It’s no secret that plastic consumption and waste is a major issue in the developing world and South East Asia is definitely not an exception. There’s no doubt you would have seen ridiculous quantities of plastic bags, straws, bottles and other single use waste items wash up on white sand beaches and somehow, deep in the jungle or scattered around the foot of a beautiful waterfall.


How Bad Is It REALLY?

When you first arrive in South East Asia, it’s quite easy to be taken back by the sheer amount of seemingly pointless and wasteful single-use plastic consumption. Double-bagging plastic bags in shopping centres, giving out multiple straws and plastic cutlery, each individually wrapped in more soft plastic and then thrown inside another plastic bag for you to carry. It really is part of the culture shock.


Unfortunately, there is a viral plastic addiction in the region and without the means to build waste management infrastructure that can handle the recycling and treatment of the plastic waste in South East Asia, it is the sad reality that much of it ends up in reef, jungle and beaches.


Like any major global issue, it has been proven time and time again that preventative measures are hands down the most effective methods to reduce plastic waste. This means limiting the use or refusing to consume the plastics to begin with. However, it is also important to understand the benefits of cleaning up and being responsible for your waste.


Unfortunately, this is the sad reality of plastic waste and consumption in South East Asia. However, as a planet conscious adventurer, there are ways to give back to the region that has given you so much. Below are some small and useful tips on how you can change your plastic consumption habits and contribute to reducing plastic waste in South East Asia.

PLASTIC WASTE IN SOUTH EAST ASIA

1. WATER – Buy Large Refillable Water Bottles

Small 700mL plastic bottles are one of the most prominent plastic waste products that end up in our oceans. Buying a reusable and refillable bottle will not only save you money, but it will also mean A LOT less plastic in our oceans, reefs and jungles.


However, it is commonplace to have trouble finding clean drinking water in South East Asia. A smart and effective way to purchase water is to buy large, refillable 5L or 10L treated drinking water tubs. These can be found in every single country in South East Asia throughout shopping malls, small grocery stores and even restaurants and bars.

Even better, are the large gallon drums of treated drinking water that you can purchase in many places throughout South East Asia. These are great because once you are finished with the water, you simply return the drum – no wasted plastic. Although, admittedly these drums are quite large and may be better suited to those who are travelling at a slow pace. 

If you are staying at a hostel for a few days, why not encourage the owner to sell these bottles for each room? Or, why not share a bottle with your fellow travellers in your dorm.
These bottles usually cost anywhere from $1 – $3 and will last one person at least a few days. If you do the math, you’ll most likely spend much more on small 700mL or 1L plastic bottles.

2. Ban the Bag, skip the straw

Plastic bags and straws are completely pointless and Turtles eat them and die. You don’t want to kill turtles do you? On a serious note, it is so easy to skip the bag on a shopping run or lunch call. Bring your day bag or backpack if you have too much to carry. This is one of the simplest and most effective ways that you can reduce plastic waste in South East Asia. Plastic bags are used once and take thousands of years to break down. Single-use plastics straws could be considered even worse as they provide no utility. Sip the cup – or if you really need to drink your bucket by literally sucking it down, buy a reusable metal or bamboo straw and bring it with you!


If you don’t have a day-bag or backpack, be responsible for your bag consumption. Plastic bags are much thicker and tougher in South East Asia than many developed nations. This means more plastic but also means that the same bag can be used for much longer. If you really need one, keep it for next time!

REUSABLE STRAWS

3. Educate Locals

This point can often come across as very “privileged westerner”. However, Plastic revolution education is the most important factor in eliminating single use plastic from the tourism industry. Locals working in the industry are competing for your money and time. They often give you more plastic because it’s what they THINK that you WANT. Educating street vendors, market stalls, hostels, hotels, restaurants and bars about not using and wasting plastic is crucial for change. 

Sometimes it is difficult to understand with language and cultural barriers. However, every single local will understand “Plastic – bad” “Kill turtle”. Remember, it’s important to be polite and respectful. Always wear a smile and if they are interested, tell them why you don’t want that plastic bag.

Furthermore, continuous education and demand pressure can spread to an increase in environmentally friendly and plastic-free entrepreneurship in the region. Market stalls, restaurants and bars can market themselves as being planet conscious to attract more tourists. Remember, you are the demand, you fuel the supply!


4. Choose GREEN

There are thousands of businesses in the tourist industry reacting to the growth of environmentally conscious travellers. In order to ensure the trends continue, refuse to give your money to large chains that take money from small businesses and completely disregard the environment. Yes, that means no more 7ELEVEN toasties.


Check out what business are doing for the environment, show interest in their endeavours and support them. You don’t need to part with your change, you just need to make sure that your choices are helping the initiatives of businesses that care. A great example is the International Ecotourism Society. This is an association of resorts, hostels, hotels, restaurants and other businesses that collectively choose to ban plastic bags and straws, use reusable materials in their building and use environmentally friendly soaps and chemicals in their washing and cleaning products. Check out if your hostel or hotel are part of the society before hitting BOOK.


A great example of one of the best ecotourism centres is Bans Diving Resort in Koh Tao, Thailand. This dive shop has proven it is possible to run a very impressive businesses on a completely environmentally friendly business model. They have banned the sale and use of single-use plastics, recycle the used plastics of other resorts, make their own soap out of restaurant food waste, have built a water treatment plant and have also built an entire building block out of old, recycled building materials!

DIVE CLEAN UP

5. Unite through Conservation Initiatives

Social media is one of the most powerful and influential tools that we have at our disposal. It allows people with different interests and passions to connect all over the world. Create movements, organise group clean ups and spread conservation and environmental themes through hashtags and relative content.


One of my favourite social media initiatives is the Adventure Bag. This was founded by @jackson.groves, an adventure blogger and photographer passionate about ecotourism. The main idea behind the Adventure Bag is to gather a bag worth of waste on every adventure, including hikes, beach trips, cliff jumps or snorkelling trips. Posting about your #adventurebag on social media outlets helps to grow the initiative by encouraging other like-minded travellers and adventurers to join the movement. To find out more about the bag, check out Jackson’s blog.

ADVENTURE BAG BY JACKSON GROVES

6. Eat Fresh

South East Asia has some of the world’s freshest fruit, vegetables and healthy produce. Look after number one and refuel with some delicious fresh street food or practice your wok cooking at the hostel.


There are fresh produce markets everywhere in South East Asia. Buying fresh produce is a great alternative to processed and packaged foods. It’ll almost always be cheaper for your wallet and better for your health. Just remember to bring your own reusable bag and politely refuse any single use plastic products.


For the price of a 7ELEVEN plastic meal, you can cook up a Thai Red Curry with rice for the whole dorm room, meet friends in the process, take money out of the hands of corporations and into those of local farmers and save the environment. A win-win situation for everyone*.

FOOD MARKET REDUCING PLASTIC WASTE

*Sorry, not you 7ELEVEN

7. Organise Clean-Ups

Take initiative and organise hostel cleanups. It really is quite simple to post a note at reception or notify staff that you want to organise a clean up of the local beach or waterfall. This will allow you to meet other like-minded travellers and help to reduce plastic waste in South East Asia. 


It is quite common for hostels to organise these clean-up events weekly or daily already, so if there’s already one on, make sure you jump on board! If there isn’t, who knows, you might have started a legacy!

KOH NANG YUAN THAILAND

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