.
5. Toiletries and towels
While travelling, most of our concerns revolve around fitting in many, many things in the limited baggage space that we have. Due to this, we prefer carrying shampoo sachets, small soaps and even face wipes, as they are compact and can be easily disposed of.
However, plastic sachets are amongst the topmost items which get left behind as trash and often end up clogging drains and sewers. Instead, we could switch to carrying a mini toiletry bag containing all our favourite essentials, and make small changes wherever possible. For example, face wipes can be replaced by small hand towels. While one can argue that paper is biodegradable and less detrimental to the environment, it still doesn’t solve the waste crisis and the public indifference towards littering.
These may be a few steps of change for one person, but if more people consciously incorporate the zero-waste standpoint in their lives, especially while travelling, it can play a defining role in saving the environment, while also helping tourist locations remain pristine and immaculate.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)