Seal caught in netting

Plastics & pollution

Only people who’ve had their head in the sand will not be aware of the problem of rubbish, especially plastic waste, damaging the planet. What are the issues and what can we do?

Seal caught in netting

© KGregory,Shutterstock

Plastic and Pollution

Walking over the fine powdery sands of the beach, you reach the warm blue waters of the Indian Ocean. The lace-edged waves tickle your toes to invite you in. This is what you’ve come for – pristine beauty and an escape in a landscape far away from that of your usual life.

You swim, the buoyant sea embracing your tired body. You relax. Then you see an incredible sight – there’s a turtle not far away from you. You can hardly believe your luck. You tread water and hold your breath, hoping he will come closer. He does - slowly. And then you see it. He’s hardly moving - his flippers are completely entangled with bright blue rope. He’s dying – you can see it in his eyes. It might be the rope that’s killing him, or it might be the fact that he’s full of plastic bags that he mistook for tasty jellyfish. Either way, human pollution has notched up yet another victim in the wild.


  • We produce 275 million metric tons of plastic waste a year.
  • Over 8 million metric tons goes into our oceans, making up 80% of all marine debris.
  • We are killing our oceans.
  • We are destroying the planet that shelters, clothes and feeds us.

The price of an easy life

As flagged up so graphically by David Attenborough and the Blue Planet team, plastic pollution is one of the most critical environmental issues we are currently facing. But, sadly, it doesn't end there.


Plastic Pollution

80% of the plastic in the oceans comes from the land. 20% is from fishing, industrial losses and illegal dumping. Marine life eats the plastic, assuming it to be food - be that plastic bags, straws, bottles … or even microbeads. They assume they are eating good food, but end up starving to death or being poisoned by the plastic. Fish are now very likely to contain some level of plastic, which we then eat ourselves. Plastic is toxic to us all. We even find that water, beer and salt is contaminated with plastic now. It is a vast problem that is affecting not only the health of environment but humans too. On a positive note, global awareness is on the increase and over forty countries have made bold moves to combat the problem by banning single-use plastics such as plastic bags and water bottles.


Dealing with Rubbish

Plastic and other rubbish left on beaches and in other environments has a huge effect on a tourist destination’s economy. The expense of regularly cleaning sites and the negative impact on the numbers of visitors to such areas are real problems, but it’s even more of an issue in places where the country simply can’t deal with the waste at all. Here it just builds up, potentially contaminating the environment and affecting the health of communities nearby, as well as wildlife.


Water contamination

From lakes polluted by oil extraction in the Amazon to rivers contaminated by huge palm oil factories in Africa, we’re not short of instances where water is contaminated on a grand scale. However, seemingly small things can also cause big problems – a lodge that allows untreated sewage into the water system, the personal use of petroleum-based toiletries (eg sunscreen etc) in a pristine nature environment … everything we do has an impact yet we’re not always aware of such issues.


Air Pollution

We all know that planes are hugely polluting beasts, however many of our travels involve a flight. Until planes find a way to become less polluting, why not either fly less often or at least consciously do something to help the environment that you wouldn't ordinarily have done? It’s not ideal, we accept, but it’s something. At Tribes, we plant trees to help the general biodiversity of the planet - and we do this for all our travellers.

How can you help whilst travelling?

    Drinks offered in plastic bottles or plastic glasses/cups where possible, and definitely plastic straws and novelties, single-use shampoo and body lotions offered in hotels. Take your own, preferably in refillable bottles.
    Plastic shopping bags with reusable cloth bags. Note that Kenya introduced tough bans on plastic bags (making it illegal to use them), and Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan are considering following suit. And the Galapagos Islands should have banned plastic straws, bags, water bottles and styrofoam utensils by August 2018.
    Single-use water bottles with your own reusable water bottle. (Many places now offer to refill water bottles).
  • Food for thought – In a bid to reduce the number of plastic water bottles used on safari, many lodges and camps now give reusable bottles to guests on arrival. Sounds like a good plan except, when on a trip that involves several camps, you can end up with a huge collection of bottles. Why not hold on to your first bottle for the whole holiday? Refuse a second bottle.
    Choosing natural, biodegradable toiletries (to save contaminating water sources) and those which have NO plastic microbeads.
    Removing packaging from any items before you travel – often a developing region’s waste removal systems are unable to cope with the increasing amount of waste.
    Recycling where possible – including asking hotels and lodges how they recycle.
    Being very careful about rubbish, and bringing home waste that is hard to deal with, such as dead batteries.
  • TAKE ACTION in other ways too:
    Offset your flight carbon emissions through a scheme such as our own – The Travel Forest (part of The Tribes Foundation).
    Sign a petition to stop the use of single-use plastic. For example, are petitioning UK supermarkets to ‘Ditch throwaway plastic packaging’ (which Iceland has already done on their own-brand packaging).