My First Zero Waste Trip
“I am 100% the worst environmentalist on this trip.” I sent that DM to one of my besties after landing in the Philippines as I looked in shame at the plastic ziplock bag that held my toiletries.
To be honest, the idea of a zero waste trip was incredibly intimidating to me. While I am working towards educating myself and taking steps towards sustainability in my everyday life, I’ve always been extremely open about the fact that I got into ethical fashion from the human rights perspective and that the environmental implications have had a much higher learning curve for me.
I think the term “zero waste” in general is intimidating. To me, it insinuates unattainable perfection.
I even told a few people before this trip, “Yeah it’s zero waste. We aren’t going to produce a single piece of trash the whole time we’re there.” I had no idea how that was possible (spoiler alert: it isn’t), but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from going.
Turns out, there was a lot more grey and a lot more grace than I expected.
As we feasted on fresh mango and overnight oats the first morning in Manila, Hannah (who put together and hosted the entire trip) explained that she wan’t going to be the “plastic police” on our trip. She set my mind at ease that, while we would do our best to minimize our impact on this beautiful country, there would be times where plastic use was unavoidable. We’d do our best, but perfection was out of the question.
I felt myself breathe a loud internal sigh of relief.
Despite the grace extended, I determined to do my absolute best to dive into this zero waste endeavor while I was there and, to my surprise, it was easier than I’d anticipated!
Hannah went to great lengths to make this attempt at eco-travel easier. She gave each of us a zero waste kit which contained a portable set of silverware, chopsticks, a metal straw and an insulated travel coffee container. Each of us had already come prepared with a self-filtering water bottle so that we wouldn’t have to purchase plastic ones (water from the tap isn’t safe there without being filtered).
Toilet paper isn’t really a thing in the Philippines. While it was offered for westerners in Airbnbs and hotels, there was almost always a bidet in the restroom. Apart from sanitary needs, food was the main area that I observed being affected in our zero waste endeavors.
Though the Philippines traditionally has very meat-heavy menu, our itinerary spoiled us with the best vegan food I’ve ever had (and that’s saying a lot coming from a Portlander!). I think the fact that every single meal was so planned out, and we weren’t trying to grab food on the run is part of what made minimizing trash less complicated. Some of the places we ate were already plastic-free, and others were happy to accommodate our simple request of “no plastic please.” Armed with smiles and our own reusable utensils, we were good to go.
During one of our meals, we all requested no straws and the filipino waitress flashed a big grin at us as she said, “Thank you! No plastic… I like that!” We were eating just a few hundred feet from a beautiful ocean that is burdened by more plastic than ever should have been produced. While our actions were small, I believe they showed respect for her and her island nation.
For me, it’s always been about people. But, I’m becoming more and more aware that the way we treat the planet is ultimately affecting people. Their homes. Their air. Our children. Our future.
I returned home from this trip feeling more capable to consciously cut down on the amount of trash (especially plastic) that I create.
I learned that zero waste is really code for “doing the best we can in our current situation” and that grace can be found even in that extreme-sounding phrase.
I’m back in Portland now, but I still carry my little utensils and metal straw with me for when I’m eating at food carts etc.
Will I save the world with these little steps? Certainly not. Just this week, I was reading and discussing the drastic changes needed in the next few years to avoid major environmental crises. I’m under no illusion that my metal straws or silverware or handmade soaps or beeswax wraps will make up for the pollution being pumped out everyday by major corporations.
But I can at least shift my weight as a consumer to being a small part of the solution instead of a small part of the problem. Not perfectly, not heroically, but humbly and ever-improving.
Here’s a glimpse at some of the (all vegan) deliciousness we ate during our adventures:
Huge thank you to Jordyn Saunders for these photos!