Steps taken to reduce single use plastics

Eradicating single use plastics is a massive challenge – one which reveals just how deeply they have infiltrated our supply chains. Every country poses a different set of hurdles and while it's almost impossible at present to eliminate single use plastics entirely in some places, we have learned from our operators that even a small change can make a massive difference.

We have gathered together a selection of some of the inspirational things our operators are doing when it comes to taking on the plastics issue in all its forms, be it packaging, water, waste or campaigning for wider changes.
Oyster Worldwide:
“In many of the countries that our volunteer projects take place – including Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Costa Rica, South Africa, Namibia and Ecuador – many people are still shopping in local markets, meaning that single use plastic does not come into the supply chain as much. Where people used to shop using plastic bags, we are now using cloth bags / crates as an alternative. We do not provide toiletries in our accommodation, and where we do provide cleaning products in self- catering accommodation, we buy in the largest bulk that we possibly can. The containers are then returned to the suppliers where possible”.
Colina Flora eco B&B, Portugal:
“At our guest house in Portugal no single use Plastic is used. We pack the picnic lunches in cloth bags made from former curtains. The sandwiches, snacks, carrot sticks are wrapped in brown paper which is easily composted. We have been doing this for years. We buy in bulk and use cloth or paper bags or glass containers to bring home bulk items. We buy from local, organic farmers and receive the veggies/fruits in wooden crates which are returned to the farmer”.
Locanda della Valle Nuova:
“When we opened over 20 years ago we decided to never use single use plastic: no small individually packaged jams nor butter for breakfast, no packaged foods, no individually wrapped toiletries (we have soap and shampoo dispensers). More recently in our apartments we have introduced reusable shopping bags, and we have soap, shampoo and dish soap dispensers. We also have containers in the kitchen to store leftovers and food (as an alternative to film or aluminium foil). Guests are welcome to pick fruit and veggies on our farm so they also reduce the use of plastic from store bought”.
Montenegro Eco Adventures:
“We have created a special responsible traveller info pack, where we explain to our travellers how they can minimize their waste, how to say ‘no plastic bag’ in Montenegrin etc. We give them a reusable bag made by vulnerable women in Montenegro (through our NGO) and a bamboo straw so they can refuse plastic straws”.
We have re-usable bags that we hand out to our customers to use for a week instead of plastic bags from the local shop. Since we started the bag scheme 3 years ago we estimate we have saved around 10,042 plastic bags being used.
- Greenworld holidays
Infinite Adventures:
“On our bus tours, we try and buy bulk as much as possible, such as oats, rice or couscous. When we venture out for lunch we encourage travelers to use our lunch boxes. And it goes without saying that we never serve any food on single-use plastic plates. All our shopping is never packed in single use plastic bags, we re-pack everything right into our boxes/storage facilities in our bus.”
Vida Pura, Portugal:
“For storing our veggies we also use paper bags…and we never use plastic bags when harvesting. We don’t buy small bottles of cleaning products, we buy a big size that also reduces the amount of plastic. After they are finished, those empty bottles get used in the vegetable garden to create a little greenhouse for the small plants when they are still fragile.”
Wayfairer Travel:
“In our Monday meetings, we start with a go-round of what actions we’ve taken in our work roles and individual lives to eliminate plastic etc. This helps us share great ideas within the team. Changes we have made so far include making our signature travel packs ‘opt-in’ and phasing out all plastic packaging in these, as well as introducing branded reusable aluminum bottles for all staff, selected suppliers and later, guests. We are also involving our guests in the conversation and we recently published our own How to use less plastic on holiday guide which gives advice on what to pack etc. in order to say no to plastics whilst travelling.”
World Vegan Travel:
“On all our trips we provide a cutlery wrap made from up-cycled fabric remnants and filled with a glass straw and bamboo cutlery and a napkin. We also offer some sort of drinks container whether it is a cup or a water bottle. We give a tote bag made out of unbleached cotton. We remind all our customers to take reusable Tupperware to bakeries and other places that provide food to avoid using any single-use plastic. We ask hotels to not place laundry in plastic bags (sometimes each pair of socks is placed in its own plastic bag!)”
We source most of our food directly from local farmers which eliminates the need for plastic packaging.
- Yogaion Retreats
EY sailing adventures:
“On our sailing adventures, we offer linen totes to our guests on arrival to avoid plastic bags during the trip and we buy fruits and veggies from local producers etc. We have re-usable bamboo straws available and there are no single-use plastic cups or plates or cutlery onboard. In fact, there is no other single-use plastic onboard”.
Eternal Landscapes:
“We present each traveller with a welcome pack on their arrival into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This includes a tote bag that we have made by the Mongolian Quilting Centre – an NGO established to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged and unemployed women in Mongolia. We also provide most of the meals ourselves ... each of our 4x4 Russian Furgon vans has a small mobile kitchen giving us the flexibility to provide meals for our guests. This means that we are not reliant on booking take-away picnic lunches to eat enroute. Instead, we just choose our view and our team prepares a fresh lunch ... no polystyrene take away boxes in plastic bags for us!”
Lanzarote Retreats:
“We have changed our supplier so that our complimentary shampoo and shower gel is supplied locally and in decomposable containers with aluminium lids.”
Explora Expeditions:
“In Greenland, where we can find clean water running in streams, we provide our clients with 10 and 5 ltrs bladders to store and carry water. The result of this is that we do not use any plastic water bottles. Also our bladders get re-used year on year. On a single trip, this approach saves a minimum of 200 bottles per trip. That is a minimum of 400 bottles on our two yearly trips”.
Preseli Venture Eco Lodge and Adventures:
“We’ve now replaced all single use plastic water bottles with awesome aluminium ‘Preseli Venture’ bottles which people can fill with delicious Pembrokeshire tap water which comes from our local reservoir in the Preseli Hills!”
Hvitserk Adventure Tours:
“We are sponsoring Ocean Bottles, a small start up in Oslo that is producing bottles from recycled plastics and working on ocean clean up globally. Each purchase of an Ocean Bottle funds the collection of 1000 ocean-bound plastic bottles. We have purchased and selling these bottles to our clients at cost, encouraging them to recycle and including education around impacts of plastics in our oceans.”
“The main change we have made is to partner with Water-to-Go who offer filter bottles for use around the world “Any tap, anywhere”. The partnership offers customers a 15% discount on their bottles, plus 15% per purchase is given back to Explore for our Start Up Fund which is helping to kick-start new, sustainable businesses around the world. We recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the partnership which has saved over 105,000 single-use plastic bottles from being used overseas and raised over £2,200 for our Start Up Fund so far.”
We have installed fresh water tanks on our boat to have drinkable water onboard. This way we avoid around 60-80 plastic bottles/week…!
EY sailing
Footprint Travel:
“We have been working with RefillMyBottle (RMB) to promote the initiative in Vietnam. RMB provides a simple solution to plastic reduction by creating a network of refill stations that are listed on an online map via a mobile app. RefillMyBottle is currently covering a total of 9 countries across Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Vietnam where we are one of the local ambassadors. So far we have introduced 150+ new Refill Stations in Vietnam and since launching the new mobile app in January 2019 there have been over 7,000 downloads.”
Journey Latin America:
“To combat the increasing problems plastic waste is causing, we have partnered with Water-to-Go (in tandem with AITO) to offer our customers a solution; safe drinking water from a reusable bottle. A unique filter system technology eliminates 99.9% of all bacteria, viruses, chlorine, fluoride and heavy metals, as well as contaminants like pesticides; so you can fill up your bottle from any tap or stream… Our clients have reacted well to this initiative and the feedback from those who have opted in has been very positive indeed.”
Eternal Landscapes:
“We do not provide bottled water. We take fresh drinking water from local town pumps and fill two 20-litre containers for each vehicle. The water quality in Mongolia is excellent by world standards but for added security, we provide a Steripen Adventurer or Lifesaver water filter for those who wish to neutralize their water. On top of this we now have a working partnership with Water-To-Go from whom our guests can purchase a 75cl filtered water bottle. The filter (200 litres) is the equivalent of 400 single-use plastic bottles.”
Exodus Travels:
“We started working to reducing plastics on our trips back in 2016 when we took the decision to try and eradicate the need to buy single-use plastic bottles on any of our trips. Partners in some destinations welcomed the initiative, while others took a bit more convincing believing, at the time, that giving a bottle of water was good customer service. Since then we have managed to offer alternatives to having to buy single-use bottles on 99% of our trips. We do this by encouraging our passengers to bring their own reusable bottles and either provide them with water from as large containers as possible to refill their bottles, or, especially on many of our treks, by encouraging them to filter or purify water. For the period between October 2017 and September 2018, we saved the equivalent of roughly 1.4 million single use bottles of plastic. That’s the same weight in plastic as 2.5 T-Rex dinosaurs, 3 elephants or 4 hippos!”
For the period between October 2017 and September 2018, we saved the equivalent of roughly 1.4 million single use bottles of plastic. That’s the same weight in plastic as 2.5 T-Rex dinosaurs, 3 elephants or 4 hippos!
- Exodus Travels
Wild Frontiers:
“We introduced a water bottle campaign in early 2018, encouraging our travellers to purchase filtered water bottles to use while travelling. Since then, all our tour leaders and travelling staff have been issued with their own Wild Frontiers branded Water-to-Go bottle. We have sold around 500 bottles to our clients, which altogether we estimate has saved upward of 20,000 single use plastic bottles.”
Lanzarote Retreats:
“We have now changed our plastic welcome’s pack bottles to being glass reusable ones. We have also added a water dispenser to our honesty shop located at Finca De Arrieta so guests can refill a jug or their glass bottle instead of buying plastic.”
On our converted school bus, we have a water container on board so our clients can refill their water bottles at all times.
- Infinite Adventures
The Educational Adventures Company:
Since January 2019, we have provided 76 travelers with the LifeStraw Go bottles. Our tours averaging an 8 day stay, travellers might have used around 4 small plastic bottles per day, so that would be a total of around 2,432 single use bottles saved so far!
Dragoman (overland adventures):
“All of our overland trucks carry a 350-litre water tank, providing drinking water for the group, thus minimising the need to buy bottled water. We have also partnered with Water-to-Go to offer our customers a discount on refillable water bottles and water filters, for those times when our passengers are not able to refill their water from the truck, allowing them to fill them with confidence from local sources.”
Explora Expeditions:
“For all trips we discourage the use of wet wipes and share alternatives with our clients. We certainly don't want to make a bigger mess in the arctic by leaving bits of unsightly loo roll or wet wipes that will be there for the next 50 years…For wiping, we use micro fibre cloths that get washed with environmentally friendly soaps. A second - and differently coloured! - micro fibre cloth is used for body washing. That does away with the wet wipes”.
Eternal Landscapes:
“We train our female Mongolian trip assistants to give what we call the 'toilet talk' on the first day outside of Ulaanbaatar. Basically, we ask our guests that they do not leave and/or do not bury ‘wet wipes’ or sanitary items... Also, to encourage less use of wet wipes we use the local town shower houses which are small independent businesses where our guests can have their own private cubicle with plenty of hot water”.
Secret Paradise Maldives:
“We have just finalised in conjunction with Parlay Maldives a process whereby our guides will be able to collect all plastic waste generated throughout our guided tours and deposit to a Parlay drop off point where it will go directly into their recycling export process. We are really excited about this as we know our guests will feel they are contributing in a positive way to plastic waste management in the Maldives”.
Exodus Travels:
“We have created a responsible travellers checklist which all our passengers receive as part for their final joining instructions with some suggestions on how to reduce their plastic waste whilst on the move. These include bringing reusable travel mugs for takeaway drinks, canvas tote bags for shopping, reusable water bottles, biodegradable wet wipes, and food containers”.
At our eco guesthouse, we chose to use composite decking rather than timber. It is made of recycled plastic bags and waste wood pulp. Twice the price of timber but we have always put Planet before profit.
- Bryn Elltyd Eco Guest House
Tamsorella, Greece:
“Here in Kyparissia, whenever we are at any of our beaches and we find plastic washed up from the storms along the shore, everyone has agreed to collect three pieces of plastic each and take them home to dispose of safely. We do this weekly when walking our dog. People are free to collect as much as they want but three pieces are the basic requirement. This works well and most of the time our local beaches are kept very clean and cleaned by the local community.”
Vida Pura, Portugal:
“We have eliminated bathroom plastic bags and replaced them with paper bags. All toilet paper from all accommodations gets composted, reducing the amount of garbage bags.”
Campaigns & action:
Beate Heycke, Planet Conservation:
“Support for a plastic free life is growing here in Costa Rica and already beyond its borders (in Panama, Colombia etc.). We initiated and lead the campaign "Caribe Libre de Plastico" which aims to see Costa Rica become a single use plastic free country by 2021. We are talking to leaders from local tourism chambers, municipalities, organizations, commerce, and schools to prioritize the topic and find/offer solutions to reduce single used plastic. Furthermore we organize monthly beach clean-ups with local communities and other organizations, and we offer bi-weekly free documentary nights with related topics."
Montenegro Eco Adventures:
“To start with, we have created an NGO called Zero Waste Montenegro, where we are funding various projects from clean-ups with hundreds of volunteers to national petition to ban plastic bags, via projects to make reusable bags accessible and affordable to every citizen in Montenegro…We are also educating as much as we can our business partners to participate in our mission to eradicate plastic in Montenegro! “
Lilongwe Wildlife Trust:
“An estimated 75,000 tonnes of plastic is produced in Malawi each year, of which 80% is single-use plastic that cannot be recycled. Together with the UN Development Programme and the Malawian Parliamentary Conservation Caucus we are calling for a national ban of thin plastics in Malawi. We know through our work so far that public, political, and scientific opinion support a crackdown on thin plastics. A ban will help to create a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous Malawi for all. We will continue to work in partnership with our allies to push for the change that is needed”.
Oyster Worldwide:
“It has now been over a year since Oyster Worldwide has been doing its level best to be single use plastic free in our UK office and on our volunteer projects overseas. Let’s just say, we bit off quite a challenge and have had a real wake up call for how difficult it is. We started small by contacting our t-shirt company to see if they would use paper bags instead of plastic, and after a trial run, they were delighted to start doing this for us full time – and they do it for other clients as well!”
Last year we launched #STRAWWARMV to encourage our accommodation partners to ditch plastic straws. We partner with 26 hotels - across 12 islands and 8 atolls of the Maldives - and 95% of them chose to support the campaign and gave up the plastic straws which was a significant result.
- Secret Paradise Maldives
Escape Adventures:
We have been successful in influencing suppliers in New Zealand who make our promotional material.  An example of this is our stainless-steel coffee cups.  We send our riders cups before a tour to ensure we don’t use single use takeaway cups.  When our first batch of cups arrived, we were disappointed to find them individually wrapped in soft plastic!  We discussed our concern with the supplier and requested that any further orders be delivered with the cup ‘naked’ in its thin cardboard box.  We are pleased to report that this company took on our feedback and came through on their promise of delivering with no plastic.  We had a similar experience when ordering cycling tops to give to our riders, and again we’re happy to report that these garments now are delivered plastic free.
The Tuk Tuk club:
“Whilst there is a degree of environmental awareness in Thailand towards single use plastics, this tends to sit in small pockets well away from the mainstream - staff in convenience stores can be shocked if you ask not to have a plastic bag and there’s a huge reliance on plastic water bottles. Our key concern is to ensure that all our travellers remain hydrated and have a constant supply of clean drinking water. We are looking to provide all our travellers with re-usable water bottles and then to install huge water tanks at key points throughout all our trips. We are talking to all our partners (activities / communities we stop in / hotels) to allow us to store the water tanks with them - not finalised but going well. We will also carry large re-usable water tanks in our support vehicle to allow for water re-fills when we are some distance away from our core supplies.”
Written by Justin Francis
Photo credits: [Page banner: Kitty Terwolbeck] [Packaging: Katy Belcher] [Packaging – Greenworld holidays quote: Anh Vy] [Packaging – Yogaion retreats: Agence Producteurs Locaux Kuhn] [Water : Amritanshu Sikdar] [Water – EY Sailing: Simson Petrol] [Water – Exodus: Pawel Czerwinski] [Water – Infinite Adventures: Thom Holmes] [Waste: Bas Emmen] [Waster – Bryn Elltyd Eco Guest House: Debby Hudson] [Campaign: OIST] [Campaign – Secret escapes: Toa Heftiba]