10 Ways to volunteer in Africa Plastic-Free

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The team at African Impact love to travel. We know it’s a great way to learn about other cultures and also just a fantastic way to have a good time. But, what happens when your dream vacation comes to an end and you leave those dreamy beaches and bustling markets behind? Plastic bottles, wrappers, straws and more may trail behind you, which isn’t exactly the impact we had in mind. Fear not! With just a little bit of planning (and these 10 tips), you can significantly reduce your plastic use when traveling.

Around the globe, plastic is discarded in huge quantities. Guys, we need to talk about this.

Plastic and Its Effect On Our Environment

  • It is estimated that 5.25 trillion plastic fragments litter our oceans
  • 1 million plastic shopping bags get used every minute
  • 100,000 marine animals are found dead each year from plastic-related incidents
  • 1 million seabirds are estimated to die each year from plastic-related incidents

These statistics point to a way of life we can’t support. We work hard across Southern Africa to preserve the precious wildlife and biomes that occur here. We see first-hand how plastic corrodes their way of life. The convenience just isn’t worth it.

But yet, we’re all a little lazy sometimes. That’s why we’ve gathered these tips to reduce plastic waste.

African Impact’s 10 Steps To Use Less Plastic While Travelling

  1. Refuse the straw
  2. Invest in a filter water bottle
  3. Pack a reusable bag
  4. Snack smart
  5. Bring glass Tupperware
  6. Make eco-friendly cutlery choices
  7. Carry a thermal mug
  8. Choose toiletries wisely
  9. Use a pillowcase for laundry
  10. Find an initiative to support

1. Refuse The Straw

Plastic straws are single-use and take two centuries to decompose into toxic particles. They wreak havoc the oceans where they often end up. All you have to do is say “no straw, thank you” (bonus points if you learn to say it in the local language). If you really cannot live without sipping your cooldrink or cocktail through a tube (we admit, it is extra cool sometimes), you can invest in a glass or bamboo straw.

2. Invest In A Filter Water Bottle

Having access to clean drinking water is a must (you can’t survive on coffee forever). But, this doesn’t mean you need to buy a plastic bottle of water every time you get thirsty. There are some great filter water bottles on the market that can help you keep hydrated and healthy wherever you are. Look for bottles that can filter non-potable water to stick on the safe side. If you’re still unconvinced, you’ll find that many establishments have clean filtered water and will let you fill your bottles up for the day. If patrons seem unwilling, offer to pay for it to show you’re not just being stingy.

3. Pack A Reusable Bag

If you’re used to being given the option of paper bags at home, you may be surprised at some other locations where this is not an option. Whether you pick up some snacks at a grocery store, or trinkets at a local market, you won’t regret carrying around a light-weight bag. This will help you reduce your plastic usage with almost no effort. Another bonus point, carrying your own bag is cheaper! Why dish out extra money when the alternative is so easy?

4. Snack Smart

Adventuring all day can really work up an appetite. Yet so many snacks we’re used to picking up on the way come wrapped in plastic, Styrofoam, or other unnecessary packaging. So instead of reaching for that familiar bag of chips (crisps) when you’ve traveled thousands of miles, we recommend trying some local fruit that is far better for you and the environment. Remember to always give it a good rinse, or better yet, stick to fruit that comes pre-wrapped in environmentally friendly packaging commonly known as the peel. Bananas, oranges, watermelon, mangoes and so on have been supermarket-friendly for millennia.

5. Bring Glass Tupperware

6. Make Eco-Friendly Cutlery Choices

Use of plastic cutlery skyrockets when we travel but carrying around a full set of cutlery (especially a knife) can get you in a sticky situation at the airport, museums or other institutions that require you to walk through those mysterious beeping archways. That is why we advise that you carry around a spoon and chopsticks – you can eat almost all foods with this combination, and you won’t find yourself trying to explain your green choices to an angry airport official.

7. Carry A Thermal Mug

Some of us struggle to get through the day without a brew of some kind, and it can be even harder when you need that extra kick of energy during a long day of sightseeing. Most of the places we visit are known for their stellar coffee or craft teas, and we want to enjoy them as guilt-free as possible, even when we don’t get the chance to sit down and enjoy them in a porcelain cup. That is why we recommend always carrying a thermal mug around with you. It’s a lot better for the environment. Also, your brew of choice won’t go cold on you and we’d be lying if we said that wasn’t high on our agenda.

nature photography internship

Manta rays are highly susceptible to plastic pollution

8. Choose Toiletries Wisely

Another way to cut down on plastic use is in the toiletries we pack. Rather than use a plastic comb, try out a bamboo one (they’re also better for your hair). You could also invest in a bamboo toothbrush rather. Look for shampoo, conditioner and soap options that are not wrapped in plastic, or petroleum-based. Usually these are hand-crafted which means you’ll be supporting local businesses and have a unique scent to boot.

9. Got Laundry?

If your trip is on the longer side, you may need to have your laundry done to keep fresh. However, many laundromats will wrap your clean, freshly-pressed clothes in plastic. We recommend taking your laundry in a pillowcase. A pillowslip is the perfect laundry-basket replacement, and it is always accessible.

10. How Do I Do More?

If you are passionate about conservation and the impact of plastic waste on the environment, why not check out a volunteer project overseas that gives you the opportunity to make a real contribution to a better world? African Impact run a handful of niche programs in Africa focused on the environment, giving you the chance to be part of proactive efforts, working with experts in the field of conservation.


These tips can help save our planet. Which is convenient, because we live here. Of course, there will be times when we use plastic anyways; sometimes “no, thank you” gets lost in translation, and sometimes we just can’t plan for every occasion. No one’s perfect, but that shouldn’t discourage us from making the differences we can.

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