Plas­tic

Can we re­duce the flood?

Business Spotlight - - CONTENTS -

Flugge­sellschaften, Ho­tels und Rei­sev­er­anstal­ter haben endlich das Aus­maß der Umweltver­schmutzung durch Plastik erkannt und wollen et­was dage­gen un­ternehmen. Umweltschützer fordern, dass jeder einzelne ak­tiv wer­den muss. Von IS­ABEL CHOAT

For decades, the im­age of a brightly coloured plas­tic straw in a cock­tail against a back­drop of sea and sun­set sig­nalled one thing — carefree hol­i­days. But 2018 is the year the travel in­dus­try will say adios not just to plas­tic straws but to all sin­gle-use plas­tic. To­day, those lit­tle plas­tic tubes are a sym­bol not of fun times but of the cat­a­strophic dam­age our throw­away cul­ture is do­ing to the planet. Pho­to­graphs of straws lit­ter­ing the seabed and beaches are on ev­ery news site and eco-con­scious so­cial me­dia ac­count — along with a litany of grim sta­tis­tics and stark warn­ings: 480 bil­lion plas­tic bot­tles sold worldwide in 2016; up to one tril­lion sin­gle-use plas­tic bags used ev­ery year; more than half a mil­lion plas­tic straws used ev­ery day around the world. If we con­tinue to gen­er­ate plas­tic waste at the cur­rent rate, ap­prox­i­mately 12 bil­lion tons will be in land­fills or the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment by 2050.

Fig­ures like these com­bined with the “Blue Planet ef­fect” (an in­creased in­ter­est in marine bi­ol­ogy in re­ac­tion to the BBC’S popular tele­vi­sion series) have prompted travel com­pa­nies to act. Among those in­tro­duc­ing a par­tial or com­plete ban on sin­gleuse plas­tics on their trips are cruise com­pa­nies Hur­tigruten and Fred Olsen; ad­ven­ture op­er­a­tors Ex­o­dus, Lind­blad Ex­pe­di­tions and KE Ad­ven­ture Travel; Edi­tion ho­tels; US glamp­ing

site Un­der Can­vas, and the Travel Cor­po­ra­tion, whose brands in­clude Red Car­na­tion Ho­tels, Con­tiki and Uni­world.

Other com­pa­nies are build­ing rub­bish col­lec­tion into hol­i­days in re­mote lo­ca­tions. This year, the Moun­tain Com­pany is ask­ing each trekker booked on to one of its trips to Nepal, Pak­istan, In­dia or Bhutan to pick up one kilo­gram of rub­bish. The long-term goal is for this to be­come stan­dard pro­ce­dure for ev­ery Moun­tain Com­pany group.

Some tour op­er­a­tors have gone fur­ther, in­tro­duc­ing hol­i­days aimed specif­i­cally at help­ing trav­ellers “quit” plas­tic. In July, up to 15 trav­ellers took part in the first Pelo­ton Against Plas­tic, a 27-day cy­cling tour or­ga­nized by ad­ven­ture spe­cial­ist In­trepid. Along the way, cy­clists met lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions deal­ing with the prob­lem, while ten per cent of the prof­its will go to a Cam­bo­dian char­ity, Re­hash Trash. Undis­cov­ered Moun­tains, a much smaller ad­ven­ture op­er­a­tor based in the south­ern French Alps, has ad­vised trav­ellers to leave all plas­tic be­hind and is to pro­vide plas­tic-free ac­com­mo­da­tion on a ded­i­cated trip.

These ini­tia­tives are not ground­break­ing — lux­ury re­sort group Soneva banned plas­tic straws in 1998 and stopped im­port­ing bot­tled wa­ter in 2008 — but from this year, com­pa­nies promis­ing to re­duce plas­tic waste will be in the ma­jor­ity. We may be drown­ing in plas­tic, but the tide is start­ing to turn.

“This is the year the cor­po­rate world woke up to the scale of our plas­tic prob­lem and the travel in­dus­try is no ex­cep­tion. From air­lines to cruise lines, we have heard a raft of mea­sures aimed at cut­ting throw­away plas­tic,” says Louise Edge, se­nior oceans cam­paigner at Green­peace UK.

Much still to do

“But there’s a lot more ground to cover. Some of the world’s most popular tourist des­ti­na­tions are in coastal ar­eas, some­times in coun­tries al­ready awash with plas­tic waste. Unless we tackle the prob­lem at the source, more plas­tic will keep wash­ing up

on beaches. There’s a lot that travel op­er­a­tors and ho­tel chains can do to cut plas­tic waste, from elim­i­nat­ing sa­chets and dis­pos­able cups to en­cour­ag­ing the use of re­fill sta­tions,” says Edge.

So far, most of the ac­tion has been taken by large com­pa­nies, with ded­i­cated sustainability man­agers and a vested eco­nomic in­ter­est in keep­ing the en­vi­ron­ment that they sell as clean as pos­si­ble. How­ever, Joanne Hen­drickx hopes to reach smaller, three- and four-star ho­tels through her on­line tool­kit Travel With­out Plas­tic (www.trav­el­with­out­plas­tic.com).

Hen­drickx says she reached her own per­sonal “peak plas­tic” dur­ing a stay at a US ho­tel where break­fast was served ex­clu­sively in plas­tic dishes with plas­tic cut­lery wrapped in plas­tic. “I was watch­ing the waiter clear it away and he must have filled three bins. Ac­tu­ally see­ing it pil­ing up be­fore my eyes pushed me over the edge. I thought, ‘I can’t con­trib­ute to this’.”

The site gives ad­vice on ways to min­i­mize plas­tic waste and, im­por­tantly for small ho­tels, the po­ten­tial eco­nomic im­pact of switch­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly al­ter­na­tives. “We do all the re­search and set out the pros and cons of switch­ing. For ex­am­ple, if you take toi­letry minia­tures out of rooms, what do you re­place them with? What are the cost im­pli­ca­tions?” Ex­actly what ef­fect these ini­tia­tives and bans will have is yet to be seen. The travel in­dus­try is huge — ac­cord­ing to the World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNWTO), in­ter­na­tional tourist ar­rivals grew seven per cent in 2017, reach­ing 1.3 bil­lion glob­ally — but so is the prob­lem, with head­lines say­ing that plas­tic may out­weigh fish by 2050.

“In 2016, air­lines gen­er­ated 5.2 mil­lion tons of cabin waste”

Moun­tains of plas­tic waste

Even some­one aware of the prob­lem, who takes their own stain­less-steel wa­ter bot­tle on hol­i­day, can end up pro­duc­ing a mini-moun­tain of plas­tic waste be­fore they even reach their des­ti­na­tion: from throw­ing out wa­ter bot­tles and cos­met­ics at air­port se­cu­rity to buy­ing minia­ture toi­letries duty-free and drink­ing plas­tic cups of wa­ter and hot drinks in flight.

Air­ports say they are do­ing their bit. Gatwick re­cy­cles all plas­tic bot­tles and says all food and drink out­lets of­fer free tap wa­ter, al­though it has only five wa­ter foun­tains across its two ter­mi­nals (com­pared with 100 at Heathrow). Un­til re­cently, the fo­cus on air travel and pol­lu­tion was al­most ex­clu­sively on emis­sions, but the plas­tic foot­print is mas­sive, too. In 2016, air­lines gen­er­ated 5.2 mil­lion tons of cabin waste. In Jan­uary, Ryanair an­nounced it would elim­i­nate all non­re­cy­clable plas­tics within five years as part of a new en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy. Oth­ers are more vague about the level of their waste re­duc­tion. Bri­tish Air­ways has stated it is “ac­tively seek­ing to source non-plas­tic al­ter­na­tives where pos­si­ble”.

But cam­paign­ers are con­fi­dent that con­sumer aware­ness is high enough for the move­ment to build into mean­ing­ful ac­tion. Plas­tic Free July, a grass-roots cam­paign that started with 40 peo­ple in Aus­tralia in 2011, es­ti­mated that two mil­lion peo­ple from 170 coun­tries par­tic­i­pated in this year’s pledge to re­duce their use of plas­tic. Sales of wa­ter fil­ters are on the rise. Waterto-go, which sells a fil­tra­tion bot­tle that elim­i­nates 99.9 per cent of all mi­cro­bi­o­log­i­cal con­tam­i­nants in wa­ter, giv­ing trav­ellers a prac­ti­cal al­ter­na­tive to buy­ing bot­tled wa­ter, has seen its big­gest growth in sales since it be­gan in 2010. Chris­tine Mackay, founder of the Trav­el­ers Against Plas­tic (TAP) cam­paign, who also runs a non-profit ad­ven­ture com­pany, Crooked Trails, has been us­ing fil­ter de­vices for years. “There will be a tip­ping point when it be­comes em­bar­rass­ing to hold a plas­tic wa­ter bot­tle. In five years’ time, no one will be hold­ing one,” Mackay says.

Plas­tic ev­ery­where: waste in a river in the Philip­pines

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