As we globally celebrate World Ocean’s Day this week, you may be looking for a plastic-free, eco-friendly mantra to live by and a place to practice it. Here’s a mantra for you: pura vida. It means “pure life” in Spanish. And if you really want to learn what it means and how to live it, Costa Rica awaits you.
Visiting Costa Rica as an “ecotourist”
Being more Earth-friendly is something we can do in every aspect of our lives with simple changes here and there. We often hear about ways to do this is at home, work and school, but did you know you can also be eco-friendly while on vacation by reducing your plastic footprint and supporting something called eco-tourism? Eco-tourism is essentially environmentally responsible traveling, and usually entails visiting ecologically vibrant areas in a way that has a low impact on the natural environment while helping to promote conservation. Eco-tourism isn’t only about choosing Earth-friendly activities and low carbon transportation while on vacation, it’s also about choosing a location that recognizes the value of the natural environment.
Enter Costa Rica…which we had the opportunity to experience first hand through our friends here at Bodhi Surf & Yoga Camp (you can read more about our experiences living la pura vida à la Bodhi here). And the Bodhi folks are experts at practicing pura vida with as little plastic as possible (you can read more about their efforts to build a plastic-free tourist destination here). Some might describe Costa Rica as the epitome of eco-tourism because of the way the government and the Costa Rican people — or “Ticos” as they call themselves — have embraced protecting their stunning natural environment and openly welcoming the rest of the world to experience it in sustainable respectful ways. Costa Rica is eco-impressive in so many ways and here are a few that stand out:
- It has the greatest species density in the world and a phenomenal 23% of its territory is under some sort of protection, such as parks, reserves or refuges.
- For over 40 years it has had in place the Indigenous Law to stop the loss of indigenous land and promote the survival and well being of indigenous populations.
- A country that openly promotes global peace and walks the talk, in 1948 Costa Rica abolished their National Army and redirected military spending toward health, education, and the environment.
- Costa Rica aims to be self-sufficient in all ways, including energy, and in 2015 went 94 consecutive days on green energy alone.
Unfortunately, just like every other country in the world, Costa Rica is not immune to plastic pollution. Such synthetic, petroleum-derived debris is an increasing threat to countries like Costa Rica that rely heavily on eco-tourism. The plastic waste has a direct impact on the quality of the pristine natural environment. Disposable plastics are particularly problematic as they are often a convenient but environmentally disastrous go-to while on vacation.
We want to help make it easy to be a plastic-aware eco-tourist, so we’ve put together a list of 10 easy ways to reduce your plastic footprint while on vacation. While we make reference below to some things you can find in our online store, we encourage you to absorb the basic idea and find ways to do what works best for you, whether it’s making your own non-plastic replacement item or lotion (Google is a great help for recipes and instructions), finding a hand-crafted or used option (Etsy or Kijiji), or shopping around locally and elsewhere online.
1. A plastic-free water bottle is an absolute essential
We’re starting with the basics. Whether you’re hiking, biking or going on an outdoor excursion, you’re going to need to stay hydrated. Plastic water bottles are easy to buy on the go, but bringing your own bottle substantially reduces your personal plastic footprint. Sports caps are easier to sip on the go, but they are also most likely made of plastic. Screwable versions made of bamboo and stainless steel without any plastics are available with loop accessories to clip the bottle to your bag with a carabiner and keep your hands free. Speaking from experience, stainless steel bottles are usually the best option because they can durably withstand being knocked around and dropped, and they are lightweight.
2. Reusable utensils to enjoy local fare
Plastic cutlery is a significant source of plastic waste, and is unnecessary when traveling. It just doesn’t make sense to use a piece of plastic for a few minutes to eat and then throw that plastic out. And even if it goes in a recycling bin, only about 30% of plastics that enter the recycling stream actually are recycled (and that is just for the in-demand plastics, such as polyethylene terephthalate used to make water bottles). Cutlery is usually made of the minimally-recycled polystyrene plastic, and will likely end up in a landfill. We love foldable stainless steel sporks (we’ve never had one confiscated by security, so they should be carry-on friendly – but we obviously can’t guarantee that), and there are also excellent to-go bamboo cutlery options.
3. Natural fibers all the way
If you are planning to do yoga while in Costa Rica (Bodhi can certainly help you out there) and need a new mat or exercise clothing, try to stick to natural fibers. Synthetic materials in clothing and mats can shed microplastic particles, which are released into the environment or laundry water where they readily absorb other chemicals and are easily ingested by wildlife. Opting for natural materials is definitely preferable where possible. On Etsy you can find yoga mats that are made from hemp or cotton, which are great alternatives!
4. Skip the plastic straws
Did you know that roughly 175 billion plastic straws are used and discarded every year in the U.S alone? While visiting restaurants on vacation, an easy way to reduce your plastic is to kindly ask for no straw when ordering drinks. You can either just sip your beverage straw-free, or with drinks where a straw might be a must for you — maybe your morning smoothie! — you can always pack a reusable one.
We recently began offering this little straw kit that comes with a straw, a cleaning brush and a pouch, making it easy to take with you on the go. Straws are small, so they slide nicely into a side of your day bag.
5. Uncompromised neck comfort
Whether for comfort or for health, a neck pillow is part of many peoples’ travel routine, especially where airplane travel is involved. More natural versions of these pillows are available such as this one we offer with an undyed cotton cover and a filling made from pure organic buckwheat hulls (part of the rhubarb family).
6. Refillable containers for personal care products
Airlines allow us to carry only 100 ml / 3.4 oz of fluids onto a plane, so rather than buying overpriced disposable plastic-encased travel-size products, why not use mini refillable plastic-free containers? Little glass jars or metal tins can be a great alternative. You can fill them with your own favorite products and then reuse them every time you travel.
7. A travel-safe shaving kit
No need for disposable plastic razors when online you can easily find a reusable safety razor with reusable and recyclable steel blades. One we love to recommend for traveling is this compact zero waste, travel-safe razor kit. The two parts of the razor fit snugly in the mini carrying case and screw together when you’re ready to use it. Just be sure not to put the blades in carry-on baggage as they will not make it through security.
8. Natural plastic-free travel toothbrushes and dental floss
Toothbrushes and dental floss are commonly made of plastic but they are items where you can easily swap plastic for a version made from more natural materials and not even notice a difference. Whether it’s a wooden toothbrush with boar hair bristles or a bamboo toothbrush with plant-based bristles or natural silk floss, you can reduce your plastic footprint by swapping traditional synthetic dental tools for these unique alternatives.
9. Natural repellant to be one step ahead of insects
Stay clear of bug bites while hiking through Costa Rican national park rain forests by opting for a natural insect repellant. There are lots of effective natural repellents out there with a citronella base. We’re excited about one have we just started carrying by Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve that is a safe and natural alternative to the chemical products that often come packaged in plastic. It’s a bar that you rub directly on your skin. It is packaged in a metal tin and naturally dissuades insects with citronella, cedarwood and neem oils — much healthier for you and for the planet.
10. Natural sunscreen in plastic-free containers
You definitely want to make the most of that tropical Costa Rican sunshine, but it is important to make sure you protect your skin from the powerful sun rays. There are two kinds of sunscreens (chemical and mineral). Take a look at this informative guest post by Jungle Mama Naturals on the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens. As well, sunscreen often comes packaged in single-use, squeezable plastic bottles, which are obviously not an environmentally-friendly option. We prefer natural mineral sun protection in non-plastic packaging such as metal tins or cardboard tubes. Creamy chemical sunscreens and the plastic containers they come in contain chemicals that can leach and be absorbed by your skin. As well, some chemicals in sunscreens have been linked to coral bleaching.
These are just a few ideas, and here are a couple of other quick tips for handy things to bring: a couple of compact reusable shopping bags and a fabric handkerchief that can double as a napkin. If you have other tips and tricks for traveling plastic-free in Costa Rica, or anywhere else, we would love to hear them! We are honoured to partner with Bodhi Surf & Yoga Camp, combining our efforts to try and make the world a better place. We hope you’ll consider treating yourself one day to a Bodhi plastic-free, pura vida, eco-vacation in stunning Costa Rica. It could change your life.