The Straws & The Shame. One woman’s attempt at being environmentally conscious in South East Asia.

I guess you could say I’m ‘green’ when it suits me. A pseudo-hippie. I only realised this in the last couple of months.

I’m writing from a fishing village in Vietnam. I’ve been camping in a tent and it’s been raining all day. I knew today would be the day to come clean. There’s really not much else to do!


On location…

I come from Australia. When I’m at home I play by the rules. I bring my green bags to the grocery store. I strictly limit the amount of plastic wrapped goods I purchase. I reuse. I recycle. I visit my local beach and pick up all of the rubbish.

Although in Asia, I realise that I am becoming a rubbish monster.

I started my journey reading people’s blog posts about being entirely plastic free while travelling Asia. They inspired me, I felt so relieved to know that being environmentally responsible was possible.

So off I went, beginning my trip in Malaysia. I was very particular with the waste I was producing. I only refilled my drink bottle at the hostel’s free water facilities. I bought bunches of bananas. No cut wrapped fruit. Whole coconuts.

By Thailand I was slipping. I found the roadside water refill machines, but I also found fruit shakes. And no, I didn’t bring a portable smoothie cup… or a straw. To be honest, I never thought I would ever need a reusable straw. Soon enough, the constant temptation of a fresh fruit smoothie on a hot day was too much to bear.


Thai water refill machines

In Laos it was becoming more difficult. I stayed in accommodation that didn’t supply drinking water, so I started buying bottled water. I also found myself buying snacks from convenience stores as the amount of plastic-free food in some areas was scarce.

At this point I found myself take up the “fuck it” attitude. I felt like it was impossible for me to continue my futile attempts to be environmentally conscious.

I accepted the free bottles of water on public transport. Negotiating with language barriers “no straw”, “no bag” became tiresome. I lost all effort. It was like “oh well, I guess I tried”.




Today in a brief moment of clear skies, I walked along the beach. The water was calm, bamboo fishing boats drifted in the distance, a buoy bobbed above the surface. It was serene. As I clambered up the rocky outcrop surrounding the dunes I found myself surrounded by masses of rubbish. The rocks were covered in a layer of plastic bottles, chip packets, tangled fishing line, Styrofoam boxes, rubber flip-flops, you name it.

I couldn’t figure out if this was a rubbish dump on the ocean’s edge, or an enormous expanse of plastic debris that had washed up on the shore.

Regardless, the sheer mass of rubbish angered me. I looked back up at the campsite. People lazed on hammocks, drank beer and chatted amongst themselves.

I grabbed a plastic bag that had washed up on the beach and began hauling garbage into it. After thirty minutes I’d barely made a dent.

I looked back up to my fellow holiday-makers and thought, ‘if each of us got a bag we’d be finished in an hour’.

But would the same amount of rubbish wash up tomorrow?

The thought exhausted me.

It was at this moment I knew I needed to write this post. When you’re long-term travelling, being environmentally conscious can be trying at times. Sometimes you will get thirsty and you will need to buy a plastic bottle of water. Sometimes your fresh fruit will be wrapped in cling wrap. But that’s okay. Don’t let it discourage you.

I have no doubt in my mind that the majority of that rubbish would’ve been created by the tourism industry. The mass influx of travellers visiting a country puts enormous pressure on a country that is already struggling to manage a booming local population. As a result of this, waste management in developing countries is also a work in progress.

I guess what I’ve learned is that it’s okay if you slip up. But be mindful of what you consume and don’t throw in the towel when it gets tricky. Wash and reuse your smoothie cups if you didn’t bring a travel cup. And buy a reusable straw!


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