Tourism and travel are often synonymous with pollution. Jets infamously produce a large carbon footprint through emissions. Then, as people make their way through airports and stay in hotels, they leave a trail of plastic waste--think disposable forks, little shampoo bottles, and bags. Sustainable tourism is fundamental to preserving destinations, but some travelers may associate this idea with austerity. When we go on vacation, we all want to experience luxury. This article will look at three destination cities that have it all--they produce low amounts of plastic waste, have high levels of recycling, and visitors can still have a fun vacation.


related: Sustainable Travel: What It Is, Why We Need It, And How You Can Do It

Bogota, Colombia

In honor of World Recycling Day, Saavo investigated which world cities produced the least waste. To do this, they considered the amount of plastic and food thrown out, how much plastic is reused or recycled, and the number of zero-waste grocery stores. The organization named Bogota, Colombia the world capital of zero waste.

Saavo reports that people in Bogota produced 2,413,455 tons of plastic waste per year. Compare that to Berlin, German where citizens threw out a staggering 14,476,561 tons. Berlin has only about half the population of Bogota but throws out seven times more plastic.

Colombians seem to prefer reusing and reselling items in lieu of throwing them out. This is one aspect that makes the city particularly interesting to visit since the population has founded some fascinating flea markets. This is what Derik Ayenga wrote in his Google review after visiting the Mercado De Las Pulgas San Alejo:

"It is the flea market of dreams. This is a five-hundred-year-old city... People keep cleaning out basements and finding the coolest stuff... Inside the parking lot is where the real action was. Keep asking, someone will know where the entrances are. I found a 250-year-old bell, a handmade woolen blanket, and a 300-year-old lock. All for under $50 USD total."

Flea markets in Bogota:

  • Mercado De Las Pulgas San Alejo, Cra. 7 #2470
  • Usaquen Flea Market, Calle 119 Con Carrera 6a

Zero-waste grocery stores:

  • Responsible Pantry Store, Cl. 41 ##26-41
  • Metkalo Mercado Consciente Diverso & Local, Cra. 4a #57-41

related: Heart Of Bogota: Bolivar Square Is Home To Many Of The City's Must-See Historic Buildings

Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok came in second place. This may surprise some readers since Thailand is infamous for the amount of plastic along its coastline and on its beaches. There is some good news: authorities have been working to improve this situation. Secondly, a lot of the garbage that ends up in the ocean there is due to mismanagement of waste rather than Thais throwing out a large amount. Fascinatingly, per capita, the citizens of Bangkok produce less waste than those of Bogota. Bangkok's 11 million inhabitants produce around three and a half million tons annually.

There are several ways that Bangkok has set to work to reduce plastic waste and improve how it's managed. For example, authorities have banned plastic bags in Thailand.  Visitors may notice that some vendors do not comply with this new policy, though. Garbage collection and processing are improving, too. Today about 80% of the city's trash ends up in waste management sites and workers separate nearly 20% for recycling.

Reducing and managing plastic waste is fundamental to maintaining Thailand's status as a top tourist destination. Since the country has so much beautiful coastline, keeping plastic waste from ending up in the ocean and on the beaches is particularly vital. Community groups, like Precious Plastics Bangkok clean beaches and up-cycle plastic waste to create new, useful items.

The city's nearly 200 markets of all kinds also contribute to Bangkok's progress on a path towards zero-waste. Here, people can purchase prepared food and eat it on the spot without unnecessary packaging. Many ingredients are available free of packaging. After all, markets are the original zero-waste shops, but today, shoppers may have to ask vendors not to wrap goods in single-use plastics when they make a purchase. Some of these markets have stands featuring second-hand goods, contributing to Thailand's "circular economy."

Bangkok Markets

  • Chatuchak Weekend Market, Kamphaeng Phet 2 Rd
  • Pratunam Market, Baiyoke Tower II, Phaya Thai Rd, Khwaeng Thanon Phaya Thai, Ratchathewi
  • Silom Night Market, Si Lom, Suriya Wong, Bang Rak

Rome, Italy

Rome does not necessarily have a reputation as a "clean city." There are famous photos of trash bins brimming with cardboard and plastic waste. ANSA reports that it is one of the cities that contributes the most to plastic pollution in the Mediterranean. Yet, the city is taking steps to reduce the waste they produce and recycle more. Over the past year, Romans threw out almost three million tons of trash. That's about one ton per person--not as little as Bogota or Bangkok, but still down there.

Romans have innovatively tackled their plastic problem: people who recycle PET bottles receive credits that they can redeem as metro tickets. This has had a huge impact. People have turned in around 5 million bottles since the initiative began. In all, the citizens of Rome recycle about 32% of their waste.

The city is also home to around 100 flea markets and the one on Via Sannio is perhaps the most famous. This is how Latrese Williams described her visit:

"The vendors selling the cheap stuff are outside but once you go into the actual market, there's this huge space of people selling all kinds of interesting vintage stuff. My friend found an amazing and authentic vintage Louis Vuitton purse. It's a fascinating spot even if you don't buy anything. Definitely worth a trip."

Flea Markets:

  • Via Sannio
  • Mercato Monti Urban Market
  • Mercatino Usato Roma Monteverde
  • Porta Portese

Whether travelers visit these cities or others, they may want to keep in mind ways to reduce the amount of waste they produce. Visiting new places is also a way to learn how people around the world are facing this common problem of how to deal with the massive amount of waste humans produce.

next: The World's Best Flea Markets Have Thousands Of Vendors, And We Don't Blame You For Being Overwhelmed