If you’ve spent any time traveling around Asia you’ve probably noticed the heaping piles of litter that seem to be eyesoring every corner, the mangy stray dogs staggering hungrily through the streets, and the endless plastic bags that blow through the alleyways like the saddest tumbleweeds you’ve ever seen.
And well, if you haven’t noticed, let me tell you, after teaching English abroad in Thailand for two years, I have seen just about all the heartbreaking damage to the environment I can take.
Asia is a wonderful place to travel. Asia is rich in culture and beauty, and I think we would all like to keep it that way.
So, how can we keep Asia beautiful and healthy?
Well, while I am by no means an expert on environmental travel, there are a couple of simple things I believe we can all do to help contribute to a healthier Asia.
1) Use a Reusable Water Bottle
Southeast Asia can be unbearably hot sometimes, and there’s nothing more convenient than going right to the back of 7/11, reaching into the frosty cold freezer, and pulling out a big plastic water bottle.
I will be the first to admit that I suffered from a longtime plastic water bottle addiction. But after seeing how my personal piles of water bottles stacked into these huge piles of hardly recycled waste, I realized just how big of an impact one person’s plastic consumption can have.
On average I drink about 3-4 bottles of water everyday. Just think about multiplying that by the population of a single Asian country! That’s a huge pile of plastic.
Not only will investing in a reusable water bottle help the environment, it will also help you save money while traveling!
The average price of a bottle of water here in Thailand is about 14 baht. Why pay that exorbitant cost when there are safe drinking water dispensers all over Thailand, where you can fill up the same size water bottle for 1 baht!
Think about it, you’re saving an average of at least 13 baht every time you want to drink a bottle of water.
That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up.
If you drink 4 bottles of water a day, and you’re traveling for 2 weeks you could save…
4 x 13= 52 baht x 14 days= 728 baht! That’s like $25 USD.
Take it from me, cutting out the plastic bottles can be a tough life change, but if you put forth the effort, I promise you can make the switch.
So do Mother Nature a favor, and save yourself some pocket money while you’re at it– ditch the plastic and grab a reusable water bottle.
2. Bring Your Own Reusable Bags to 7/11 & Tesco
“Bag and a straw, bag a straw, bag and a straw…” It’s the same old song and dance here in Thailand. Doesn’t matter what you buy at the local convenience store, the clerk will put it in a plastic bag with a straw.
Could be a single grape or a stick of gum, it’s going in a plastic bag. Then those same plastic bags are found on beaches, rolling down streets, being picked apart by pigeons, and shoved down into the street gutters.
The plastic bag situation in Asia is appalling. Luckily however, there is a really simple thing you can do to help quell the inevitable litter that comes from the heavy plastic bag distribution.
Yep, you guessed it– Bring your own cloth bag to the grocery store! Tuck it in the boot of your motorbike, and help cut down on the plastic and the litter.
Who knows, you may even inspire other people to use their own cloth bags.
3) Bring your own Tupperware for Take-Away Food
Of all the trash that ends up on the beaches around my neighborhood, styrofoam take-out boxes seems to win the prize for most abundant, and visually unappealing. Nobody wants to see a torn-apart white box of half-eaten food.
And it’s no wonder that so much of it ends up on the streets and beaches. The stray animal population in Thailand is rampant.
Newsflash– dogs dig through the trash on the street to look for bits of leftover food. They carry the boxes in their mouths, and take it to places like the beach, where they can enjoy their snack away from the company of other dog packs.
So even if you throw your takeout into the proper bin, there’s still a high chance of it ending up on the street. Extensive studies have been done which prove that prolonged exposure to styrofoam has negative side effects for human beings. Now just imagine the effects on an animal that gets the majority of it’s diet from digging around through old styrofoam takeout boxes…
Styrofoam is known to take an extremely long time to decompose, and it’s not only an eyesore, it’s also a harmful pollutant to the animals and fish we share this planet with, and we eat some of those animals and fish…
So ditch the petroleum plastic based dish, and invest in a couple of Tupperwares.
Sure, it’s a little more work to wash the tupperware when you’re finished, but hey, I’m not sure we were ever supposed to live this single-use lifestyle to begin with. Your hands may get wet, but you’ll feel knowing that you’re making a difference.
4) Volunteer for a Beach Clean-Up
Trash Hero is an excellent organization in Thailand that arranges beach clean-ups all throughout the south of the country.
Everybody loves some good beach time, but let’s be honest, there’s only so much sun-baking and beer drinking you can do before it gets a little boring.
Cleaning up the beach is a great way to experience the surf and sand while also giving back to Mother Gaia and the local community.
Companies like Trash Hero arrange clean-up meet-ups and often times have the trash bags and gloves ready to go. All you need to do is show up, and you’re ready to rock.
Organized beach cleans are a great way to meet people, and sometimes they even offer free aerobics or yoga classes before or after the clean-up.
Who knew picking up trash could be so much fun!
5) Take Your Coffee to go in a Mason Jar
If you haven’t noticed, mason jars are all the rage. They look cool, you can microwave the shit out of them, and they can hold hot or cold beverages no problem.
Do you buy a coffee everyday? Think about just how many disposable cups you run through in a month? Now multiple that by the population of a single city! That’s a lot of trash that can be completely avoided by simply bringing a mason jar on your coffee runs.
Starbucks has even incentivized this notion by offering a whopping 10 cent discount on their drinks for anyone who brings in a reusable cup.
Now I know, not everyone wants to lug around a giant glass jar. But, if you know you’re going to go out and get a coffee that day, why not just pack one along, or just use one of the in-house ceramic cups.
6) Teach Lessons on Recycling & Earth-Care
It’s no secret that many long term travelers of Asia also tend to teach English in the region. Structuring lessons around topics like recycling, pet-care, healthy eating, and hygiene is a great way to influence your students towards healthy habits.
I saw an awesome lesson warmer recently where the teacher brought in two bags full of plastic bottles. He put the students in lines, and had the students race each other to see who could put all the plastic bottles into the recycling bin first.
Pinterest in chalked full of different eco-craft ideas just begging to be turned into ESL lessons! If all of us teachers in the region spent a couple lessons each week focusing on the importance of healthy environmental habits, the impact could be massive.
So get out there, build some mailboxes out of milk cartoons, and create an engaging lesson about it!
A Final Note: Be A Model not a Martyr
Nothing kills positive influence like soap-box preaching. People have to make their own decisions in life, and while it’s important to spread the message of environmentally friendly living, that message will never be received if it’s twinged with tones of judgement.
My loving girlfriend Krissy has been a huge influence on me to become a more environmentally conscious person, but she has never once twisted my arm or scolded me for any of my behaviors. Lead by good example and others will follow when they’re ready.
And don’t beat yourself up too badly if you forget you forget your water bottle one day. It takes time to make environmentally friendly living a habit.
By the way, do you have any more tips for being an environmentally-friendly traveler? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading and happy travels!
J. G 🙂