What In The World Are We Going To Do About That Trash Problem?


Wanderlove / April 2017

We have a huge trash problem, and everybody knows it. Amirite?

We’ve all seen shiny bits of plastic nestled in the sand at our favorite beaches, or the unmistakable garbage littering the ridges of our beautiful mountains. Mother Earth’s trash problem is so undeniable at this point that the Great Pacific garbage patch is officially now a thing. Gross.

Coming from the US, our system is so damn efficient in taking the trash off our hands that we are shielded from a lot of the gory details of what happens after we slam dunk something into the garbage can. We’ve become complacent and detached from our consumption, even ignorant to the negative impact we’re leaving on the environment. We aren’t exposed to the side effects of our disposal: mounds of garbage piled high, chemicals seeping into water supplies, or the diseases permeating local communities across the globe.

Head to a developing country however, and you’ll come face to face with an entirely different story. Their trash problem is completely exposed with open dumps serving as the most common way to dispose of their booming economies. It’s a dismal comparison to what we’re accustomed to at home, with landscapes full of trash, children playing in the trash, livestock eating the trash, and plastic bags and dust flying through the air. This leads to a variety of nasty stuff like water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions (global warming is not an alternative fact),  and the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like MALARIA. The phrase, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” has never felt more appropriate.

The worst part about the waste disposal issue is that so many people are forced to live among their own garbage.  According to the World Bank, cities will generate 2.2 billion tons of solid waste by 2025, up from 1.3 billion in 2010. Open dumps, typically located on the outskirts of urban cities, are usually the final destination for that trash. That’s why it’s more important than ever for us to be aware of our disposal habits when we’re checking off our long bucket lists and traveling abroad to developing countries. We are fortunate enough to come from a place where the implications of our garbage disposal is not manifesting under our little noses. We don’t have to worry about the quality of our drinking water, or our neighbor’s children running barefoot among rotting piles of food.  Therefore, the responsibility is on us to be more educated about how we can reduce our footprint when we come to visit some of these places where 40% of the waste is never collected.

This begs the question, what the hell can we do about it? Well, let us tell you. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve that might seem small to you, but together can make a major impact on how we treat our girl, Mother Earth.  

Eliminate Plastic Water Bottle Usage Entirely

When we were traveling through Southeast Asia in 2014, one of the biggest things we noticed about their trash issue is the sheer number of plastic water bottles people buy and then toss away on a daily basis. Trust us, we get that it’s hot and humid, you’re thirsty, and the tap water isn’t suitable to drink. However, instead of contributing to the problem and buying two large plastic bottles a day, what about packing something that you can recycle and reuse?

We recently discovered what we’re pretty sure is going to be the next big thing among travelers: the Grayl Purifier Bottle. One of the problems we’ve always had with your standard go-to water bottle is that we rarely have a place to fill it with clean water and resort to the dark side of buying the dreaded plastic bottle. Luckily, GRAYL’S bottle offers up that dual purpose, meaning it can filter your water anywhere you go, and it can also be used just for refills. The best thing about this bottle is that it can purify within seconds, and we’re not just talking about chlorine tablet purification. This bottle can go head to head with a UV filter since it removes viruses, bacteria, and even protozoa, while filtering out particulates, chemicals and heavy metals. All with just a single freaking press. Not to mention, it’s compact and light enough that there’s no excuse not to include it in your backpack, even if you travel light.. Sayonara, Giardia and plastic waste. Helloooo clean water and smaller carbon footprint.

Never Use A New Plastic Bag

The next thing that really grinds our gears is the sheer number of plastic bags we see our fellow travelers using. We see people relying on plastic bags to hold their groceries, carry souvenirs from the market, or even for turning in laundry. We must say, it’s easy enough to just go to the grocery store or market and carry your goodies in one of these bad boys instead. Even your day pack or an old plastic bag that you’ve been reusing would do. The point is not to take a new plastic bag and then chuck it out. As for your laundry, I guess it’s just an excuse to get you one of these guys.

Limit The New Clothes You Purchase

If you haven’t already, check out a documentary called The True Cost. According to this film, we are consuming more than 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. WTF?? This is 400% more than 20 years ago, and with the average American throwing away 82 pounds of textiles a year, we’re literally treating clothes like garbage. The problem with this is that all the clothes end up in those aforementioned piles of trash in developing countries, and communities and workers alike are being exposed to dangerous chemicals and toxic wastes (causing disfiguration, and higher child mortality rates).  Now we know you didn’t ask for that with your $12.99 sandals from Forever 21, but it’s happening.

As travelers, we have a unique opportunity to live as minimalists and fight the good fight against fast fashion and hungry consumerism. Instead of stocking up on new clothing before you go on your trip, buy from a handmade local artist in-country instead. If you are tired of the five t-shirts in your backpack, organize a clothing swap and trade with the people in your hostel or donate to the locals. Lastly, if you just can’t resist that shopping urge, check the labels and make sure that it was made in a sustainable way.

Set The Example

By taking part in a few of these simple changes, no matter where we may be in the world, we can all make a difference and set an example for our fellow travelers. Because everyone knows if Cady Heron is wearing army pants and flip flops, then everyone else will want to too.

You can start setting the example by sharing this article to help raise awareness and present a solution to the problem, to eliminate this crisis we’re facing. If helping the environment and saving the human race isn’t enough motivation for you, then maybe just think of this like one of those 90’s chain letters. If you don’t pass this on to 10 more people in the next 24 hours you’re going to dream of garbage every night for the rest of your life. And nobody wants that.


Additional resources:


The Economist 


Thank you to GRAYL for kindly sponsoring this post. All opinions are 100% honest and completely our own.

Tags: do your part, grayl, reusable bags, reusable bottles, social responsibility, Travel Smart



Read 8 Previous Comments

  • maegan // April 8, 2017

    This is such an important and educative post! We need to our parts, why wait for someone else to clean it up when we are capable?! As a fellow American, yes, we are SO shielded by EVERYTHING and need our eyes opened.

  • Penny // April 9, 2017

    I think it is high time that everyone (whether travelers or not) needs to become more environment conscious. It is so easy to do our part. It takes just a wee bit of effort.

  • Ketki // April 9, 2017

    We need more and more people thinking like you do to really make a difference. Coming from a developing we face the problem of waste everyday. It’s really important to point out and change our behavior towards it.

  • Nuraini // April 9, 2017

    Yep, I’m getting a portable filter like that soon, for just that reason.

    Would also point out you could very likely just bring existing clothes on travel. Literally the only thing driving the disposable clothing tsunami is the fear of appearing uncool with clearly ‘dated’ clothing – especially *gasp* in photos. Once you stop caring about that kind of crap, you go through far less clothing. But… that’s the challenge, isn’t it?

  • Sandi Schwartz // April 10, 2017

    This is such a terrible problem that more people need to start doing something about. Thank you for your informative suggestions for making a difference.

  • Karen McCormick // April 10, 2017

    Yes! This is so important! Thank you for bringing attention to this!

  • Teresa Salhi // April 10, 2017

    I am so with ya on the elimination of plastic bags and bottles! I am doing my best to stick to this. Not so hard when ya commit to it. And that documentary – oh my goodness, I knew but didn’t know that much. Worked on me….
    Thanks for the sharing of what needs to be shared.

  • Rhonda Swan // April 12, 2017

    Great post. Lots of unstoppable info here. Cheers and lets have less waste!

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