Creating a Plastic Free Activity Holiday – the Challenge

Posted 11-06-2018

The Plastic Problem

Like most people our conscience has been pricked by the devastating reports of the effect of plastic pollution on the world.

As a responsible tour operator company we like to think we are doing everything we can to have a positive impact on the local environment and economies of the beautiful destinations we bring people to, but until recently we never really thought about the impact of plastic!

In the idyllic mountains of the Southern French Alps, plastic pollution is not really in evidence. There isn’t much litter, we rarely see wildlife getting caught up in plastic waste, the lakes, rivers and forests all look clean and natural. 

But everyday we use plastic; our accommodation providers give out plastic picnic bags and provide disposable plastic toiletries, our activity providers give out drinks in plastic bottles, much of our activity equipment is made with plastic… and the list goes on.

This is all ultimately ending up somewhere, even if we can’t see it here!

 So what to do about plastic?  We decided we would try to put together a plastic free holiday with the aim of:

  • Reducing our own and tourists’ plastic waste
  • Raising awareness of plastic pollution in the rural Alpine environments we use for our holiday destinations where it still remains a hidden and unseen pollution.
  • Raising tourists’ awareness of how to reduce plastic use whilst travelling.  

Plastic Stock Take

To start with we decided to make a list of everything we do and offer with our holidays that uses plastic.

We very quickly realised the extent to which plastic is integrated into absolutely everything.

It is in our vehicles, clothing, footwear, safety helmets, ropes, wetsuits, bikes, boats, paragliding chutes, tents, backpacks, office stationary packaging, food packaging, toiletries…. Everything I could think of used plastic in some way or other.

Of all accommodations mountain refuges are probably the most waste conscious in general as they do have to carry out all their rubbish on their backs. That means that anything non-biodegradable such as plastic but also tin cans and bottles is put into a rucksack and walked out.

I thought maybe this experience of carrying out the end of season’s rubbish itself would be a good awareness raising one for most people but I was less convinced it would be a seller in terms of holidays!!

The Compromise

To have a completely plastic free holiday would mean hiking into the mountains wearing only wool and cotton, leather shoes with hobnail leather soles and carrying a hessian rucksack, either sleeping under the stars or in a plastic free mountain refuge.

So yes whilst this is in theory possible, it would be very difficult to achieve and pretty uncomfortable, especially in bad weather.  So we tried to think about what would be practical and realistic but still achieve our objectives. 

We decided that although all plastic does eventually end up in landfill or the ocean, the worst culprits are one-use plastics or those with a very short usage life. If we were able to eliminate these from our holidays, this would be a big step forward. 

We theorized that there is a difference between convenience and justifiable use of plastic and also that there is no point buying new stuff in an alternative material, just to not be seen with something plastic if you already have the plastic version that is still usable. 

For example, you don’t need a plastic bag to put your picnic in and can easily replace it with a paper one. However,  a re-usable plastic bottle could be justified for it’s unbreakable and re-usable qualities. 

Aluminium and other metal drinks bottles could also be used, but there is no point buying one of these and draining more of the world’s resources if you already have a re-usable plastic one!

Where plastic is used in safety equipment for it’s qualities in weight-saving, strength, waterproofness and elasticity and there are no alternatives currently on the market, this is also acceptable.

The Plastic Free Activity Holiday

So taking all this into consideration, what does our plastic free activity holiday look like?

As we work with so many different suppliers for different accommodations, food and activities, we knew it would to be a challenge to get everyone to play ball. So we decided we would try it for a month with selected providers to see how people responded.

First challenge was to find an accommodation who would be able to provide a plastic free accommodation experience with plastic free picnics, plastic free toiletries and ideally who use plastic free suppliers for their main produce deliveries.

The Grange des Ecrins who are already very pro-local and have an environmentally friendly ethos were our first port of call and they were delighted to get involved in the challenge.

We chose September as our plastic free month as many of the watersports which are highly dependent on plastics start to close down for the season this month so people would be less enticed to try these activities and instead focus on less plastic dependent ones.

Next we chose as many activities as possible where, if plastic is used, it is justifiable in our opinion, for example in safety helmets. 

We decided to include a night in a refuge as part of this holiday and for our clients to help participate in carrying out the season’s rubbish from the refuge. So yes, even if this isn’t a ‘seller’ I think it should be done on this holiday. The guardians in the refuges will also be very grateful for the help!

We will also be asking clients on this holiday to be as plastic free as possible!

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