Every year many people escape from the bitter cold to sweet sweaty relief on sandy beaches. One of the most common countries of destination is where I now call home.
Over 1.5 million tourists visit Mexico each year. Whether it’s water or alcohol, if each person has on average five drinks per day, that’s seven and a half million single use straws, cups, or bottles. That is just Mexico! With that many people traveling, very small adjustments in how each individual vacations can be enough to change our lives.
We all know there is a trash crisis floating in the ocean. Plastic is killing animals rapidly. These paradises and many other polluted areas are places where many species of birds rely on annually for migration. Sea turtles don’t use just any beach to lay eggs, these beaches just like many other areas are special. The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System located in the Mayan Rivera is the second largest reef in the world supporting millions of creatures that we also rely on.
We can do our part to make sure the trash we create is disposed of properly or recycled, but once it leaves our sight, we really don’t know what happens to it. Let’s stop waiting for legislation on climate change, and take the problems into our own hands! Wherever we go, and whatever we do, with simple adjustments we can change the world.
At first being mindful of things like how much trash we create per day takes extra thought, but in no time it becomes fun. Start by just noticing every time you throw something away, or someone throws something away for you. Globally, this is where we can make the biggest difference; not creating trash in the first place. I’ve compiled an “Every Little Bit Helps” list of eco-friendly life hacks that often save money, protect the planet, and don’t spoil any of the fun. Have other ideas? Please add them to the comments below!
- Say always “Without a straw, please.” or “Sin papote, por favor.” It is good practice to do this every time a drink is ordered! If you are at a place where they use disposable cups, ask for the refill to be in the same cup. “Puedes usar la misma vaso por favor?”
- Get coffee or tea in a mug ‘for here’ instead of the disposable cup, sleeve or straw, and lid ‘to go’. It’s fun taking it easy for a few minutes, people watching and enjoying your time!
- Bring your own travel mug and reusable drink cup. (The world is thanking you already!) Just those first three steps save tons of trash from going into our landfills and oceans.
- Bring a few of your reusable grocery bags from home. These are such great travel accessories! From shopping without plastic to using as a beach bag, or even for dirty clothes, cloth bags always come in handy!
- If you’ve purchased items for your trip with packaging, discard the packaging at home beforehand where recycling is more established.
- Bring your personal reusable water bottle. Buy a garrafón (about a five-gallon bottle) at a grocery or convenience store and fill up your personal reusable bottles. Garrafónes cost less than $30 pesos or about $2 USD, and may even last a whole week of refilling, instead of paying for and consuming many individual plastic bottles. The empty garrafón can be returned and exchanged for a full one at a cheaper price.
- Bring your own shampoos and soaps to avoid using the tiny plastic bottles in the room. Here is where legislation could do some good. Can you imagine if every hotel was required to offer their soaps in refillable hand pumps, instead of three little bottles with lids per person, per room? Bonus points if your personal hygiene products are biodegradable. Some areas actually require biodegradable shampoos, conditioners, sunscreens and bug sprays because the chemical stuff was killing animals. (If it kills other smaller organisms, what is it doing to me?)
- If you are a beer drinker, choose the glass you can exchange back for more beer! In Mexico, caguamas, pronounced ka-wa-mas, are similar size bottles to what we call a forty for forty ounces of beer. These are not only cheaper than 12oz bottles or cans, but stores accept the glass back, and your next round is cheaper!
- Pack it in, pack it out- Leave no trace. Whether it is a picnic and a hike, time at a park or a day at the beach, be sure to take everything you brought back out to discard it properly. Bonus points if you have the time and energy to pick up other litter, too! If applicable, keep very good track of your cigarette butts to be thrown away properly. The sea turtles love them. Packing it out is even more of an adventure towards the end of the day. Think of it as a fun drunk competition to each pick up as many pieces of garbage as we can in thirty seconds. The stories from these moments will last forever!
- Crush empty cans and keep them separate from other garbage. Chances are they will be found and recycled. If you are on the beach, young children with their mother will collect them from you. For some, turning in cans to be recycled is their only form of income. Having to dig through less trash is much appreciated and crushing them creates more space meaning less trips. They will appreciate your effort.
- Consider a different style of vacation all together. I was raised believing the sentiment, “You work hard, to play hard.” On holiday, if my toes were in the sand, a beer was in my hand. I often felt like I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation, and when I returned to work after a week of partying and being hung over, I wasn’t restored at all. One year, instead of consuming toxins all week, I went on a yoga retreat and detoxed. From now on, I think I’ll work hard to relax well.
- Consider camping, hostels, couch surfing, or renting a place instead of a hotel and restaurants. A less commercial experiences and eating in some meals saves money and has less impact on the environment.
*Bonus* If you want to take the mindful spring break one step further, try not to support animal exploitation. I know it’s super cute to get a photo with the baby tiger, dolphin or monkeys but they are sometimes drugged (sedated) and often mistreated. They have a very poor quality of life in a tiny cage when they aren’t being used for tourism. Instead of swimming with the dolphins, borrow a plastic floaty from a kid at the pool for your dolphin photo. These memories are just as great as if we would have supported an animal slave industry.
Matilda Juliette is a writer and yoga teacher spreading love through words. She considers herself an advocate for the planet. She loves picking up garbage, composting, recycling, upcycling, and all things green! If you enjoyed this article, you will probably get a kick out of my book, Eeny, Meeny, Miney Moe – Dating and Sexcapades of a Yogi. Check out my blog and follow me around. 🙂