In Asia, the tremendous economic growth of the region has been at the cost of the environment. Analysts are only now beginning to recognise the extent of the damage and the true cost to the environment and the welfare of its inhabitants. Debris-choked waterways, open sewers, excessive air pollution and plastic littering the streets and the fields are an obvious result of unrestrained economic growth.
As we trust that you are not willing through your presence to add to this problem, we have prepared a list of our environmental tips to guide you. Don’t hesitate to disseminate them among your Asian hosts in a polite and kind manner. You can then also play a role in developing environmental awareness.
Extend the length of your stay
Flying to a destination to spend an ecotourism weekend is a bit of a paradox. Air travel is said to account for 3 to 4% of the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. Take it easy, take your time! Travel less but for longer periods, it will be more fulfilling and restful as well.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Try not to use plastic covered or wrapped foods, the disposal of plastic and styrofoam is a major problem in Asia. Prefer buying in local markets where packaging is reduced, the food is fresh and the money is directly benefiting the local producers. Take your own bags with you when shopping – “say no to plastic”. ‘Say no to straws’ when ordering a drink. The excessive use of straws in all drinks is becoming an issue, imagine how many drinks a day you have, you’ll use the straw for a few minutes, a few centilitres and then it is thrown away. Just calculate how many straws a year you use, multiply by the number of tourists and you can visualise a mountain of waste growing. Why can’t we drink by the glass anymore??? We remind you that if a glass is not clean, using a straw will not make it any cleaner or safer.
Waste is a waste
Avoid leaving any rubbish (including sanitary napkins) behind when trekking or going into rural villages. Pick up any rubbish that you see left behind by other travellers in the forest, in the sea or on the beach. You’ll notice that by acting, you encourage others to act as well.
Smokers pick up your cigarette butts with you; don’t throw them in the sea, the river or just on the ground. The degradation of cigarette filters takes hundreds of years. Keep them -whether in a city or in the countryside- in an old pack of cigarettes or just a piece of paper before disposing of them in a dustbin. So easy to do…
Bottled water is easy to find, but unfortunately there are few recycling facilities. Actively try to reduce the ‘consumption’ of plastic bottles by using alternatives.
Your options are
– simply refill it, in most places they do have water fountains, ask the hotels if you can do so for free or for a small fee
– bring your own water filter, water purification tablets or iodine to purify water.
Save energy and water
In your room don’t use it unnecessarily, turn it down overnight, or just prefer hotels with fans, most of the time it is entirely sufficient at night, and it avoids sore throats and colds too! And it’s cheaper too!
In cars, convince your driver to turn it off when the vehicle is stationary and think before putting it on.
Avoid hot showers where the water is being heated with cut timber or other non-sustainable methods. Remember, a cold shower is one of the best kept health and beauty secrets, and strengthening your body and invigorating your circulation and lymphatic system is recommended.
Walk, cycle or experience the human-powered rickshaws for sightseeing. Leave the 4 wheel drive aside when there is a fuel-free or shared transport option like a public bus.
And do we need to tell you this? Turning taps and switches off when not needed is always a good idea – as is not changing towels and sheets every day.
Think before buying
Unless you’re sure it comes from a well-managed source, avoid buying anything made of wild animal parts (snake skin, tortoise shell…), anything taken from the sea (aquarium fish, shells, corals, etc.) and any furniture made of timber coming from the rainforest. Look for goods with reputable Eco-Labels such as the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or the MAC (Marine Aquarium Council).
Many endangered species are ending up in your plates, before travelling check the IUCN ‘A guide to sustainable use of Biological resources’. Conceived at first for hotels, it is nevertheless a very comprehensive and interesting read for whoever cares.
Special tips for protected and remote areas
Look with your eyes, take with your mind, and leave things in their natural environment. Respect national park rules. Keep silent, never remove any plant species, never feed any wild animal, and never leave recommended trekking routes. Use local guides who know the local ecology.
Use the toilet facilities which are provided. If there are none go at least 50m away from water sources and people’s homes. Bury everything, carry toilet paper in a plastic bag for appropriate disposal later, or burn it.
Organic waste such as food scraps should not be dispersed or buried in national parks and natural areas. This practise may introduce exotic seeds and is not the natural diet of the native animals. Carry it back. You guide will advise you in this regard.
Stay on tracks
This is especially important during the wet season because it is all too easy to create new tracks in order to get a better footing. If people don’t adhere to this, the trail soon becomes a series of footpaths that turns into erosion gullies. This impacts on the vegetation as branches are reached for as handholds, broken off, and added to the topsoil that has been dislodged to silt up the waterways.
Respect the Wildlife and the flora
Don’t respond to locals if they are offering to bend the rules. Sometimes local people will try to sell protected species. While you may wish to do this so that you can set the animal free, the best attitude is to refuse paying money and encourage the local to release the animal. When they realise there is no more demand, then the practise may eventually stop.
When snorkelling, be aware that touching coral formations can hinder their growth, and coral cuts can easily become nasty infections too. Do not take any coral or shells, as even though they may be dead, it encourages locals to think that they are desirable souvenirs and that there’s a market for these items.
In limestone caves do not touch formations, as natural body oils from the fingers hinder the formations’ growth and will discolour the limestone.
Reduce deforestation by avoiding unnecessary use of scarce firewood. Fuel stoves should be used for cooking on camping trips. Put on warmer clothes rather than stoking a wood fire for warmth. Avoid lighting fires on those beautiful white sand beaches – the charcoal residues will spoil it. Bonfires are not to be encouraged.
On treks when you need to bathe in streams or lakes try to forget about soap for a few days and be in harmony with nature! Or bring your organic soap and shampoo with you. Check our addresses of shops selling organic products.
The bigger problem is actually products like washing powder. While it might seem difficult using no soap when the locals have their big bags of Omo on the riverbank, it is important that we don’t add to the problem, as we are visitors and are an additional ‘load’ on the eco-system.