I know it has been a while since I've written a blog post and you are most likely hoping to hear all about our 6 week adventure is South America......well I'm sorry to disappoint but I felt this was a critical issue I had to share.
Whilst exploring the most extraordinarily beautiful locations in Peru such a Isla del Sol (Sun Island) & Canon del Colca (Colca Canyon), we couldn't help but notice the serious plastic problem infiltrating these remote communities, and at the same time as tourists, feeling responsible. The plastic problem is not unique to Peru of course, it is happening all over the world.
Image 1: Plastic waste Isla del Sol, Peru
Having bought camelbak hydration packs and green water bottles for our trip, we were disheartened to say the least when our only option for safe drinking water was to buy single use plastic bottles (curtesy of CocaCola of course) to fill our re-usable bottles. Hiking at altitude we were drinking about 4L of water per person per day! Times that by hundreds if not thousands of visitors per day and you can easily appreciate how this starts to become a huge problem. Add to that the remoteness of these poor farming communities and the fact that they have no government support for waste removal it soon became clear that they had no way of disposing of this waste and were dumping and burning it. Yes, burning plastic!!
This was very much a catch 22 situation for the community as selling bottled water, soft drinks and chocolate bars to thirsty and hungry hikers is easy money to a hardworking farming family. They can easily charge 10 times the retail price on these products and we will happily pay it. But then what do they do with all the plastic waste generated by this? This made me so sad and I couldn't stop thinking about it throughout the trip and even once we landed back on USA soil.
So what is the solution?
I'm sure I don't have all the answers and would love to hear your thoughts and comments below. But here are a few things we discussed with our fellow travellers;
Government/Industry led solutions:
The hospitality industry really needs to get with the programme; hotels, hostels, restaurants, cafes, tour companies, airports etc to supply clean drinking water for filling reusable bottles like they do in Sweden.
Governments need to support sustainable tourism and ensure that some of the money paid for entrance into these nature reserves is used to support conservation, including waste management (this is currently not the case for Colca Canyon!)
Tour companies to support local communities in managing the problem by paying them a portion of our fee to supply/sell boiled river/tap water and also to pay a mule for transporting waste to the larger towns for recycling. Tourists don't mind paying a little extra if they know the benefits provided for the area.
Individual/traveller led solutions:
Don't buy plastic unless absolutely necessary
If you buy plastic, take it with you back to the larger towns for recycling
Where possible, use an eco-tour company that supports local communities & sustainable tourism
Keep the conversation going and educate your family and friends (like and share widely)
Support conservation groups and MPs
We hope that this blog posts helps to raise awareness, start a conversation and with any luck, promote change. The next time you travel, please think about the impact you have on the environment around you as well as the local communities they support so we can all continue to enjoy planet Earth a little longer.
The good news is that the world is starting to wake up to this issue and there are loads of really great, innovative solutions being implemented. Check it out;
*Edited by Glenn Poon