When the local water isn’t potable, travellers and locals often think that their only choice is to buy safe, sealed H2O. Even in the United States and other tap-safe countries, bottled water consumption is rampant.
But the growing waste from plastic water bottles is a problem around the world.
Empty bottles, made of petroleum-based plastic, accumulate as non-biodegradable
rubbish along city streets, in rivers, in parks, on beaches, and ultimately, they can
end up in the ocean. Floating in the Pacific is the Eastern Garbage Patch, a
large heap of trash twice the size of Texas, according to the Los Angeles Times. The vast majority of it is plastic.
So, what’s the solution for litter-strewn locations? Several tourism officials and travellers themselves are making a
Banning the bottles
One way to stop
plastic-bottle-clutching tourists from littering is to ban bottled water
outright. Italy’s Cinque Terre national park – a breathtaking string of
cliff-perched villages along the Mediterranean coast – banned the bottles in 2010. This
year, the US National Park Service banned the sale of plastic water bottles at Grand Canyon National Park, where they made up 20% of the
Both parks asked tourists to fill reusable containers at public
fountains or water filling stations -- Italy’s even offers a choice of sparkling or
still. Franco Bonanini, president of the Cinque Terre national park, told
London’s Telegraph newspaper that its three million annual tourists were leaving
behind too much rubbish. "With so many visitors, the footpaths and
villages of the Cinque Terre are at risk of being transformed into a great big
open-air dustbin,” he said.
around the world are using plastic bottles as building materials. Instead of
piling up in a stream or a landfill, the bottles are packed full of sand or
trash and used as a brick. The eclectic building block was used to construct
houses, and even a water tank, in Honduras by a German man named Andreas
Froese, who went on to launch an organization called Eco-Tec, with bottle-building projects in several
The unusual architecture of these structures made them into
tourist sites themselves, as northern Nigeria discovered last year. Other initiatives, such as this Argentinean project, make more traditional-looking bricks by
grinding the plastic bottles and mixing them with cement.
One bottle at a time
Individual tourists can do their bit by carrying their
own reusable bottles and filling up with fresh, clean water
whenever they can. Eco-conscious hotels in areas without potable water are
offering water-filling stations, and those that don’t might be willing to boil
water on request. Tourists can also treat their own water with purification
devices, and there’s no need to suffer the poor taste of iodine tablets: lightweight
systems, such as ultraviolet light purifiers, don’t leave an aftertaste.
Travellers without reusable bottles or purifiers can
buy big containers to keep in their hotel rooms, rather than tossing five or
six small bottles in the trash every day. After all, those bottle-brick houses may
look cool, but there’s no shortage of plastic construction material.
Lori Robertson writes the
Ethical Traveller column for BBC Travel. You can send ethical dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org.