We’ve all seen them, the Instagram versus reality posts with influencers hitting the right angles to allude to fantastic sights all to themselves and then you see what it really looks like, crowded with tourists holding Walkman style audio guides and new balance trainers.
What if we did that with pollution?
Those influencer Lightroom presets taking the hazy smog out of the air, making sure to get the angle of the beach without the mounds of micro plastics collecting where the wave retreats, and making sure to photograph towering skyscrapers in cities instead of the litter that lines their streets.
First hand travel has shown me what really exists behind the posts and given me the opportunity to understand it in a new light. Here’s how travel has changed my personal perspective on pollution and what it might do for you too:
- The village I spent time in on Zanzibar didn’t have a waste management system which meant a more creative approach to handling trash. Up at the school, which was very open to the public and a spot where a lot of locals spent time in the courtyard, there were bins for different types of waste. Hard plastics, soft plastics and waste, and compostables. The soft plastics were maneuvered into the liter size plastic bottles and packed in mixed with sand to fill the tiny openings until they were hard as bricks. Eco bricks. Which were then used to create the infrastructure of the village. The entire school, water well, and extending into shops were made from these eco bricks. Instead of producing new material this community turned a waste problem into a solution, using the plastics already in existence instead of moving a pile of trash to a bigger pile of trash (aka a landfill). When it comes to social media it seems like the only time garbage is highlighted is when exploring developing nations, next time you see that influencer “doing good” stop and think about how that community might already be handling the waste problem.
- While there are creative solutions to plastic and pollution that already exists I noticed in my travels preventative measures as well. As I walked around Amsterdam one sign kept popping up in windows of every restaurant and cafe I passed, “no take away”. Even when I sat down to order in a cafe the server heard my American accent and reminded me that my coffee would be brought out in a ceramic mug, no take away. As much as my intention was to sit there and enjoy my coffee, this comment left me even more aware of the amount of waste produced by the to-go culture of the United States. Time is a luxury not everyone has, but when you do, take the moments to get your coffee at the table in the cafe and reduce how much unnecessary waste you produce.
- Tampons. Yeah I get that most people don’t want to talk about them but it’s still a total change that I was not expecting and quite literally never thought about. The entirety of my 8 months in Europe and Northern Africa traveling to a multitude of regions and countries, I never once saw a tampon with a plastic applicator. They just didn’t exist. It made me rethink what we add to everyday products that are just not necessary. Not even what we can use to replace like the heavily promoted diva cups, but just less. The absence of the plastic component. It’s just simply not necessary and how much of this unnecessary part contributes as a pollutant in landfills and waterways?
- There are no trash cans outside in Okinawa, Japan. Not because they want you littering but because if you have to carry your own trash you become more aware of the waste you’re producing. It actually encourages people to stop and think about what they’re about to buy before making the purchase because they know that tossing it won’t be convenient or accessible so they typically don’t buy what needs to be thrown away immediately.
- Not specific to one country but different cultures as a whole, the way food is sold and meals are prepared can dramatically effect the amount of waste produced by eating, something everyone has to do everyday. One of my favorite things is to wander the isles of grocery stores in every country I visit and what I have found is the lack of plastic packaging in most other grocery stores and the accessibility for daily food runs. When I was living in Prague my refrigerator was about half the size as the one I own in United States. It wasn’t expected to have such large grocery hauls and attempt to store it. I was able to get on the tram everyday and go to one of the smaller but more frequent markets and buy precisely what I needed for my meals that day and what I noticed was a large reduction in food waste. When I would bring home my tote of groceries (because bagging was not available, bring your own or carry it our in your arms) and cook what was in it immediately there was no food I was tossing because it went bad. The reason this is so significant is because even though something is compostable, it doesn’t mean it will compost in a landfill. The conditions have to be right for compost to be created so all that food you think will just go away actually piles up in landfills buried under other trash contributing to the production of methane gases. On top of this benefit, the food itself that I was buying was allowed to be more natural. I have seen bananas and oranges packaged under plastic as if it didn’t already have nature’s own protective covering on it, but never once did I see packaging as such in Prague. There was plenty of plastic in other areas, but never something that I looked at and thought, who came up with that bad idea?