Plastic disaster


Since embarking on my journey to a plastic-free life I have slowly adopted a set of new habits that I stick to automatically. The most basic ones are bringing my own shopping bag, refusing any plastic bags for fruits and vegetables, and bringing my own water bottle. However, occasionally I still end up with unwanted plastics. A pretty bad plastic episode happened last week.

To extend my Chinese visa (I live and work in China at the moment) I had to cross the border and re-enter the country. I find visa issues stressful to deal with. To safe money and time, I decided to travel to the nearest border crossing. While most people in my situation travel to Hong Kong, I booked flight tickets to Erlian, which is a small city in Inner-Mongolia. Although cheaper and less time-consuming, this trip is a lot less comfortable and much more “off the beaten track” than the Hong Kong alternative.

Although I try to avoid planes as much as I can, considering the alternative was an uncomfortable 12 hour train trip and the fact that I did not want to waste time, I choose to fly anyway.

Already before boarding the plane, things went totally wrong in terms of plastic waste. I was tired because we moved house (yet again) last week and worried about the logistics of the trip and my visa. So I was poorly prepared when I left our new home.

On my way to the airport (by subway and train thankfully), I took out some money at the ATM. Suddenly I realized I had not packed any food or snacks. So I decided to buy some things in the supermarket next to the ATM. Of course everything was packed in plastic and I did not bring any bags or food containers. I ended up with a nice collection of nuts and dried fruit. All packed in plastic.

By the time I boarded the plane, I realized that I had forgotten to refill my bottle after the security check. Ironically, aboard, rather than serving tea or water from large bottles, on this flight the only thing served was water in 200ml bottles. Dying for something to drink I accepted not one but two of these bottles…

After arriving with all my plastic in Inner Mongolia, I took a cab to the border. I somehow managed to survive the border crossing, which is done in very old Soviet style jeeps that are completely packed with goods and people, and literally are falling apart. Upon arrival in Mongolia, I ate dinner with the super friendly Mongolian lady who shared the same jeep.

We didn’t finish the dinner. My host asked for a container for the leftovers… which meant THREE more plastic items!

When I had finally booked a hotel room and checked in, I realized my stainless steel water bottle was still empty. Since my Mongolian language skills are zero, I couldn’t ask for clean drinking water, so I ended up buying a big bottle of mineral water in the supermarket across the hotel.

After watching some Mongolian tv (everything was dubbed) and getting some work done, I was ready to go to bed. But… in my rush to the airport I had even forgotten to pack down my soap! So… I had to ask for some at the hotel. The soap, too, was wrapped in plastic. Thankfully I had brought my own toothbrush and toothpaste.

Back on the Chinese side, I bought another bag of nuts. In plastic. But on the flight back home, I refused the plastic water bottle…. not so great, because I felt dehydrated by the time I finally got home.

All in all, this trip was a plastic disaster. How do you deal with situations like this? How do you avoid such situations?


About Author


In 2013, after reading yet another article about plastic soup, Annemieke started her Dutch blog Plasticminimalism where she documented her small steps towards life with less plastic. To create more awareness about the adverse impacts of our plastic consumption, she launched Plastic-Free Tuesday in spring 2014. She strongly believes that building a better world starts by changing our own behavior. Annemieke is trained in environmental science and policy. She alternates living in the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, and China.

1 Comment

  1. Sooooo recognizable this scenario! I had this yesterday – I found this awesome local market on my way to work, with the most delicous nuts. And as I am nuts about nuts (lol) I had to buy these amazing almonds. (must be a family thing) But also I forgot my cotton bags (another family thing?) So what I do in these situations is look for paper or other material to wrap up the nuts. So I found paper that is used to wrap in vegetables. Still disposable material, but at least not as nasty as the plastic bags 🙂
    And whenever it does occur that I use a plastic bag, I see it as a lesson to not forget the cotton bags again 🙂 Imagine how many many many plastic bags you’ve already avoided! That’s amazing 🙂

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