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Our European adventure and attempt to reduce environmental impact

I recently returned from five amazing weeks traveling around Europe, with a side-trip to the US. As someone passionate about the environment, you can understand more about my thinking here, and Oceans for All is where we are planning to offset our travel as well. Check out the calculator for yourself.
I truly believe that if we can afford to travel, we must make a commitment to offset our emissions – either personally paying for it or by booking through companies that offset credibly on our behalf.
With that said, the predicted rate of growth for the travel industry is so high, eventually it will not make a difference to offset at all. It is – quite simply – an industry that needs to start shrinking, and yet it continues to grow.

But that’s another story…

For this trip, we were committed to being as good as we could, beyond what we couldn’t control. I also decided I would learn and observe, so I could share it here.
Maybe it will get into the right hands, maybe it won’t? I’ll keep pushing a message of radical change, regardless.
I also suggest reading this article – The Real Problem of Hypocrisy for Extinction Rebellion – for insight on a world not yet designed for any of us to be sustainable, unless we stay put. That’s not my life and right now, it’s impossible.
 

Our trip in summary

The boys and I flew to Barcelona, where we spent three days wandering that glorious city, before joining a two-week cruise through the Mediterranean on Royal Caribbean. We stopped in Cannes, Florence and Pisa, Rome, Athens (Piraeus), Mykonos, Santorini and Malta. I think that was it.
After that, a train to Paris for five glorious days where we met Steve, then to London, after which I headed to Denver and the boys stayed in Chesham to spend time with their English family. I arrived back in the UK, and we drove to beautiful Kent to spend time with more family we hadn’t seen in 14 years, before heading back home to start the school year.
It was a big, intense, crazy trip and we packed a lot in, but then, if you’re going to go, you may as well make the most of it.
I spoke to the boys before leaving about being as sustainable as we could, and they agreed, being champs along the way. Here’s a few observations from our trip.
 

Water bottles

We took refillable metal water bottles, which had their own bag to keep the water cool, and they went with us everywhere. If we asked for water in cafes or restaurants, only to be offered plastic bottles, we said we were traveling plastic free. In every instance, they expressed delight and filled our water bottles for us.
This definitely wasn’t easy, because sometimes the local water tasted bloody awful.
In Barcelona: “Mum, the water smells like poo.”
They were right, but the hotel lobby water supplies had fruit chunks in it, which almost covered the horrible taste. No matter, we were not buying plastic and as it was a heatwave, I was impressed the boys stuck by it, even when offered poo water!!!
Thirsty work in Ancient Rome
Another great thing I noticed in Europe was most places sell water in glass bottles, and while glass is not fully recycled as a common practise, it can be. More importantly, it doesn’t break down into microplastics. See this article on the world raining plastic. It’s out of control!
When looking across Europe, England demonstrated the best efforts to rid itself of plastic water bottles, and more broadly in the region, soft drinks were more often available in glass bottles too. Still, far too many plastic bottles continue to be on offer, but Europe is significantly better than Asia in this regard.
On the cruise we had access to water dispensers. The filling responsibility was always the boys and we never left the ship without full bottles of water.
With that said, I did not see one other passenger with a refillable water bottle. Not one! Every single day, my fellow travellers used at least one, if not more, plastic bottles.
Let’s do the maths. We had 12 days at sea and got off the ship nine times. If 1,500 people got off the ship on all of these days, all accepting at least one plastic bottle for each day trip (let alone buying more when they ran out), conservative estimates put it that every two week cruise creates – a minimum – of 13,500 plastic bottles as waste. Waste that will last in the environment for anywhere from 200-1,000 years.
From that one ship, it’s a minimum 351,000 plastic bottles a year.
If we look more broadly, it is estimated that 27 million people were expected to cruise in 2018. Let’s estimate that number (based on the above maths) and apply it to five-day cruises, including three times getting off the ship for 27 million people. We’d be getting close to 81 million plastic bottles minimum, just from this one tourism activity.
Thought we must be facing some heat stroke here…
It needs to stop. And the cruise ships need to own this! Why haven’t they sorted it out already?
I mean, offer every passenger a refillable metal water bottle as a gift upon arrival – it would cost the same as the ‘free’ plastic bottles handed out? Yes, your ships would need to be set up for passengers to hygienically refill water bottles (as well as wash them), and the actual destinations would need to make it possible for tourists to refill the bottles too.
But this needs to be the responsibility of the whole tourist industry, because from what I saw, my fellow travellers didn’t even look twice. They didn’t flinch when offered plastic bottles. No hesitation at all.
 
We just do it. We don’t think. This TERRIFIES me. The lack of thought about the impact all of our individual decisions have on the planet.
Please, REFUSE single use plastic, everywhere.
Find another solution. Take your own bottle. It is available. Just ask. I learnt that this trip.

Wet wipes

Another feature of cruise life is distribution of single wet wipes every time you get on or off a tour bus. Using the maths above, we averaged two wipes a trip, so that’s 27,000 wet wipes just from our cruise. Or 702,000 for the year from one boat. Or around 162 million wet wipes going into our waterways and oceans from all cruisers worldwide….
If you don’t know why wet wipes must be eradicated, read this article and this article. There’s plenty more.
 
Of course, we did not accept the wipes, and every time I said to the guide (quietly): please don’t hand these out anymore. They contain microplastics and are devastating to the environment.
Every time, they told me their company asked them to hand the wipes out, and I just asked them to speak to their company about not doing it anymore. Maybe they’ll do it, maybe they won’t, I have to keep trying to get the message out. We all do.
Single sheet wet wipes, wrapped in plastic, were offered not just on the cruise, but in restaurants across Europe, and regularly on short haul flights. They are everywhere. PLEASE REFUSE wet wipes. We must get rid of all single use plastics, especially ones that break down into microplastics. Wet wipes are devastating for the environment.
More than that, we must start thinking. We must look at the items of convenience in our lives and ask: how was it created? What is it made of? How long will this last in the environment? And after I finish with it, where does it go? What impact will it have on future generations?

The younger GenZ’s are in for emotional catastrophe if we don’t get moving

I am trying very hard to help my boys understand the impact of our decisions day-to-day on the environment, but I’m working even harder to make sure they don’t panic and enter into early eco-anxiety. They are too young for that burden.
However, when they do finally understand the big picture of the climate catastrophe we face – which they will – I am equally terrified about how it will impact them. My kids (11 and 12) are in the younger range of GenZ(which is anyone born post 1997) – and while the next decade of older children are getting it (think Greta Thunberg) – the younger ones are still innocently naïve to the challenges we face – as they should be.
 
Is this what we’re going to leave our children and grandchildren? #WakeUpWorld
BUT I believe their emotional health is something we must all get ready for, because it is going to be a whopper when full realization hits. This generation is going to face reality in one big swoop, and it’s going to be brutal! Confusing. Despairing. Catastrophic.
All age groups before faced it gradually. Not the younger batch of GenZers!! Can you imagine this? Can you comprehend it? We must prepare.
Because even if we aren’t paying attention to the environment ourselves, all GenZ will be fully engaged in this conversation, and their entire future is in our hands right now.
I hope my boys think I’ve fought hard enough for them. I won’t stop trying. I’ll be gutted if they think I let them down.

Plastic containers

Which leads onto another stupid, thoughtless example of unnecessary single use plastic. Jax comes back with a chocolate mousse on the cruise ship. As I make the world’s greatest chocolate mousse, of course it was going to be pants. So Jax puts it aside because it’s awful, and I pick it up, thinking it was going to be glass, only to see it was in a plastic tumbler.
The guilty mousse
I’m like Jax, so you didn’t like the mousse, and now you’re throwing it away, without even eating it. That’s already wasteful, but more importantly, it’s in a pretty solid plastic container, and I predict this will take at least 1,000 years to break down based on its density.
Or to put it another way my love, based on most families producing four generations every hundred years, this will still exist in the world 40 generations from you. So, your kids, your grandkids, your great grandkids, and on and on and on for 1,000 years.
Now this wasn’t an easy concept to explain, but when both boys got it, I noticed they didn’t pick up anymore plastic containers at all. Not one. Smart boys.
We have to get rid of all single use plastic. We must force businesses and governments to create and legislate products that are sustainable. We can’t continue to accept anything that exists and poisons the environment for the next 40 generations. It is criminal and we’ve known about this for a long time. There are NO MORE excuses.
Our little one’s futures depend on us right now. Are we willing to step up? And if not, tell me why not? I just want to know more about the resistance we’re dealing with. Because I – quite simply – can’t comprehend it and I very much want to.

And the Radisson Blue Resort and Spa, Malta

Plastic silver spoon and plastic shot glass for desert – COME ON!!
On our trip around Malta (which is a magnificent place!!), we had lunch at the Radisson Blue Resort and Spa. Water was in glass bottles, which one would expect in a land famous for its glass! Then I noticed there wasn’t just a single-use plastic desert tumbler, the silver spoon was plastic too. This thoughtlessness about impact on the planet infuriates me!!
Use glass and metal. Not something that is used once and tossed!! It’s just bloody ridiculous. 

Are the teenagers really so woke?

One of the things that kept the boys occupied for hours, and provided a chance for me to sit and enjoy some aircon, is shops designed for young teenagers to spend their hard-earned money. For my parents, it was a bag of candies/sweeties/lollies, for my generation, it was a chocolate bar.
Today, we have these shops, specifically designed for young teenagers with pocket money, and it is full of plastic waste. The sort of stuff that will break within a week maximum, and then be good for nothing other than landfill.
My boys asked me for several things to buy in these shops and I said no, with the question? How long do you think it will last until it ends in landfill, where it will break down into microplastics, poisoning the earth, and heading into waterways to poison local communities, not to mention the fish that will eat it or die from it in some form?
 
It is definitely not an easy conversation to have with your kids, because of course they really weren’t happy with me saying noall the time, but we have to look across all layers of society – both business and consumer lifestyle – and eradicate all that is bad for Mother Earth, and ultimately, bad for human existence. Saying yes to appease them can not be an option for any of us.
Shops like this are full of crap and must go. Please don’t let your kids buy this stuff, and as parents, we need to make sure we don’t buy equivalent stuff. Let’s set the example. If it won’t last, don’t buy it. If it will exist in 1,000 years because it can’t break down, don’t buy it. Let’s just stop buying shit.

Sustainable list of things to take if you go traveling

  1. Metal water bottle and carry bag to keep it cold
  2. Metal or bamboo straws if you can’t be without one
  3. Sustainable cutlery if you’re aiming to eat out in places with plastic cutlery
  4. Face cloths if you’re paranoid about dirty hands. Empty your water bottle onto it and there you go, a wet cloth to wipe the dirt away. Easy to wash in a sink too
  5. A decent size day bag to carry items + for purchases, and please, don’t buy tourist crap. It goes straight to landfill
What would you add?

Conclusion

Across the board, by working hard, the boys and I discovered many ways we could limit our impact on the environment. We also found that by defining a couple of non-negotiables, no matter what (i.e. no plastic bottles or bags) it made it easier to commit. But it still isn’t easy, because the world isn’t ready for this yet. Business has not changed or adapted, even though they’ve known for years…
#SingleUseSucks
Even in Europe, which felt a long way ahead of many parts of the world, there is still far too much plastic, too much waste, and not enough options to avoid it. However, what really spun me out is that awareness everywhere is still incredibly low.
When we each start taking this seriously, we start to ask others to take it seriously too, which helps build the pressure on businesses and governments to tackle this incredibly huge global problem. We have such a long way to go and lack of thought is the primary evidence I continue to see.
We have to start thinking. Every single one of us.
Even if you don’t believe in man-made climate change, you can see that we are producing too much waste and have no way to get rid of it in a sustainable way before it reaches and pollutes our rivers and oceans, right?
We are at a crisis point. We must act. Every single one of us. The climate is changing dramatically. Just read these articles:
The latest IPCC Report, which focuses on land use and climate stability as inextricably linked. You can access it in full, in summary, in whatever form makes sense to you to ensure you read it.
And if you don’t want to read it, here’s one interpretation – 7 Things to Know About the IPCC’s Special Report on Climate Change and Land
And then we have these two terrible stories…
Every single place we stopped on our trip, I asked drivers, hotel workers, café staff, guides, and anyone else I spoke with – are you noticing any changes from climate change? Every person spoke of significant change – from humidity to more mosquitos, heavier rain, less rain, summer heatwaves, and warmer winters too. Everyone noticed something significantly different in their country or city. In fact, while we were in Greece, this freaky storm hit.
I was heartened to hear everyone talking about climate change, although taking action as individuals, not so much. Not to mention, the world’s governments and businesses continue to ignore the danger
All up, far too many are not thinking at all. And that’s hard for those who are engaged in this reality. Very hard.

Looking ahead

I hope I’m guiding my boys gently into the reality they will soon be (I hope) old enough to face. I won’t know when it’s going to happen – when that deep reality really sinks in – but anyone with young kids today is going to face this. It’s not an easy thing to get ready for.
 
Our responsibility, will it also be our shame?
The best way to ensure we don’t create an entire generation of kids with eco-anxiety is to start moving and changing things at a rapid scale right now. Time really is ticking away. And we have no time left.
We had the chance for gradual change, and we missed it. Now it’s time for dramatic action. It’s not going to be pretty – we have to break it all down and rebuild a new world. However, if we can succeed, what’s on the other side is better for every single human today and in the future.
We need to share that message of hope too. A message of a better world. Because to survive as a species, we must create a kinder world, a world in balance, a world at one with Mother Earth. Otherwise, there really will be no us anymore.
Is this going to be hard, too right! Impossible? Never. Most of us have just got to really want it and then we’ve got to stop at nothing to create it.
So, let’s turn the political discourse around, stop looking for wars to start or people to hate, and get united. Let’s put pressure on all business to become sustainable, in all the ways that are required – which is massive change I won’t go into right now. And finally, let’s all do our own part – reduce our energy, reduce our impact, live sustainably and in balance with nature once again. It’s the only way we can succeed.
We spent the last 50 years creating a quick and convenient life, and we’ve lost 60 per cent of the world’s wildlife in that same span of years. It horrendous what we’ve done to all that lives with us. Horrendous.
To sign off, a couple more vital reads. If you haven’t read this, please do – Climate change: 12 years to save the planet? Make that 18 months.
And finally, an article that made me cry. Just ask Steve. The glaciers of Iceland seemed eternal. Now a country mourns their loss. OK is gone…. Devastating!!
 
Not the same glacier, because well, it’s gone. Instead a panoramic view of the aqua blue tongue of Heinabergs glacier and frozen glacial lagoon in Southeast Iceland near Hofn. We lost one of these…

Yours, without the bollocks
Andrea
 
 
Thank you for reading my ramblings. My brain and heart are a work in progress, always. I’d love a comment if it stirred any thoughts or feelings and of course, please feel free to share it with anyone you know who might be interested or entertained. I sure do appreciate it when you do. If you want to connect, I’m on Twitter here, Google+ here, Instagram here, YouTube here, and Facebook too. I share loads of stuff, not just my own xxxxx

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3 thoughts on “Our European adventure and attempt to reduce environmental impact”

  1. I read, I respond and I think more and more about your words and your research and emotional commitment to make a change. Eco-anxiety is a new terminology for me and it resonates. I acknowledge open heartedly how you mention you asked people everywhere “have you noticed climate change. This is a great segue into a conversation with individuals whom may have never been asked this question although they may and most probably do – have a view – thanks for this post

  2. Andrea – you know i am with you and yes i need to also do more in all of my life. i have to say i am so upset everyday about what is happening – because i have to say – even though I want to be optimistic it is like a complete fatality – until it hits people directly in the eye and their wealth – it will be too late. we have seen what wakes people up – too late. just like in the morning when the alarm goes of – turn it off and rest a bit more – until you really really must get up. governments are appalling and horrendous. don't get me started. you are doing an amazing job of it and i can't thank you enough – for also getting me more than concerned.
    love you for all of this.
    Kevin

  3. Your actions are laudable and it's time to send plastic trash to the companies who produce it to recycle or use a sustainable option.

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