2017 might have been named the Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the UN, but it’s fair to say that for many of us, it’s things closer to home that have got us reconsidering our relationship with plastic. TV programmes such as Blue Planet II have left us coming to the conclusion that we can, and should, do our bit in minimizing our contributions to the great mountains of plastic burying our earth and choking our oceans. But how easy is it to reduce your plastic waste when travelling in Peru or other parts of the world where single-use plastic is part and parcel of daily life?
During a recent two-month trip to Peru, I sought to cut down my use of plastic. Along the way, I learned that forward planning and a few key Spanish phrases can go a long way towards travelling in a more responsible and more environmentally-friendly way. From that journey, I’ve put together these five top tips for reducing plastic waste on a trip to Peru.
1. A portable water filter or purifier means fresh water in minutes
One of the biggest issues you face with trying to travel sustainably in South America is the lack of access to clean drinking water. Tap water in Peru is known to contain bacteria such as salmonella, but buying bottled water can be both costly and is not a responsible solution when it leaves you contributing to the millions of plastic bottles being thrown away each minute.
What can you do instead? I found my Steripen Adventurer a literal life-saver in Peru. It’s a portable water steriliser that zaps all the nasties from tap water in only 90 seconds, meaning I could fill up a bottle at any moment and have fresh, safe water to drink in a matter of minutes.
2. A reusable water bottle is your new green best friend
What I also realised was that an essential part of my responsible travel arsenal is a reusable water bottle. Although you’re unlikely to come across many places in Peru that offer free drinking water where you can fill it up, you can’t use a portable water purifier without one.
I recommend investing in a bottle that’s at least one litre in size (perfect for a hiking trip or a wander around a city) as if it’s any smaller it’ll leave you hunting out taps after you’ve run out of water.
3. Be prepared for eating street food
Street food can be a real delicacy in Peru and an incomparable way of getting acquainting with local cuisine. From the humble papa rellena (deep-fried mashed potato stuffed with meat) to anticuchos (beef hearts cooked over a barbecue), there are dishes to suit all adventurous (and less adventurous) tastes. But what you’ll soon realise is that buying street food means support single-use plastic, as most is sold on a plastic plate with plastic utensils.
An easy alternative is to come prepared with your own portable cutlery, as well as a small, washable Tupperware container that you can ask them to put the food in instead. Sure, you’re going to get plenty of strange looks with this approach, but you’ll feel even happier as you chow down on your lunch knowing you’ve avoided adding to landfill. It’s also worth packing a portable mug for any take-out coffees or hot drinks you might be tempted to buy too.
4. Learn some essential Spanish phrases
Perhaps the most important sentence I’ve ever learned in Spanish – and one that serves me well wherever I travel in South America – is “no quiero bolsa por favour” – I don’t want a bag thank you. Plastic bags are handed out at every possible opportunity when making purchases in Peru, so learning to say no – and gesturing towards your own bag – can help you avoid a lot of plastic.
Another key phrase, “no quiero cañita por favour” – I don’t want a straw thank you, is equally useful. Straws, despite their seemingly innocuous size, can have a huge negative impact on marine life and so are worth being shunned.
5. Bring a portable shopping bag
Part of the fun of travelling in Peru is shopping in local markets, a decision that can help you to reduce plastic waste as most products, unlike in supermarkets, are rarely sold in plastic packaging. What’s more, it’s also a great way of supporting local business, as well as enjoying a truly South American experience at the same time.
The number one item to take with you on any shopping trip is a portable shopping bag for your products. Again, the ladies at their stores will helpfully try and pack everything into flimsy plastic bags for you, so practise your new favourite sentence and cut out plastic waste by using your own.
While these five small things may not be quite enough to start an anti-plastic revolution, little steps can go far in helping you to travel both responsibly, sustainably and in a way that protects the planet.
About Steph Dyson – Worldly Traveller
Steph Dyson is a British travel journalist based in Santiago, Chile. She’s updated and authored a number of guidebooks for Rough Guides and Moon, and writes about beyond-the-beaten-trail adventures and experiences in South America on her website Worldly Adventurer and online for publications such as World Nomads, Go Overseas and Transitions Abroad.