These days, plastic alternatives have become the new black. And quite rightly so.
The damage we are doing to our oceans, wildlife and ourselves is well-documented and impossible to ignore. We produce around 300 million tons of plastic each year, and only 10-13 per cent of it is recycled.
That’s not to mention the damage we’re doing to ourselves: we are literally consuming the stuff, with toxic chemicals from petroleum-based plastics commonly found in the human bloodstream, the result of broken-down plastic nefariously working its way into our water supplies.
For too long, the travel industry has favoured plastic products for cost and convenience. But the tide is turning; increasingly, high-end consumers expect companies to adapt, prioritising sustainable plastic alternatives regardless of cost.
Travel brands, get acquainted with the industry’s most damaging plastic-related offences – and the sustainable solutions that will help you kickstart your eco efforts today.
1. The problem: plastic straws
The solution: biodegradable alternatives
More than 500 million plastic straws are consumed every single day in the US alone. Too thin to recycle, they often end up in the ocean or the stomachs of animals. Fortunately, they are one of the simplest things to exchange for sustainable alternatives, and this is something many hotels have already taken on board.
There are countless reusable and biodegradable options available, from paper and glass to bamboo and lemongrass. Ingenious starch-based straws are increasingly used as plastic alternatives, particularly in Asia.
Bali-based Avani Eco have created ‘I Am Not Plastic’ corn starch straws, now used in hotels such as The Longhouse in Jimbaran. They look and feel exactly like plastic – but biodegrade within 180 days.
2. The problem: plastic water bottles
The solution: glass or metal, with water filters
I can’t be the only person to judge a luxury hotel that still offers water in plastic bottles. In high-end hotels, it’s thankfully common (and actually expected) to find glass bottles with filtered water provided instead of plastic. On the go, it gets trickier.
Safari lodges have long been using stainless steel bottles on game drives, which are often gifted to guests as mementos. (Bonus points if, as at Singita lodges, the containers are reused if guests don’t want to take them home.) I’m a particular fan of Botswana’s Jack’s Camp, who provide filtered water in re-purposed glass gin flasks with swing stoppers – perfectly in keeping with the 1920s-safari-style of the camp. This is an example of how blending creativity and sustainability is more than just responsible tourism done good: it can also serve as a visual reinforcement of a brand’s key aesthetic.
High-end adventure company Wild Frontiers have also taken a major step in the right direction, encouraging guests to bring their own water filtration device for trips from January 2019 onwards. Founder Jonny Bealby tested several products before settling on the LifeStraw bottle, whose in-built filter means travellers can safely drink water from taps, rivers and streams.
3. The problem: not recycling
The solution: innovation and entrepreneurialism
For occasions where plastic is used, the least hotels can commit to is recycling it. In many remote areas, recycling plastic is easier said than done; though Wilderness Safaris report that their Namibian and Botswanan camps’ recycling has increased from seven per cent in 2012 to 66 per cent in 2017, due to more in-country recycling options.
In Victoria Falls, Greenline Africa launched their own recycling initiative, run by the local community. Hotels such as Victoria Falls Safari Lodge signed up immediately, separating their plastic and recyclable goods and dropping them off at Greenline Africa’s depot. There are other forms of recycling specially formulated for rural communities, too. Azura Quilalea in Mozambique collects plastic waste that washes up on the beach. Members of the local community then transform it into curios, such as doorstops and keyrings, which are sold at the resort, creating both awareness and an additional source of income.
4. The problem: plastic bin liners
The solution: paper or cassava-starch, or going bare
Tucked away inside a bin, it’s possible that many hotels (and guests) overlook this hidden use of plastic. But it’s a major source of plastic pollution that should be targeted – especially when you consider how many times a guest room bin is changed.
Inkaterra Guides Field Station in Peru has switched to paper bags for their guestroom bins, while Ghent hotel 1898 The Post doesn’t use any at all. For those looking for a plastic alternative, another of Avani Eco’s products are cassava-starch plastic bags, which, like their straws, are biodegradable.
5. The problem: plastic-bottled toiletries
The solution: refillables and sustainable packaging
I’ll confess that the reduction of single-use mini toiletries has heavily impacted the amount of amenities I shamelessly thieve from hotel rooms – but my loss is the world’s gain. These little bottles – and the plastic wrappers in which many goodies are encased – are so often wholly unnecessary.
Soaps and other products can be wrapped in paper. Shampoos and conditioners can be stored in ceramic containers, as they are at Keemala in Phuket, Thailand.
Some hotels, perhaps learning from experience, have fixed their refillable glass bottles to shelving, so guests cannot drop them in the shower. Though containers will still often be refilled with shampoos and conditioners in industrial-sized plastic bottles, at least this reduces the waste of millions of single-use minis, discarded as soon as the seal is broken.