Travelling and being environmentally conscious go hand in hand; who wants to travel halfway around the world to see a river filled with sewage or a majestic mountain littered with trash? Eco-friendly initiatives are fairly new to Southeast Asia; they are still in the mindset of copying Western countries from years past when we didn’t recognize the importance of keeping toxic chemicals out of our rivers and putting trash in the designated trash bins, so they are one step behind us when it comes to keeping the Earth clean.
As visitors to another country, I think it is important to learn about their culture and respect their customs, yet we also have a responsibility to leave a positive mark of our own. For me, it has been important to be an example of how easy it is to be eco-friendly because this is a lesson that not only benefits the locals but also future visitors who will be able to experience a pristine environment free from trash.
Take Away Food:
So what do I do? I have a Tupperware container I travel with everywhere to use when I get take-away food. Take-away is very popular in Southeast Asia, but this service relies heavily of plastic and my worst enemy, Styrofoam. It saddens me the amount of Styrofoam I see being used and discarded without a second look; Styrofoam is not biodegradable and will therefore be a burden on the environment indefinitely. Carrying around a Tupperware adds a negligible amount of weight, and most times it pays off when the vendor gives you a little extra food to fill the extra space in your container!
Another thing I do is carry a reusable shopping bag with me when I go to the market; this enables me to use less plastic bags when buying fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, especially in Asia, the vendors still insist of putting your goods in a plastic bag, even if you say you don’t want one in the local language. How to confront this dilemma? Easy, bring a few plastic bags you may have picked up along the way! The vendors get a good chuckle from this, but it sets an example and it benefits them because they save their own bags and consequently, money.
Trash, Garbage, Rubbish:
One last important effort you can make is to throw trash away in a designated bin. When traveling through Southeast Asia, you will see trash everywhere; they haven’t caught on that the trash won’t magically disappear or clean itself up. So, it may seem small, but holding on to your trash and waiting to throw it away in a bin really sets an example for the local next to you tossing their trash out the window or throwing it on the street. And all those plastic bottles you accumulate from guzzling water by the gallon in this tropical climate? Look for some local kids to give them to, they can recycle them and get money, so not only do you do some good for the environment, you might help a kid make some extra money to buy school supplies…or candy!