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How Travel Has Further Opened My Eyes to the Environmental Problems Our World Faces

How Travel Has Further Opened My Eyes to the Environmental Problems Our World Faces

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The following is authored by Emily from The Journeying Duo.

I recycle, I refuse plastic bags, I try my best to be environmentally conscious. Don’t get me wrong my carbon footprint is hardly zero and there is far more I could do but I try my best. I am aware that my supposedly recyclable Starbucks cup can only be recycled in one factory in the entire U.K., and I get outraged about that. I get outraged when Donald Trump denies Global Warming’s existence. Then I came to Asia and that outrage increased tenfold.


How Travel Has Further Opened My Eyes to the Environmental Problems Our World Faces


Plastic everywhere. It seems that here in Asia there is a fascination with plastic. You buy a bottle of drink in 7/11 then they put your disposable plastic bottle in a plastic bag and then add a plastic straw wrapped in plastic. All that plastic ends up in landfill, or worse, in the sea! Even in restaurants, you are often served drinks in disposable plastic cups rather than a glass. Why? This excessive use of plastic is simply beyond me. I cannot understand this mentality. You even get strange looks when you reject a bag and straw. It makes me furious to witness this excessive use of plastic.

On a whale watching trip in Sri Lanka, all passengers were given a plastic bag for seasickness. Do you know what people, tourists, were doing with those bags of sick? They threw them overboard. It takes over 100 years for those bags to disintegrate. In that time, they will be ingested by marine life. Killing some animals and seriously harming others. Endangering the beautiful animals we were all there to observe.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the crimes against our planet I have witnessed. However, it is not all doom and gloom. Take Thailand for example. The Thai government is making a concerted effort to recycle. Their schemes have been a success and now 22% of waste in Thailand is recycled. James and I saw these actions in place while at a commemoration of the Kings death in Bangkok. While thousands upon thousands of free bottled drinks were being handed out, there were volunteers collecting rubbish to be recycled. Those volunteers had images on their t-shirts of what they were recycling, plastic, paper or cans. So, there is hope. Over time these practices will become the norm and less and less garbage will find its way to landfill.

As travellers, we are just as guilty, if not more. We are polluting other countries and not just our own. I hate to think how many bottles of water I purchase. As tap water is not safe to drink in this part of the world, I consume at least one water bottle a day. As water refills are few and far between, these bottles end up in the bin. Times this by the number of travellers and the destruction is horrific. We have been educated about global warming and know the consequences of our actions. Therefore, it is even more important for tourists to reject those plastic bags and straws. This is one time you should ignore local customs!


In Cambodia, we excitedly booked a trek through Ratanakiri. This is one of the most densely forested areas of Cambodia. However, the audio accompaniment for the entirety of the trek was not the sound of birds. No, it was the sound of chainsaws. Instead of the rich forests I thought I would be trekking through, we found fields upon fields of tree stumps where the forest had been cut down. A piece of timber can be sold to China or Vietnam for $2 and in a country suffering abject poverty that justifies the destruction of entire forests. It broke my heart to see the destruction of natural habitats.

I recently read a statistic. If the Philippines continue at their current rate of deforestation there will be no forest left by 2100. None. Not one single leafy green expanse. It is criminal. But in this part of the world if there is money to be made, there is someone willing to turn a blind eye.

I’m not saying that Europe and the western world is guilt free. Our fruit and vegetables are grown all across the globe. How are these farm lands created? By razing forests, destroying the natural habitats of so many weird and wonderful creatures. Our mistakes are more visible in this part of the world and it is impossible to ignore what is clearly before your eyes. We have to be more mindful of our planet when traveling.

Dead Coral

One of my favourite activities while traveling is observing the underwater world. Either by snorkelling or scuba diving. So far, every time I have partaken in these activities I have seen more dead coral than live coral. Coral is extremely fragile and takes years to grow, therefore, it is tremendously precious. One careless fisherman, scuba diver or boatman can do irreparable damage. Whenever, I see the harm that has been done to the coral I question what will remain when our children want to see these natural miracles.

Traveling has exposed me to the damage we are wrecking on the environment around us. Living in a suburb of London it is hard to grasp just how much damage there is to the coral under the ocean’s surface.  And for that reason it is difficult to get angry about the damage inflicted. Though, when you are here and you witness the effects of these atrocities first hand, it is hard to ignore the truth in front of your eyes. We are all murderers, we are murdering our beautiful planet.

However, once again I have hope for a better future. Many dive resorts advocate coral clean up schemes, where bags full of waste is removed from the ocean. Perhaps your next dive can have a bigger impact than you ever thought possible? Even if the dive resort you choose does not have an option to take part, then why not pick up that plastic bottle or can you see lying on the beach. Even these small actions can have an incredible difference on the eco-system.

Why am I expressing this anger?

We recently visited the Sun Bear Sanctuary in Sepilok, Borneo. While there we were once again confronted by the effect of humans on our eco-system. Sun bears are the least familiar of all the bear species in the world. However, they are the smallest bears in the world and they are cute. Really cute. So cute that many people think they will make adorable pets. In order to have a baby Sun Bear as a pet you need to murder its mother. However, within 6 to 7 months your adorable baby bear will have claws and will need to be chained and kept in cages. Not only is this extremely cruel, this practice has driven Sun Bears almost to extinction.

In addition, Sun Bears are also hunted in the wild, as, traditionally in Chinese medicine, it was believed the bile from their gall bladder could cure cancer. Therefore, it is now virtually impossible to see a wild Sun Bear. The Sepilok Sun Bear Sanctuary is designed to rehabilitate former captive Sun Bears and release as many as possible back into the wild. Seeing the cruelty these bears face at the hands of humans I was enraged, however, the sanctuary is going some way to rectify these atrocities.

This has given me hope. Hope that these conservation projects will counteract the destruction we are inflicting on the world around us. Hope that with increasing education people around the world can unite to limit the impact we have on our planet. Hope that with time and enough resources we can begin to right the wrongs of past environmental damage and create a world where our children will see the miracles nature offers.

What can we do?

As travellers we can be more environmentally conscious no matter how small you think your impact will be! Us backpackers and tourists need to make an even greater effort to reject those extra plastic bags, cups and bottles. If your hostel has water refills, use them! Don’t buy an extra water bottle when you can refill. Or even better, buy a bottle that will filter your water for you. Just this little change will make a difference.

RELATED: The 7 Best Travel Water Filter Bottles

When you go trekking or diving, make sure you follow the old adage “take only photos, leave only foot prints.” In addition, you can ensure you only use responsible companies who reinvest profits to positive causes. Visit animal sanctuaries where your entrance fee will be used to educate the world about the importance of caring for our planet. Make sure that the money you spend while traveling goes to places that will make a difference in a positive manner rather than a negative.

Be the change you want to see in the world!

>>> Bio

I’m Emily Marshall, one half of The Journeying Duo. With my boyfriend James, in September 2016 we set off on an indefinite trip to Asia and Australasia. Seven months later, we are attempting to create a digital nomad lifestyle so our adventures can continue long into the future.

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  1. Nina Ragusa says:

    Every bit helps, right! 🙂

  2. Ray says:

    Thanks for sharing! I haven’t been to Southeast Asia, so I can’t relate to the first-hand experience that you saw in Cambodia. However, I will make a more concentrated effort to minimize my global footprint when traveling around my home country and/or the Western World.

  3. Nina Ragusa says:

    Yes! Exactly! Thanks for commenting, Becke.

  4. Becke Quillin says:

    This was sort of heartbreaking but not surprising at all. Hopefully little efforts from all of us will start adding up. Now if we can just get those pesky governments on board… Also, you are right, those bears are freaking adorable.

  5. Chris says:

    I was in a little town in Senegal a few months ago, I too was astounded by the amount on trash and plastic everywhere! But when a country is poor with no resources I can see how this can happen. But my wheels were turning what could we help them with that wouldn’t cost a lot. …sad that it is the entire human race killing the planet, not just one race or nationality.

  6. Nina Ragusa says:

    Yes, totally agree.

  7. Frank says:

    It’s sad how recycling doesn’t seem to be of much importance to countries in Asia. I travelled to a couple of countries there just last year and saw pretty much the same thing you did – so much plastic!

  8. emily roberts says:

    I wonder why they produce so much plastic??? OH yeah… it is to fulfill the global need fueled by materialism, especially by privileged Americans (that have the money to travel across the world to actually see it polluting Asia) and the ones that own the companies (that are conveniently located in foreign countries to exploit the penniless working classes such as those found in poor Asian countries) that are destroying our environment!!!! Take some responsibility and remember where all your sh*t comes from.

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