How to Avoid Plastic When You Don’t Speak the Language

The language barrier in Cuba made things… challenging.

This is the last post in my plastic-free travel series, which is aimed at helping you green up your travels, with as little effort as possible on your part. I’ll also be posting tips on the Birdgehls Facebook page – give it a like and follow along. Feel free to sign up to my newsletter as well, using the box in the sidebar or below this post.

How many times when travelling have you felt completely frustrated by your inability to communicate with someone else? Often, is my guess, unless you’re some sort of language wizz or polygot.

Related: My seven-odd favourite eco-friendly travel items

The biggest difficulty I’ve had with going plastic free whilst travelling, is language barriers. I can tell someone in English that I don’t want a straw with my drink, or that I have my own bag – but what do I do when we don’t speak the same language?

“I have my own bag, thank you.”

“I don’t want a straw.”

“Can I please use my own container?”

“I don’t want to use any plastic.”

These are the four phrases that I think will be most helpful, if you’re gunning towards plastic-free travel. I have translations in five languages so far – French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Russian. I’ll hopefully be adding more in the future, so be sure to pin this page!

In French

J’ai déjà un sac or Je veux utiliser mon propre sac. – I already have a bag/I want to use my own bag.
Je ne veux pas de paille.
Je n’ai pas besoin d’un sac en plastique – I do not need a plastic bag.
Je ne veux pas utiliser de plastique.

Related: Green up your travels with these simple, eco-friendly swaps

At least I know how to order ham in Spanish. Seville.

In Spanish

Gracias, tengo mi propria bolsa.
No necesito una pajita.
¿Puedo usar mi proprio topper?
No quiero usar plástico.

No necesito una pajita - I don't want a straw. See more plastic-free translations here. Click To Tweet

In German

Thanks to Hope and Nic for their assistance.

Ich möchte keinen Strohhalm.
Danke, aber ich habe eine Tüte/Tasche (ein Säckli).(use Säckli in Switzerland)
Darf ich meinen eigenen Behälter benutzen?
Ich möchte keinen Kunststoff/Plastik benüzten.

I struggled to keep things green in Kyrgyzstan.

In Russian

I’m going to go ahead and assume that you can’t read Cyrillic script (I certainly cannot!). So here’s the phonetic translations, too. Thanks to Stephen of Monk Bought Lunch for these translations!

Мне не нужно этот пластиковый пакет, у меня есть свой. – Mne ne nuzhno etot plastikovyy paket, ooh menya yest’ svoy.
Я не хочу трубочку. – Ya ne hochu trubochku.
У меня есть контейнер. – U menya yest’ konteiner.
Мне не нравится использовать пластик. – Mne ne nravitsya ispol’zovat’ plastik.

In Italian

These translations are courtesy of Allison from Eternal Arrival. You can read more about sustainable travel hacks on her blog.

Ho il mio sacchetto/sacchettino, grazie.
Non ho bisogno di una cannuccia. – I don’t need a straw
Non voglio una cannuccia. – I don’t want a straw
Posso usare il mio contenitore, per favore?
Non voglio usare plastica.

For getting around plastic free in Amsterdam.

In Dutch

Thank you to Ellis of Backpack Adventures for the translations.

Ik heb mijn eigen tas, dank u.
Ik wil geen rietje.
Kan ik mijn eigen bakje gebruiken, alstublieft.
Ik wil geen plastic gebruiken.

In Filipino

Shoutout to Best of World Travel Team for supplying these translations.

Maraming salamat. Mayroon na po akong sariling bag. / Maraming salamat. Mayroon na akong sariling bayong. (“maraming salamat” means “thank you”)

Ayoko po ng istro. / Ayaw ko ng istro.

Maaari ko na lamang bang gamitin ang sarili kong lalagyan? / Puwede po bang gamitin ko na lang itong sarili kong lalagyan? (“Puwede” is more casual)

Ayoko ko gumamit ng kahit na anong plastik. / Ayaw ko po gumamit ng ano mang plastik.

Note: “po” is a term to denote respect to other people especially elders.

If you have any other additions that you’d like to recommend, please email me at, or pop a suggestion in the comments below.

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LC can often be found nursing a cup of green tea, with her head in a book. She is a writer, video editor and professional cheese eater. Her life's aspiration is to one day live on a farm in Tasmania with 11 dogs, a Shetland pony and several pygmy goats. Follow along on Facebook or sign up to the monthly newsletter.

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Jeff & Crystal - February 5, 2017

We haven’t spent much time traveling abroad, but the idea of learning key phrases seems like a great idea. We especially like the one about having your own bag. Too much trash ends up loose on the planet because of wasted bags.

    LC - February 6, 2017

    They’re stupidly redundant, but it can be hard to communicate the point when you don’t speak the language! Hence this post. 🙂

Brooke - February 5, 2017

Good for you to reduce the waste being thrown in landfills! Responsible travel is even more important than ever now that so many of us are roaming the world!

    LC - February 6, 2017

    Absolutely, the amount of trash that’s piling up worldwide is disgusting.

Elisabeth Bunch - February 6, 2017

This is great! I love foreign languages, so I especially enjoyed the Russian and German translations, language I don’t speak 🙂

    LC - February 6, 2017

    Hope they come in handy!

Tracy (lifeofkuhl) - February 6, 2017

This is so often a concern for us as we travel. The lack easily accessible info or resources leaves us acting quite irresponsible at times. I think it is great that you are creating an awareness for this and next time I am in a situation where I have a choice to choose wisely, I will think of your post 🙂

    LC - February 6, 2017

    Thanks Tracy, hope it does help!

Pete - February 6, 2017

Here in Canberra, free plastic bags are banned. Now the shops sell you sturdier bags with advertising on for fifteen cents, or more solid ones for a dollar. They generally get thrown away after a few uses, so we are using more plastic than ever, paying for the privilege, and displaying free advertising to boot.

Got to wonder if politicians have their head screwed on the right way round sometimes.

    LC - February 6, 2017

    I don’t think they do! I think forget about charging people for bags – just ban the damn things outright.

Kate and Kris - February 6, 2017

You need to do one for Thai! The amount of plastic bags and straws and spoons you get given here is rediculous.

    LC - February 6, 2017

    Have to find someone who speaks Thai to translate them for me!

Carmen Baguio - February 6, 2017

These are some very phrases. I love using google translate when I’m in a non-touristy area. Hand gestures go a long way, too!

    LC - February 7, 2017

    They do, but for something so specific, knowing the word helps (I’ve tried to mime no straw before with zero luck!)

Matthew - February 6, 2017

What a great idea! We definitely need less plastic in the world, especially one-off disposable stuff. Great job giving people the tools and inspiration to help make it happen!

    LC - February 7, 2017

    Thank you! Just realised what I was lacking through trail and error myself, haha.

The Travel Ninjas - February 7, 2017

This is very cool and helpful. Do you happen to know these in any asian languages? The whole concept is poorly understood here.

    LC - February 9, 2017

    No! I hope to update this post in Asian languages in the future.

Rhiannon - February 8, 2017

Despite having an actual degree in the language, I can never ever ever remember the Spanish word for straw! Maybe now I’ve read it here I finally will!
Such a great idea for a post, these phrases are definitely super handy.

    LC - February 9, 2017

    Haha, glad to have been of assistance! Thanks, I hope it does provide help to some people.

Sandy N Vyjay - February 10, 2017

This article is an incredible step towards fighting pollution and saving mother earth from hazardous plastics. When travelling we should all definitely travel plastic free and contribute towards saving the environment.

Mohit Agarwal - February 10, 2017

that’s a great initiative….so far I have read how travelers visit a place and destroy the cleanliness of the city but its good to see that there are people who know what’s right…

    LC - February 16, 2017

    Cheers Mohit! Trying. 🙂

Nic {luzia pimpinella} - February 16, 2017

Hi LC,

this is an awesome and important blogpost – I really like it and the information is so valuable for everyone who wants to act a little more sustainable!

Actually I wrote an article about that same topic in my german blog just the other day.

Cheers from Germany! 🙂

    LC - February 18, 2017

    Thanks Nic! It is the little things that count, in the end.

Jule - August 21, 2018

Yes! 🙂 thats what I tell people if they say: oh it is not possible to refuse plastic because of the language barrier!! Just learn the phrases 😀
Thanks for sharing!


    LC - August 29, 2018

    Haha YES. It’s a pretty simple solution, really.

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