It took Anselm Nathanael Pahnke 414 days to cycle right across Africa. And along the way he filmed his impressions of his journey. The result, Elsewhere. Alone Through Africa, recently hit the cinemas and one thing that really stands out is just how little garbage Pahnke produced during his adventure.
Equipped with his own cooking utensils and drinking bottles, the globetrotter only bought unpackaged food at markets and only took water from public springs and wells. This rather extreme example shows how it’s possible to produce less plastic waste if one really tries.
So, how can ordinary travellers follow this example?
Of course, no one can deny that plastic is incredibly practical. It’s light, hygienic, odourless, resilient, heat-resistant and very cheap.
So much so that it is now omnipresent, used in every country around the world.
On holiday, however, many tourists can be bothered by plastic, for example when it litters a beach or hiking trail. It’s not that easy to use very little plastic when on your travels, either. In many countries, for example, travellers are advised not to drink tap water, meaning many people buy bottled water.
The challenge already starts before you leave, when packing for the holiday.
“There are hardly any plastic-free cosmetic products that fit in a small travel bag,” says Natalie Szydlik, responsible for waste-free trips at a sustainable supplier in Germany.
“Many people buy small toothpaste tubs or shampoo bottles especially for their trips because they want to save space.” However, this produces more plastic waste than conventional packaging. For many travellers, saving space is more important than not producing more plastic waste.
“Everyone has different expectations of themselves,” says Szydlik.
“In a place where you’ve never been before and don’t know the supermarkets, you’re more willing to make exceptions,” she says.
Nobody wants to spend their holidays looking for plastic-free alternatives. That’s difficult even back at home.
And if not careful, tourists can end up adding to the problem while on holiday. For example, by using the small packages of jam and butter that are on offer in most hotels or buying drinks served with a plastic straws.
However, if the topic is raised in a friendly manner, most people are willing to listen. “We went diving once in Egypt and while we were there we did a clean-up and took out masses of garbage,” says Julia Schnetzer, marine microbiologist for the German Marine Research Consortium.
Back on the beach, a restaurant employee asked her about what she had done and she was able to explain why it is so important to clear the oceans of garbage.
There are less dramatic ways to make a difference. Szydlik suggests packing a little more to use less plastic locally. You can bring a reusable cup for coffee and boxes to carry meals or souvenirs such as spices.
“Those who like drinking with a straw should take bamboo straws with them,” advises Szydlik. Reusable plastic products should also generally be avoided. It’s better to switch to other materials – glass water bottles and metal lunch boxes are a more sustainable alternatives.
“It is better to take a normal razor with you than to buy a disposable razor,” advises Schnetzer.
If you do end up producing plastic waste, disposing it can be a problem.
“I’ve often seen garbage dumped into the river behind a restaurant,” says Schnetzer. There’s no easy answer to where is the best place to put plastic rubbish.
“I always had the best feeling at public garbage cans,” says Pahnke.
The adventurer also advises turning the avoidance of plastic into a game. “Sometimes it can be annoying, but once you’ve managed to buy plastic-free, it can be fun.” – dpa