Travelling to pick up litter. On the face of it, this could be a tough sell to your average holidaymaker…
But for eco-conscious globetrotters keen to have a positive impact on the destinations they visit, opting to take part in a beach clean during their trip could make for a rewarding experience; a volunteering project that avoids the pitfalls of ‘voluntourism’ schemes and also provides an opportunity to meet like-minded local people. Perhaps not such a rubbish idea after all?
Here are six fantastic travel destinations around the world – from Bali to Barcelona – where you’ll find beach clean schemes that welcome tourists, plus some suggestions on how to reward yourself with a bit of R & R afterwards – after all, you are on holiday.
Splintering from the Indian subcontinent into the Arabian Sea, dazzling, skyscraper-dotted Mumbai is a wonderful place to spend some time. A gargantuan, frenetic consortium of temples, trains and movie theatres, fragranced by the scent of one of the world’s great food scenes.
But Mumbai, like the rest of India, has a problem with waste management, and the issue is starkly revealed each July, when the monsoon-whipped waves deposit kilos of rubbish onto the city’s beaches. Mercifully, in recent years both government agencies and community-led task forces have been set up to tackle the problem, and visitors to the city can do their part by joining one of the regular cleanups of Versova Beach, or become an honorary Beach Warrior by taking part in one of their weekend litter-picks at various city beaches; both groups operate year round.
Ko Phi-Phi, Thailand
With its dreamy palm-backed beaches, salacious Full Moon Parties and fabled Khao San Road, Thailand has been a stalwart on backpacking itineraries for a generation. But the jewel in Southeast Asia’s crown is in need of a good polish. The waste caused by mass tourism (and the often slapdash infrastructure built to support it) has overwhelmed much of Thailand’s coastal regions and glistening isles, including the postcard pretty Phi-Phi archipelago. The waste problem here was confounded in 2018 when the iconic Maya Bay (star of The Beach) was closed to visitors due to issues around pollution.
But a new wave of travellers – more interested in doing good than getting wasted – are helping to curb the issue. Organisation Trash Hero runs popular, sociable weekly beach cleans on Phi-Phi Don, as well as numerous destinations across Thailand and further afield. Check the website for details.
England’s premier beach destination, Cornwall, with its fishing boat-bobbing coves, art galleries and one gargantuan greenhouse, also struggles with the scourge of litter along its blissful coastline – much to the anger of the area’s large surfer population.
From the secluded coves of Polperro to the long stretches of sand around Penzance, Clean Cornwall organises regular, small-scale clean up operations throughout the English county that anyone can join.
It’s fair to say tourism has become problematic in Barcelona, and while there are many ways you can help ease the issue of overtourism when visiting the city (from staying in lesser-known barrios to choosing eco-friendly accommodation), one way to help alter perceptions of visitors – and interact easily with locals – is to volunteer to help clean one of the city’s favourite beaches.
Clean up operations, run by the Clean Beach Initiative, are held every Saturday on the long sweeping sands of Platja de la Barceloneta, where volunteers (sometimes of the four-legged variety) pull together for the cause.
The archetypal ‘east meets west’ destination, Hong Kong’s cloud-scuffing skyline towers above nose-tingling food markets, gleaming shopping malls, bamboo opera theatres and city-centre horse racing tracks, with just enough room left for the region’s population of 7.4 million people. Indeed, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world, and, as a result, the city produces a lot of waste – much of which ends up spilling onto the city’s beaches.
While HK is best-known for its urban charms, over 70% of the region is made up of mountains and sprawling country parks. Dedicated volunteer groups work to protect the region’s delicate ecosystem, and gratefully welcome tourists into their ranks. If you’d like to help out, Plastic Free Seas holds regular cleans at Discovery Bay on Lantau Island, while The First Penguins, founded in 2016, adds some fun with monthly costumed cleans on various beaches, with previous themes ranging from princes and princesses to Star Wars.
As a destination synonymous with spirituality – permeating from its pretty water puras (temples) and street-thronging religious processions – and renowned worldwide for its wellness industry, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear Bali is home to a whole host of eco-conscious companies working to keep the Indonesian island’s emblematic coastline clean. It might surprise you however, to see the scale of the plastic problem on some parts of the island, with popular beaches like Kuta often amounting serious sums of litter, posing a serious threat to local marine life.
So after a dose of temple-hopping, market shopping and sampling the island’s salubrious cuisine, consider lending a hand to those fighting to keep the coast plastic free. Trash Hero has projects running all over the island, while beachfront bar Old Man’s in Canggu offers a free beer to anyone who helps out as part of their popular litter picks on Saturday afternoons.