Why should I talk about Zero Waste in a blog dedicated to hydrogeology&society?
Well, the link is obvious, if you think about it. As scientists dealing with (ground)water and society we should all have the goal to live sustainably and act responsibly, as encouraged by the Responsible Water Scientists project.
This is why in 2016 I started my journey towards a Zero Waste lifestyle, and in December I decided to make a step further, trying to make a zero-waste holiday.
Did I succeed? Here is my story.
Every trip starts at home, with luggage preparation. So, besides the goal of travelling light, this year I also decided to bring with me all the things that could replace single use items: a water bottle, a straw, a reusable coffee cup, some cloth bags and my bulk toiletry kit.
With high moral and happy heart, I was on the first of the planes that would take me to Cambodia where I managed to refuse the refreshing towel and the food menu aboard: two less wastes in landfills!!!
Unfortunately, the euphoria was short-lived and the first sign of failure (while we were still flying over Europe) arrived at lunch time with a tray full of food seasoned with packaging and plastics.
Needless to say that refusing the disposable cups and having stainless steel cutlery instead of plastic ones has not softened the sense of frustration in thinking about the amount of waste produced every day and during each flight.
Trying to stay positive, I took this experience as an important eye-opener and I focused on finding new actions that I should take to reduce my future travel footprint. These include: refusing the meal aboard and bringing my own stuff even in long-haul flights, and carrying a small blanket and personal headphones to avoid using the wrapped ones found in the plane. Here I also found an interesting list of suggestions that I could have actually read before leaving, but at least now I have a lot of things to think about.
Once in Cambodia I did my best to keep my resolution to minimize the waste associated with my presence there. However, what I could not avoid was:
– 16 water bottles, as it is not recommended to drink tap water. Of course, we opted for the 1.5L size, to try at least reducing the amount of plastic used.
As a side note, empty plastic bottles are generally collected, sold, and re-used to sell stuff (gasoline, juice and other products) in the local markets.
– 4 plastic straws. Despite I always carried mine, sometimes either I forgot to tell to the waiter not to add a straw for my juice, or the straw come unexpectedly with my drink.
– 6 small plastic bags. Fresh fruit is often peeled, nicely prepared and then sold wrapped in small plastic bags. To be honest, apart from avoiding buying fruit, I did not find a reasonable solution that would not have bothered too much the vendor.
If we exclude toilet paper, napkins, beer cans (which I did not dare to count) and the wastes in meal production at restaurants (the latter not really under my direct control), this is more or less all the wastes produced by two travellers in two weeks.
Not bad for the first attempt, right? Not really, especially once I’ve seen the amount of wastes spread all around the country which gave me the strong sensation that one straw less in a sea of wastes won’t make to much difference.
Indeed, wastes are still a huge problem in Cambodia, especially in its capital, Phnom Penh, and seeing many wonderful landscapes and beaches spoiled by trash was almost killing my optimism, as clearly a single tourist won’t be able to make the difference if sound government action and education plans are not it place.
So, what is the point to make this effort if clearly the world won’t be changed by a single individual?
It was just as I was in the middle of my “environmentalist’s crisis” that we met Mr. Lim, a young man with a big dream.
Mr. Lim is the founder of the Osoam Community Based Eco-Tourism Project in the centre of the Cardamom Mountains of South-west Cambodia. With this project he aims at supporting rural communities by developing alternative sources of income through sustainable development. This is done through education, vocational training, eco-tourism and agriculture programs, and travellers are clearly more than welcome to join and contribute to Mr. Lim’s dream.
So it is in the peace of the Cardamom mountains that I found my optimism again, because actually every action matters, and the important thing is to believe in a change to be possible.
Probably I will never accomplish to have a 100% Zero Waste life, nor I will se a world freed by garbage, but at least I will have done my best to try. Because, exactly as Mr. Lim, I also believe that another world is possible and all together we can make it happen.
Since 2016 is almost over, I think this is the perfect moment to make some resolutions for the new year, also thanks to the lessons learned during my last trip in Cambodia:
- Refuse more. Saying no is definitely not one of my skills, but I should learn to do it in order to lower my waste production, especially when travelling.
- Commit to engage. Taking some time to discuss with people (especially in shops when abroad) and explain why I want to go Zero Waste would probably help raising awareness on the waste problem, and potentially lead to some unexpected conversations.
- Stress less. This can probably apply to my whole life, but as concerns wastes, I will definitely try to be more patient without wanting to see change all at once…at least I will try, in the meanwhile:
HAPPY (Zero Waste) NEW YEAR 2017!