Sustainability is a concept that has enjoyed much limelight ever since the beginning of the worldwide travel boom. It’s not just about being able to sustain travel as a lifestyle; it entails a much bigger undertaking of ensuring environmental sustainability for the generations to come.
With the surge in travelers, the first to suffer is the surroundings. The huge influx of people would inevitably result to an increase in human waste; from the travelers themselves to the businesses operating within tourist destinations that go all-out in ensuring the utmost comfort of guests. Striving to keep balance between traveling and environmental sustainability is a challenge that may seem simple but is actually complicated.
For example, a hotel is an environmental disruption no matter how eco-friendly it claims its operations to be. The fact that it is in existence is already a burden to the environment from the very moment of its construction because it produces many kinds of waste and expends energy.
The tourism sector is an important industry that contributes hugely to national coffers. Tourism brings livelihood to host communities. In fact, the World Tourism Organization states that sustainable tourism takes into account not only the environmental impact of tourism but the social and economic aspects as well. Personally, I would provide the biggest weight to environmental impact because if the environment suffers, both social and economic components of tourism will naturally be affected negatively.
In the Philippines, it’s utterly depressing to see beaches, mountains, and riversides littered with plastic. When we went to Boracay late last year, I was able to fish out plastic potato chip wrappers, shampoo sachets, and discarded nylon ropes from the beach. I wish discipline could be taught but, alas, that is not the case. I just hope that responsible travel will soon become a buzzword among many Filipinos and travelers, in general.
Some say that the most environmentally sound solution would be not to travel at all. But as we all know, that is impossible. The best solution would be to adapt a travel lifestyle that is geared towards environmental sustainability. It does not have to be a complicated routine; as with all other endeavors, it’s OK if you start small. In fact, that’s the best way to do it. As you go along the way, you can learn, adjust, and start adapting other best practices related to environmental sustainability.
Here are five ways to start you off your journey in responsible traveling:
1. Bring reusable bottles or water container when you travel
You do not need any special product to be able to do this. There are countless water bottle brands available in the market today. Some are made of durable plastic but if you would like to decrease your plastic usage, you may opt for a metal or glass container. If you want to keep your drinks hot or cold for an extended period of time, then a thermal insulated water bottle is the best solution for you. By doing this, you could reduce your consumption of bottled water and, consequently, also lessen your expenses.
2. Use canvass bags for keeping your used clothes
There was a time when buying plastic bags (either garbage bags or grocery bags) was part of our pre-travel checklist so that we would have something to put our used clothes in. However, we found that it was more practical, not to mention more environmentally sound, to bring canvass bags that we can re-use. As an option, you can also bring your old paper bags.
3. Switch to eco-friendly sunscreen or rash guard
This is something that I have just discovered recently. I never realized that the sunscreens that we used to slather liberally on our skin to protect ourselves from sunburn contained chemicals that were harmful to corals. Specifically, avoid sunscreen brands that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, among other harmful chemicals that are detrimental to marine ecosystem.
4. Ensure environmental sustainability by investing in re-usable cups and straws
This is something that I have just discovered lately; collapsible spill proof silicone cups and metal straws. These are both plastic-free and durable, perfect for daily use or for taking with you on your adventures. A zero-waste advocacy organization called EcoHeroes sells these items and can be ordered directly from their Facebook page.
5. Make eco-friendly toothbrush a part of your travel kit
Oral health practitioners recommend replacing toothbrushes every three months so imagine the sheer amount of plastic waste this would generate. It’s a good thing that there are eco-friendly toothbrushes that are now available in the market. These environmentally-friendly mouth cleaners are commonly made of wood or bamboo. Although the bristles may not be 100% biodegradable, some manufacturers are trying to source alternative materials to make these toothbrushes completely biodegradable. Still, it’s a big step towards reducing plastic waste.
There was a time in my life when, if asked about my advocacy, I would readily say that it was environmental preservation but over the course of years, I became less conscious of it. However, traveling has given me a renewed appreciation for the environment. In the end, let us keep in mind that travel does not have to be damaging to our surroundings.
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