I had planned to return to investigating the techniques of eco-friendly gear manufacture this issue, checking that our favourite brands are doing the right thing, but having just returned from a trip to Rwanda, East Africa, I was stricken by the pervasiveness of plastic in all parts of the world.
On a positive note, I was surprised to be confronted by the No Plastic Bags policy upon landing in Kigali Airport, and happy to give up the carrier bag I was using for my dirty laundry (to the detriment of the rest of my luggage). During my 10-day stay I got so used to seeing people carrying their purchases around in little brown paper bags that I was shocked to one day be offered a plastic bag while buying a sambusa in a bakery. I actually questioned the assistant as to the legality of her dispensation before remembering that I was no longer in Rwanda but Burundi, a poorer and less eco-conscious country. Oops! But while Rwanda is strides ahead of most of Africa with their plastic bag ban (even, embarrassingly, of NSW), the news is not so good when it comes to other non-biodegradeables. The high water mark on the shores of Lake Kivu, near the beach town of Gisenyi, was demarcated by a veritable embankment of plastic rubbish, from shoes and toys to plumbing debris and, of course, the ubiquitous ‘disposable’ water bottle.
There has been a slew of articles and blogs recently about reducing our reliance on single use plastics (SUPs) while travelling, from the likes of National Geographic, the Escape Telegraph travel supplement and Aussie blogger noimpactgirl.com. More obvious strategies include taking along your own durable water bottles, water purification options, shopping bags and reusable straws (such as Klean Kanteen’s Stainless Steel Drinking Straws) and refusing using hotel mini-toiletries (Human Gear GoToobs are perfect little silicone bottles with clean dispenser nozzles). Holidaymakers can start thinking green even earlier by choosing their tour company and/or destination based on its anti-pollution policies, and pledging to collect litter from their destination.
These latter two tactics can easily be translated into the outdoor sphere. Anyone can take a spare bag to collect litter while hiking, biking or paddling, as I’m sure many of us do already. In 2014, another Aussie Lisa Vitaris started up a global litter-collection initiative called 10 pieces, which encourages hikers to pick up 10 pieces of litter each day from their chosen trails.
Aligned with Leave no Trace principles (see Wild issue 165), 10 Pieces has been strongly supported by adventure tour company World Expeditions, which encourages participants on several of their remote treks to don rubber gloves and fill their branded, reusable dry bags with rubbish, hopefully inspiring locals to follow their example. All you need to join in are the gloves, hand sanitiser and a sturdy bag.
In terms of reducing plastic usage in the bush, while we Wilder-people are proud of our durable, reusable containers and bottles, there may still be ways in which we are contributing to plastic pollution unnecessarily. While doubling an old supermarket carrier bag as a rubbish bag is better than throwing it away un-reused, a better alternative would be Sea to Summit’s Trash Dry Sack, or just an old, no-longer-waterproof dry bag. Another tip is to remove all excess packaging from your store-bought food before starting out.
Many money-conscious trekkers use black bin bags as pack liners, and while this is certainly cheap, a specifically-designed item such as Exped’s Waterproof Pack Liner is greener in the long term. Ziplock bags are a camp cook’s companion, very handy for pre-sorting ingredients and keeping meals or scroggin separate, but how many of us actually bother to wash and re-use them, supposing they even survive the trip? Lifeventure’s Dristore Loctop Storage Bags are like super-strong polymer Ziplock bags – another way to save landfill.
With outdoor companies often leading the way in low-impact design, there are naturally some products crossing over and gaining traction in urban or travel life. Sea to Summit’s Ultra-Sil Shopping Bags, ridiculously strong and packable, are the last ones you’ll ever need, and Klean Kanteen water bottles are visibly popular among non-camping city folk. Quick-dry microfibre towels, such as those made by Packtowl, obviate the need to dirty immaculate hotel towels, thus trumping their overstated ‘we only wash towels left on the floor’ policies. Who needs their towel washed daily, anyway?
There are options out there for the anti-SUP camper. Next time you are packing for a hike or ride, have a look and see what you can replace. You may have to spend a few dollars, sure, but it’s for the best cause.