Lonely Planet Writer

Going Green: here’s how the travel industry is phasing out plastic

Did you know that it can take up to 200 years for plastic straws to break down? Or that one million seabirds die each year from ingesting plastic?  Plastic pollution is a widespread problem across the globe and following the European Union’s latest crackdown to reduce single-use waste, it’s becoming clear that members of the travel industry are moving to cut down on plastic.

Many companies are on board to phase out plastics. Image by Thanatham Piriyakarnjanakul / EyeEm

Starting from 16 June, Alaska Airlines will become the first US airline to ban straws on their flights. In 2017, the airline distributed a whopping 22 million plastic straws, stirring sticks and citrus picks which are too lightweight to recycle and usually end up being tossed aside. Alaska Airlines will replace them with birch stir sticks and non-plastic straws; they will also replace most of their juice boxes with recyclable aluminium cans. An astonishing 12,000 tons of recyclable materials were collected by Alaska over the past eight years.

Meanwhile, budget airline Ryanair has announced that they’re to be totally plastic-free by 2023 including within their head offices, bases and operations. “For customers on board, this will mean initiatives such as a switch to wooden cutlery, bio-degradable coffee cups, and the removal of plastics from our range of in-flight products,” they say. Fiji Airways and Thai Airways also both pledged to reduce single-use plastic on board their fleets this year and London City Airport was the first airport to ban plastic straws.

Single-use plastics end up being tossed aside. Image by GettyImages/5m3photos

Following the eco-friendly trend, hospitality and food service company, Delaware North, has also started to remove straws from its 200-plus dining locations at 23 airports across the US.

But it’s not only the air industry who are taking note, the Hilton hotel group is planning to eliminate straws across its 650 global accommodations and plastic bottles from its conferences by the end of this year. Competitor Marriott International is also on board to curb plastic pollution by replacing small amenity bath bottles in its North America hotels with recyclable dispensers and they are hoping that fellow hoteliers will follow suit.

Royal Caribbean plans to reduce its usage. Image by GettyImages/Richard Cummins

In addition, Royal Caribbean has also pledged to go plastic-free on its cruises and Vanuatu in the South Pacific has outlawed plastic straws, single-use plastic bags and polystyrene takeaway boxes altogether. All catering to the eco-conscious traveller, don’t be surprised if you see more and more recycling initiatives being launched in the near future.

Last year, authorities in Bali declared a “garbage emergency” because of the amount of waste that was being washed up on its coastline. An estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste enters our oceans every year.