Eco-Friendly Travel – The Negative Impact of Plastics in the Tourist Industry

Most of us recycle at home. Raised in the late 90’s, I don’t remember not recycling. We go to beach clean ups, we donate to the WWF, we like posts talking about how to help the Earth and how horrible people are these days. We really try. 

Eco-Friendly Travel - The Negative Impact of Plastics in the Tourist Industry

But has it occurred to us that the minute that we leave our safe enclave where we know “how to behave”, which bin we should put our paper and our plastics into, we forget about recycling and doing our best?  

When confronted with the idea of being a guest, a lot of people forget about doing their part – the simple reason being that they don’t feel as responsible for what’s going on in someone else’s backyard. But the sad truth is that tourism and the trash we create as someone’s “guests” really does make a very meaningful impact.  

A troubling report released by the World Wildlife Fund showed that tourists cause a 40 percent increase of waste in the Mediterranean Sea. Shockingly, 95 percent of this waste is plastic. These statistics can be loosely interpreted to estimate the amount of waste that is left by tourists across the world both in the waters and on dry land. Hotels to begin with have been known to be the biggest handlers of plastic in the tourism sector. The hotels keep toiletries wrapped in plastic, small lotion bottles and even the chocolates wrapped in plastic wrappers given to tourists as complementary. The plastic is also seen in the numerous plastic bottles and the straws that are ever available. 

Another contributor to waste is the cruise ships. Cruise ships dump their waste in the water. In most countries, there are regulations that govern how much waste should be dumped in the sea while some prohibit dumping of plastics. But even if the cruise crew themselves do not dump the plastic in the sea, some of the passengers do. From plastic bottles and other plastic waste, cruise ship tours are some of the highest contributors of pollution in the same waters that they navigate in. 

Having learnt the threat that plastic waste causes to the environment and especially the aquatic life various organizations and countries have come up to push for the ban of single use plastic. Some countries have affected the plastic ban while others are on their way there. There have also been regulations that have been written to guide hotels on the use of plastics. The first recommendation was to remove the mini toiletries and only give the customer upon request. This aims to minimize the number of plastics being used in these bathrooms. The other recommendation that has been floated is to bring the hotel workers together and decide which of the plastics found lying around is not useful. Only the plastic that cannot be avoided should be present. 

For the cruise ship, aside from the common rule that the ship should not dump the waste at a certain area close to the beach, cruise ships have been asked to set a team that will be on the lookout. The work of this team is to collect, sort and recycle any form of waste that is found on the cruise ship. They should also indicate to the customers that dumping waste in the sea is not allowed. 

Away from the regulations and laws, tourists themselves can contribute to saving the environment by using alternative bags and water bottles. There are biodegradable career bags available that can be replaced by the plastic bags we buy in supermarkets and shopping malls. Some of these bags are made of sisal and other degradable material. The bags come in various shapes and sizes that can conveniently carry your shopping be it fruits, toiletries or any other thing. 

On water bottles here are some of the reusable bottles that can be used instead of the plastic water bottles. 

  • The Stainless Steel Bottle. This bottle is insulated meaning it can keep the temperature of the water or drink at the same temperature up to 12 hours.  
  • The Glass Bottle. Although it lacks an insulator, it is still a great alternative to plastic water bottles. The best part is that your drinks maintain their original taste and not the plastic taste. 
  • The Ceramic Bottle. It could be heavier but will keep your water colder for longer. 
  • The Paper Bottle. Like wine paper bottles and milk tetra packs, paper water bottles are slowly gaining popularity in the market. 

There are some efforts by the tourist industry to curb waste. Getting into recycling programs and reusables really helps. A fine example of this are companies that make it a point to generate zero waste. Even some luxury safari hotels and extreme travel outfits have decided that it’s time to take matters into their own hands and eliminate plastic all together! When you travel, grab a reusable bottle or a glass container. Other tourists and locals will thank you.  

About Marina Villatoro

Marina Kuperman Villatoro CEO of, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. Marina has been an expat 20+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. She travels all over the world with her family to give first hand experiences of where to eat, stay and play with kids. Needless to say, it’s never boring! Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more unique and boutique family travel!

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