Back home, we have a fear of plastic bags. We fear the guilt associated with every shopping bag that is used for five minutes to get home but then survives another ten thousand years in landfill. Bunnings now make you take box, Target charges you 10c for a corn starch bag and the supermarkets encourage you to use reusable bags.
South East Asia lives guilt free. On the contrary they feel the pride of putting food in a plastic bag in a plastic carry bag, knowing they will support the livlihood of a dump forager, helping them on their way to make 75c a day. Alternatively, that bag will only last a week before it is burned. In Vietnam’s Lake Ba Be national park, my tourism degree trained guide was burning his plastic trash on the roadside.
I try to avoid plastic. The three standard events for getting it are shopping, bottled water and take away food. Its rare that I’m not carrying a satchel bag that I can dump a purchase straight in, so avoiding the shopping plastic bag is simple. I generally keep an old plastic bag in there for those sticky or sloppy things that do require the protection.
Thailand is clever when it comes to bottled water. There are regular refill machines that pump out reverse osmosis, UV sterilised water for about a baht a litre. Alternatively, I’ve met people with other tricks like travelling with a portable kettle to boil water every night for tomorrow. My folks normally travel with a steriPen. It would be really hard to completely avoid bottled water, but you can be good at reducing how much you use.
In a normal day I can go through 2 to 4 plastic bottles of water. In Thailand probably half of those are refills. In Laos a lot of guesthouses provided water so I could fill in the morning and use refilled bottles about a quarter of the time.
Takeaway food is normally served in a polystyrene container with a bonus sheet of plastic tucked in the bottom to stop chopsticks piercing through. Its then tucked safely in a plastic bag. Its almost more plastic than food. I’ve started carrying my own takeaway container. Its a tower of tins or tiffin. The locals know them and makes it easy to explain take away lunch in charades. The problem is that they aren’t on the same wave length as to why I use it. I’ll open it up at lunch to find the rice has been put in a plastic bag inside the tin.
Even when I try, I still go through a rediculous amount of plastic. Each guesthouse I check out of is left with a bin full of plastic and me wondering if the dump foragers will get it for recycling or if it will be burned.