A pang of guilt jolts me as I look down at my backpack. Tucked into the straps is an environmental nightmare; a two-litre plastic bottle sits dented with its label half peeling off. I shouldn’t have bought it, I think. But how else do I carry three litres of water? I try to appease my conscience by remembering it’s been refilled and squished between straps for the past three weeks. It doesn’t make me feel any better. I know I’ll feel even more guilty when, in about four days, it will likely get an inevitable hole in it and I’ll replace it with another one.
I don’t wear an environmental halo
I’m not an environmental angel, not by a long stretch. I’m not one of those ‘no waste’ people. Or someone who picks up every scrap of rubbish they walk past. (Then posts it on Instagram and Facebook to get hundreds of ‘likes’. I wonder if social media didn’t exist how many of these environmental saints would actually exist. I have my suspicions.)
But that said, throw-away plastic bottles make my skin crawl. I had my trusty one-litre Sigg metal bottle until I lost it in Wales. Now I have a different one. But I’ve always had an accompanying plastic nightmare with me, too. I can’t survive beyond the Highlands with only a one-litre bottle. In England, and to a large extent the places I walked in Wales, potable water is a nightmare to find. And two-litre metal bottles don’t exist as far as I’m aware (I always want to have three litres of vestibules for water).
“Well I manage to fill up from streams and rivers so I don’t need more than a one-litre bottle,” a few snooty hikers have proclaimed in an air of authority when I explain the issue. They condescendingly believe I’m a whimp who won’t drink anything other than sterilised water. (Phaa! I’ve drunk out of the River Tees in desperation before now.) Yet other cyclists and walkers have agreed with me; it’s not that easy to find clean water beyond the national parks, or any water sources at all, believe me. You need to fill up as much as possible when you find one. I’ve walked nearly 2,000 miles on my hike through Britain, so I have a fair idea of what I’m talking about.
Please Sir, may I have some water?
Obtaining water refills was a big issue for me; to ask for something without buying anything. It’s that silly British attitude of, ‘I might put people’s noses out of joint if I ask for a refill and buy nothing.’ But slowly, I have wandered into pubs and cafes, bought nothing, and asked for a top-up. This was made slightly easier when someone in Wales told me that cafes have to do this if asked for a water refill. I have no idea if it is law or not, but it made me bolder and my plastic bottles last longer.
I have asked people who have been in their gardens for refills, but as of yet I have never knocked on someone’s door. In those instances, I just go thirsty and don’t cook at night in my tent. There have been times when I’ve been into a village shop, had hardly any water, but left without buying another horrid plastic bottle. And then there have been those times when I have bought yet another bottle of environmental evil and a flood of guilt has hit me again.
Water on tap, please
I want to see water fountains back in use, in villages as well as cities. Taps on long distance trails. Public toilets with sinks that we can refill in, rather than those three-in-one efforts where I’ll get soap in my bottle as a non-optional extra. I’d like to see shops stop selling plastic bottles and have taps we can use, instead, for free. And then I can stop contributing towards the throw-away plastic world we live in, too. I was sickened when I returned from South America six years ago to see horrible plastic containers around fruit and vegetables. I’d been used to going to markets and plonking things directly in my backpack (and trying to explain to the vendors over there why plastic bags were bad for the environment. They didn’t grasp the concept at all.)
I’d also like councils to install bins with a recycling side attached, like those in London. I recycle about 1% of the waste I create as there is nowhere for me to do it. No green bins. No recycling points. Not on my route, anyway. And I feel guilty again for throwing it all away. However, I still continue to buy food with individual packaging as I’d struggle with anything else for my continual long-distance hike.
One thing I have stopped buying is coffees in takeaway cups. On those wet, miserable days when a hot latte will soothe away just about anything, I ensure I go into the cafe and have it in a ceramic cup. Those pesky take away cups cannot be recycled at all as they’re all lined with plastic. (And I refuse to use Pret as they use take away cups for everything.)
Say no to plastic – it’s a lifestyle choice
In truth, we have become a nation of laziness. How hard is it to put loose fruit directly into a basket (when the shops sell loose fruit, that is)? To take water with us in a reusable bottle on a day out? To put rubbish in the bin and not drop it on the floor? To recycle? To walk to the shops instead of driving? To let kids walk to school, as I did, instead of driving the precious cherubs everywhere? It’s really not difficult. It’s a choice. And one we can all make if we want to.
Oh, and if anyone does know of a lightweight, two-litre metal bottle in existence, do let me know. And no, a plastic Camelback won’t work as I have my bag on a buggy.
If you’re trying to cut down on plastic, please feel free to share this honest blog post on your social media accounts.
Jane Batchelor hiked 3,500 miles through Britain, mainly camping as she went, for an entire year. For more photos, follow her Facebook and Instagram pages or subscribe to her Youtube channel. To find out more about her journey, click here.