Plastic makers in China currently produce 29% of the world’s plastic, but growing concerns about the environment have prompted the government to propose a ban on single-use and non-biodegradable plastics, including plastic cutlery, bags and packing materials. As a result, producers are now making efforts to use more sustainable materials, and individually, a growing number of people are mindful of their plastic consumption, making efforts to reduce their impact on the environment. For New Zealanders planning a trip to China, it’s important to travel as plastic-free as possible and avoid single-use plastics on arrival in order to support the move and keep individual impact to a minimum.
Reusable containers and cutlery
The drive to reduce plastic in the workplace means that many people who don’t use the staff canteen are now required to pack their lunch in reusable containers, and are encouraged to bring refillable bottles to work. This makes packing your travel provisions easier: rather than buying pre-packaged food and water at the airport, pack your snacks from home and bring your own water bottle. This will also provide you with the means to enjoy street food and carry water with you with minimal environmental impact once you arrive. Bring reusable cutlery and chopsticks with you too, both for the flight and for takeout food once you arrive.
While you can’t pass through the airports with unsealed drinks, there is now clean water available in the majority of airports, so you can fill up once you’ve checked in. Indeed, airlines are now getting on board with reducing plastic waste, with Air New Zealand having already substituted plastic water bottles with sustainable alternatives. To avoid takeaway coffee cups, travel with a reusable cup – many coffee chains will also offer you a discount when you bring your own cup.
Think about your toiletries
Many airports and pharmacies encourage us to buy travel-sized toiletries to reduce the weight we carry when we travel abroad. While these may seem convenient, they are a big problem as far as single-use plastic goes. Instead, fill small reusable containers with your usual toiletries before you travel. As well as reducing your carbon footprint, this will save you money and allow you greater control over the quantities you carry.
If you need to carry your toiletries in your hand luggage, make sure the capacity of your containers is no more than 100ml. Remember that they will need to be in a clear bag to pass through security, so buy a transparent wash bag before you travel: this will last you for future trips, and will mean you can decline the single-use plastic bags stocked by airports.
Avoiding plastic on the flight
Although many airlines are now phasing out comfort bags, they still exist on some long-haul flights. These are often heavy on the plastic, and contain a toothbrush and toothpaste, socks and an eye mask. Pack these items in your hand luggage if you want them, and decline comfort bags if they’re offered. If enough people do this, eventually airlines will stop offering them altogether.
Carry your own earphones, too, which are probably better quality than the plastic-wrapped versions distributed on planes, and will mean you can turn these down on the flight.
By reducing the single-use plastic you travel with, you can reduce the amount you take into China and the amount you need to make use of once you’re there. While single-use plastics often seem convenient, it saves money in the long run (and often offers better quality) to take the time to pack using reusable containers.