The image above was taken by photographer Mandy Barker, it powerfully illustrates the problem of single-use plastic and our throwaway society. The photo is of 200 pieces of plastic. All found in the stomach of a young albatross chick.

Single-use plastic is both a global problem – the image of the polar bear below was taken by one of our clients on an Arctic cruise last year – and a local one, whether on the streets of London, the hedgerows of the countryside or our lakes and rivers. It is a problem that affects us all and I think this is one of the main reasons why plastic pollution has recently arisen in public and political concern.

Plastic pollution, unlike climate change, is an environmental cause without a vociferous band of sceptics denying the scientific consensus. We can quickly and easily do something about it by changing our buying behaviour.

What have we done at Steppes Travel?

The Steppes Travel team have been involved in a number of beach clean ups. But whilst attempts to clean up are great, they do not solve the core of the problem, which is our over-usage of unnecessary single-use plastic. Thus, Steppes Travel have become a plastic clever business by:

  • Having our milk delivered in glass bottles
  • Eliminating plastic bags and bottles in the office – the team and clients have Steppes Travel canvas bags for shopping and Steppes Travel reusable metal water bottles
  • Using Who Gives a Crap for our loo roll
  • Using refills where possible
  • Using bars of soap
  • Recycling all cardboard, paper, glass and plastic – overseen by our resident green dragon Sue
  • Donating our food waste to staff members’ chickens

‘If you don’t know, you don’t care’ – Dr Sylvia Earle

We have also campaigned to create awareness of plastic pollution by:

  • Sponsoring the wonderful Kids Against Plastic, Ella and Amy Meek
  • Introducing the film Plastic Oceans and its wonderful producer Jo Ruxton to local schools
  • Joined the One Bottle at a Time initiative, as part of the Steppes Fund for Change.
  • Encouraging our clients to use refillable water bottles and to sign up to #refusetouse
  • Our Steppes Beyond Festival 2017 at the Royal Geographical Society was focused on reducing our use of single-use plastic and as evidenced by the below feedback resonated with those who were there, especially the young:

“My eight-year old son Rufus talked for two hours on the way home in the car about plastics and the environment. He comes from a home that is veggie, that compost food waste, reuse/recycle, used washable nappies etc. So these ideas are not new to him but it was the way in which the message at the festival was delivered that struck a chord with him. He has had his mind and eyes opened. So many questions have been raised about our world, about the environment, why people waste so much and many plans have already been thought about how we can change things at home (including making his sister clean her teeth in semi- darkness as she didn’t need the light on)”.

How are we trying to change attitudes in travel?

We are currently canvassing airlines not to:

  • Hand out single-use plastic bottles
  • Use disposable plastic cups and cutlery
  • Hand out freebies with disposable plastic toothbrushes, toothpaste and combs

We are working with hotels and suppliers to combat Plastics by:

  • Eliminate single-use plastic bottles on the bedside table, but to have filtered water in jugs/glasses and water fountains in communal areas
  • Stop single-use shampoo bottles, but have larger refillable ones
  • Encouraging suppliers who visit our office to sign up to #refusetouse

Plans for creating a plastic-free future:

  • Awards, using positive reinforcement to celebrate the first plastic-free airline, cruise or ground agent. Hurtigruten, a Norwegian cruise company, should be congratulated on its impressive position of stopping single-use plastic on all of their cruises as of July this year. Why wait to 2023?
  • Associations, namely working with other tour operators to provide best-practice and set an industry standard
  • Affiliates with whom we work such as marine agencies, conservation organisations and lobby groups to affect change in consumer behaviour and government regulation

I am thrilled that the plight of our oceans has finally reached the mainstream media. We must now use that voice for there to be change: change in government regulation, change in our behaviour.

You can do something about this #refusetouse.

Thanks for reading

Justin Wateridge

Author: Justin Wateridge