I have seen these countless times and have felt the same disappointment every time – irresponsible travelers who flood destinations leaving behind their trails that have a tremendous effect on our environment. As a Pinoy traveler, my intention is to create awareness on Philippine destinations whilst promoting responsible tourism among local travelers. My intent is to create opportunities for local communities on the tourism front, with emphasis on being an earth-friendly traveler.
As we are about to celebrate Earth Hour in a few days, let me take this opportunity to share with you some small tweaks that you can do, as a traveler on transit, that can have a tremendous effect in the preservation of our environment.
1. Bring Your Own Water Bottle
Have you ever wondered what happens to the plastic bottles that we dispose of whenever we travel?
Yes, a good percentage of these plastic bottles end up in a dump where scavengers make money off of it but a substantial number also ends up getting buried from where you left them or they end up in our rivers, lakes or at sea. These plastic bottles, and you can also include plastic cups, take years to disintegrate and, more often than not, end up getting eaten by wild animals that causes them to get sick and even death.
I do not discount the fact that I once had the same practice of just purchasing bottled drinks because of the ease of disposing the bottle after consumption without having the “burden” of carrying it with me during trips. At that time, a re-usable water bottle was just an additional load. But as I traveled, I frown upon seeing empty bottles discarded along the shores and along the trails. It was then that I realized that I needed to tweak my travel behaviors to help solve the problem.
So now, I bring my own re-usable water bottle when I travel. I just refill it with cold water during stops, at restaurants, or where I am staying in. This way I do not contribute to the plastic bottle garbage problem. It is my small step in helping solve the problem by not contributing to the problem. And I would like to encourage every traveler to do the same.
Just think about it, if travelers consume an average of 5 bottled drinks in a day. We tweak that by using re-usable water bottles and that means we eliminate thousands of plastic bottles being disposed as garbage from thousands of local travelers.
2. Reduce the Use of Plastic
You have to admit that plastic bags play a huge part in our travels. We use ziplocks to keep our gadgets dry, we use plastic bags to wrap our slippers and for the stuff that we buy, and we also use these bags as laundry bags or to secure our wet clothes when we pack them up.
What happens to these plastic bags after you use them? Most of the time it also ends up inside garbage bins and, at times, along trails and along the shore. These plastic materials also include the sachets that you throw out after taking a shower.
One thing that I have grown accustomed to when traveling is using travel organizers. Yes, I have an organizer for my clean clothes, a re-usable string bag for my slippers and another one for my laundry, and I have re-usable organizers for my toiletries. That way, I avoid using plastic for storing my dirty clothes and reduce the use of sachets during trips.
I have significantly reduced the use of ziplocks for my gadgets by using re-usable dry bags and dry pouches. At the same time, your wet clothes can be packed inside the dry bags and that reduce the use of plastic for wet clothes.
Again, it is just about getting creative in packing smart and light when traveling.
3. Travel Light
Interestingly, traveling light is not just about having a lighter luggage or bag to roll during a trip. It is a greener way of traveling. The additional weight that you carry around, in fact, reduces fuel consumption when exploring destinations hence traveling light means easier baggage handling and a cheaper way of traveling.
In the same way, it also allows you to additional space for souvenirs BUT be mindful of the products that you buy as souvenirs. Buy local products and be mindful of what you are buying. Do not buy souvenirs that destroy or damage the natural resources of the place like corals or products made from endangered species.
I also make it a point to use a sling bag or my dry bag as temporary storage for these souvenirs instead of asking for plastic bags from stores that way I get to reduce the use of plastic.
Again, buy smaller items so it is easier to pack and it doesn’t weigh much, hence it is more eco-friendly.
4. Proper Trash Disposal
This is all about discipline. We cannot discount the fact that we can only reduce trash during our travels AND we need to remember that proper trash disposal is a discipline that we need to learn.
I have seen these countless times, plastic wrappers and cups left by the beach by irresponsible travelers who had a drinking spree the night before or plastic wrappers along nature trails. It frustrates me that we still have ill-mannered travelers who make destinations an extension of their homes. They throw their trash thinking that somebody else will come over to pick it up and clean it after them. It is such a sick and disgusting behavior.
We can work on being responsible travelers by practicing proper trash disposal. Always bring with you a small pouch where you can temporarily store your trash while on a trail or basking under the sun. Make it a point to also pick up trash that you see left by so-called travelers. These small act can be emulated by other travelers and can make a big difference collectively.
5. Educate Locals
One of the best ways to teach sustainable tourism is to educate locals about their responsibility and their response to the influx of tourists and erring tourists.
I remember when we visited Mahabang Buhangin in Calaguas last year where I got frustrated when some visitors of the island did not properly dispose their trash. It was disappointing to watch locals clean up the trash even when the garbage bins were just a couple of steps away.
Before we left, I had the opportunity to have short chat with the locals and I took the chance to tell them how blessed they are with the beauty of Calaguas. They had a vast opportunity economically when Calaguas gets developed. I was also quick to inform them that they should not tolerate the undesirable behaviors of tourists who abuse the natural beauty of their place. They should not be afraid to call the attention of tourist who are undisciplined.
It is important that we orient locals of their responsibility in the upkeep of their place. We should empower them by encouraging them to stand up for what is right to make their spot a sustainable economic opportunity for their community. We should respect them and abide by their regulations as it is their community and we are merely guests. So do not freak out when locals call your attention over improper behavior.
And we can only do that if we empower them by educating and respecting them.
Tourism is one economic sector that the Philippines can focus on to generate economic sustainability for the local community. Local travelers alone can generate jobs for these communities from their tourism efforts.
One thing that we need to work on is how to make programs that are sustainable and earth-friendly as the two go hand-in-hand. But being earth-friendly is also a joint effort of the community and the travelers. As travelers, we should learn to respect the community and behave properly when we are visiting their abode. We have to take our own efforts of making small changes in our traveling behaviors that when done collectively creates a huge impact to the community and to the environment.
The tips that I gave are the small things that we can do to slowly shift towards being a Green Traveler. It takes just one small step to create a huge earth-friendly difference and the key is being conscious towards being one.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.