After participating in Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup for five years, researching and writing three ocean trash reports and seeing hundreds of photos of wildlife sick or dying because of this major pollution problem, I know how badly trash can affect our ocean.
The dangers are stamped on my mind and heart, so I produce as little trash as possible, recycle whenever I can and – when I remember – take along reusable shopping bags, cups and carryout containers when I go out.
However, when I recently attended a conference out of town, I realized I hadn’t brought my trash ethic along on the trip. A mere ten minutes after the cashier put my breakfast order into my hands, I threw all of this away:
1 paper bag
1 coffee cup
1 cup cozy
1 empty sugar packet
1 plastic bowl
2 plastic packets (one for nuts, one for dried cranberries)
1 plastic spoon
That’s right, ten items for one oatmeal breakfast. Did I mention I was attending an international marine debris conference?
I sat there in the coffee shop, stunned, thinking, “Here I am, working to help people change how they handle trash so the ocean can be clean and healthy, and I have blown it.”
I’d read research about how tough it is for us to change behaviors, and that good intentions alone are not enough to do the job. Now I really got it.
Since then, I’ve learned to think ahead. I’m doing a better job handling my trash day to day. It’s a matter of awareness and planning. The next time you head out for a holiday weekend or vacation, consider of these tips for trash-free travel:
1. Staying in a hotel or rental property? Take time to find one that offers a recycling program.
2. Try new products like tablet-shaped “toothpaste” sold in recyclable cardboard boxes, or bars of shampoo that don’t require a bottle.
3. Prefer an organized suitcase? Instead of buying trendy packing cubes to keep things in place, reuse those zippered cases your sheets, blankets, and comforters came in.
4. Include these on your packing list: water bottle, to-go cup, reusable carryout container, small napkins, and utensils.
5. Cut back on snack packaging by taking along granola bars, cookies or other goodies in reusable snack pouches.
6. Be prepared to carry your trash – especially recyclables — in case you don’t see an appropriate receptacle when you need one. Carry a suitable bag that’s waterproof in case of leaks.
Please add your own ideas in the comments section below. We’ll all do a better job for trash free seas if we support each other!