If you’re trying to go plastic-free, your summer holiday is going to sorely test you, as I found out midway through #plasticfreejuly when I headed off to Poros, an island just an hour’s ferry ride away from Athens.
See, not only are you dealing with the travel side of things (airports are not the type of place you can take your Tupperware to fill up with fresh, unwrapped produce to keep you going throughout your travel day), you’re also dealing with another country’s approach to plastic waste and until you figure out how that works, you’re going to struggle to plan effectively.
But I digress. First things first...
I went into my holiday with the best intentions. I did some of my very best planning ahead, thinking which toiletries I’d need and how to prepare without purchasing any plastic. My finished wash bag consisted of the following...
I highly rate these. Each pack contains 27 sugar cube-size blocks of solid shampoo which lather up super easily with a bit of warm water. They come in entirely plastic-free packaging and, considering I only use mine when I go on holiday, I’ve had them for over a year and they’ve not degraded or disintegrated at all. They are, admittedly, a little more spenny than normal shampoo but there are lots of copycat bars to be purchased for a lesser price.
I wish I’d invested in Beauty Kubes conditioner too tbh because this conditioner bar is not the one. For starters, it’s super hard to get enough of it in order to cover your whole head. I have thin, chin-length hair, so I can’t imagine what it must be like for people with more substantial heads of hair. It did smell delicious and the scent lingered long after showering so there was that. I was determined not to give in and buy a bottle of conditioner though so I was sporting a bird's nest by the time I returned.
Full disclosure: I was given this packaging-free moisturising stone and wasn’t aware of the (quite astounding) price (£37!). I would say that it works very well indeed. You warm it in your hands and rub it on your body and it glides easily over your skin, leaving it smooth and smelling spectacular. The only thing is, on holiday you need a lot of moisturiser and I ran out of this in four days. Which, at that price, is not okay. There are plenty of moisturisers and balms available in reusable tins or glass containers though so knock yourself out.
This was the hardest thing to find. There’s a lot of suncreams out there in reusable tins but very few available in the UK. In the end, I went for Shade based on availability and lots of different reviews. It certainly works, although it is THICK and kind of tough to rub in. It has a distinctive smell, too – I didn’t like it, my boyfriend did. It does last for ages though. Two people using it over a week and a half and we barely got halfway through the pot.
Toothpaste was something I already had in travel size from a previous trip, but there are plastic-free options available. For skincare I took along several bottles from The Ordinary I already had. Oh, I brought a Lunette menstrual cup I already had as well, just in case.
I didn’t do the whole gigantic panic ASOS order I normally would and made do with the clothes I already had (guess what, I had loads). I did need a swimsuit though, so I purchased one from Weekday made from recycled polyamide, which I hope counts.
Ugh. The airport. A toxic place full of high anxieties. These days, it’s less launch pad for your glamorous journey overseas and more shopping mall with a few runways tacked on the end. However, it’s not all bad news. Obviously, setting aside the hugely problematic issue of pollution caused by plane travel (you can offset your carbon travel footprint here), it is possible to do the airport plastic-free.
Stansted Airport, I was pleased to find, has water fountains which meant that my reusable water bottle could stay filled at all times. This also saved me a fortune because airport prices are ridiculous. This rather rudimentary but incredibly useful website lets you know if the airport you're travelling from has water fountain facilities – complete with picture of what it looks like and where it is – just make sure you drink your water before going through security. You should be able to fill your bottle up again afterwards.
Somewhat frustratingly, although not unexpectedly, all the takeaway eateries are filled with plastic-wrapped offerings BUT there is a solution in the form of the humble Wetherspoons. Download the table service app (really), sit yourself down and enjoy a plastic-free meal on a plate at a table in about the same time it would take you to navigate the queues at Pret or Starbucks (slight exaggeration but only slight). It’s not all steak and chips either – there are things like fresh quinoa salads, avocado bagels and plenty of vegan options. This is, of course, only worth it if you can get past the fact that Wetherspoons is owned by Tim 'Hardline Brexit Supporter' Martin. No one would blame you if you can’t.
Why is it that everywhere outside of the UK is really great at selling veggies without plastic packaging? It’s frustrating to see the difference between a small, family-owned Greek grocery and the plastic wastage of, say, a Sainsbury’s Local or Tesco Express (although chef Anna Jones did recently turn me on to ecobricks – a way to make use of the plastic film that covers so much of our produce).
Because of the availability of fresh unwrapped produce, it was easy, food-wise, to stay away from plastic – salads with capers and olives from jars, as well as fresh bread and seafood straight from the sea were the order of the day, whether I was at a restaurant or eating at the villa. Feta in the supermarkets was in plastic wrapping, and I'm sorry to say I caved.
Drinks were a huge problem. It isn't advisable to drink the water on many Greek islands and not one supermarket sold those huge containers of water that I could decant into my reusable bottle to at least cut down on the plastic use. And so I was forced to purchase the big 1.5 litre bottles instead. I drink a lot of water and I'm ashamed to say I got through at least three of these a day. Poros does have a recycling system, which I was pleasantly surprised to find, so I adhered to the recycling rules and hoped for the best.
In hindsight, I should have anticipated and planned for the water issue. Ideally I would have invested in something like the Aqua Pure Traveller water bottle – the filter is seriously effective and removes pathogens, faecal matter, chemicals and even bad tastes from local water supplies. At £45, it's not cheap, but I'd imagine that's almost exactly what I spent on water across the whole holiday anyway (I told you I drank a lot).
All in all, I did better than I expected. I think staying in one place helped – any more travelling around and I might have given in to supermarket sandwiches or coffees on the go for ease and efficiency. Of course, if I were travelling further afield, avoiding plastic on the plane would have been impossible.
If you guys have any plastic-free or environmentally friendly tips for travel then let us know in the comments below.