Tourism vs. Plastic Pollution

Tourism and Solutions to Plastic Pollution: Promoting Sustainable Change Through Tourism Value Chains

Considering the importance of clean, safe and healthy environments to our destinations, there is a clear case for the tourism industry to actively tackle plastic pollution. And we need to amplify and help scale solutions. In this panel industry leaders from around the world share examples of tourism organizations actively addressing plastic pollution, creating solutions, and advocating for sustainable change.
  • Nishshanka De Silva Social Entrepreneur | Founder at ZeroPlastic Movement
  • Kanika Jhunjhnuwala Executive Director, Sustainability and Environment at HIND Management
  • Dr. Kasia Weina Director, Co-founder at Evergreen Labs
  • Brad Nahill Co-Founder & President at SEE Turtles
  • Tatjana Peters Project Manager at Futouris e.V.
  • Laura Kotyga B2B Sustainability Manager at Evaneos
  • Shobhana Jain Sustainability Officer, Communications, at RARE India
  • Caitlin McNamara Senior Travel Expert at Amity Tours

Cheap, light-weight, and versatile. Plastic is among the most useful and convenient materials ever invented. But plastic pollution is a major environmental, health and economic risk affecting all facets of our lives.

Considering the importance of clean, safe and healthy environments to our main “asset”, our destinations, there is a clear case for the tourism industry to actively tackle plastic pollution. We need urgent actions to reduce our reliance on single-use plastics, avoid further exacerbating plastic pollution especially in natural areas, and help amplify and scale solutions.

In support of the Earth Day 2024 theme “Planet vs. Plastics”, in this panel industry leaders from around the world share examples of tourism organizations actively addressing plastic pollution, walking the talk on zero waste commitments, supporting circular solutions through our supply chains, and engaging stakeholders across our networks to advocate for meaningful change. 

How can tourism organizations effectively address plastic pollution, create solutions, and advocate for sustainable change?

Nishshanka De Silva Social Entrepreneur | Founder at ZeroPlastic Movement

Creating a Zero Plastic Movement by Empowering Change Makers

Let's first examine where the tourism industry generates plastic waste. Bathroom amenities, PET bottles, shopping bags, and straws are major contributors to plastic waste in hotels. Finding alternative solutions to these primary pollutants is key to addressing plastic pollution in the hospitality industry.

Most hotels have now understood the importance of embracing plastic-free hospitality. I would suggest that hotels first identify their plastic consumption and then create a calculator to determine how much plastic waste is generated per guest. Introducing a plastic reduction policy at the management level is required to effect change.

Continuously finding alternative solutions and investing in alternative options is crucial. Furthermore, obtaining certification for such efforts will be available, as the ZeroPlastic Movement certifies hotels into ZeroPlastic certification.

In Sri Lanka, leading hotels like Jetwing Hotels and Thema Collection have completely eliminated PET bottles by introducing glass water bottles and refilling them in a small water plant on the property itself.

Many Sri Lankan hotels have also moved away from plastic cutlery, which is a significant achievement for the country. Another important aspect is to have a plastic reduction policy implemented by hotel management so that employees will follow the policy.

There is a trend to offer stainless steel straws where customers can pick and use if they really want, but the straw will be reused after the cleaning process. Most hotels now offer paper-based bags and have eliminated shopping bags, but many small-scale hotels are yet to adopt these practices.

It is important to recognize hotels that reduce plastic waste, and that's where ZeroPlastic certification comes in. Hotels can raise awareness among employees and make them change-makers to magnify the impact within immediate networks.

Moreover, most hotels now ensure that the beachfront and surrounding areas are clean, and they can execute cleanups in the surrounding areas by mobilizing the community and employees, motivating them by providing benefits.

Finally, communities and community-based innovations such as educational seminars and school awareness programs seem to be effective in addressing plastic pollution.

Kanika Jhunjhnuwala Executive Director, Sustainability and Environment at HIND Management

Promoting Circular Economy Solutions through Responsible Procurement

At Hind Management / Sudima Hotels we have created an ESG framework which is based on a materiality assessment. One of the pillars is Mana Whakahere - Responsible Procurement. This is where we focus on an ethical supply chain and circular economy.

From a business perspective we have set some targets and signed up to commitments to keep us on the right track and assure a level of transparency and reporting. Specifically, we have:

  • Set a goal to be a zero waste business by 2050. While this is ambitious we believe it should be achievable by 2050. We seek to eliminate all waste by avoiding items we don’t need, reducing our consumption and finding ​​alternative uses for what would otherwise become waste.
  • Become a signatory of the Global Tourism Plastic Initiative, and aligned our work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (a charity committed to creating a circular economy). This ensures we are reporting on our progress annually and also gives us access to resources and a wider network of hotels trying to eliminate single use plastic in their operations.
  • Created a responsible procurement pledge which we ask our key consumable suppliers to sign to join us in the journey to reduce plastic and move to a circular economy.

From an operations level:

  • We work with our suppliers and ask them to take back their rubbish, and to find solutions that eliminate the rubbish. We also ask them to provide us with goods without packaging. This can be a slow process, but we work with them to ensure we are progressing in the right direction.
  • We empower our frontliners through “Care Teams” (volunteer staff-led groups working on sustainability initiatives) at each property so if they see something that they want to change they can let us know. Some properties, for example, have eliminated the use of cling film across their entire operations.
  • We’ve set up our group-level reporting in a way that each property manager can see what others have done, so that successful solutions can be shared and applied across different properties. This also allows us to proactively promote positive actions. If we identify a “low hanging fruit” opportunity, we ask all hotels to adopt it.
Dr. Kasia Weina Director, Co-founder at Evergreen Labs

Creating a Positive Domino Effect through Tourism Supply Chains

In my experience, I’ve seen that tourism organizations can play an important role as agents for change in tackling plastic pollution and promoting a circular economy in tourism.

Here are a few concrete examples based on successful initiatives Evergreen Labs have implemented:

  • Reduce at the Source: Implement programs like refillable water bottle services (e.g. Glassia Water) that eliminate single-use plastics in hotels, DMCs, or F&B. This not only cuts waste but enhances the guest experience.
  • Inclusive & Enhanced Waste Management: Create inclusive supply chains, for example, we have built business collection programs with the hospitality sector that engage the informal sector for efficient separation and minimizing landfill waste.
  • Involve All Stakeholders: To tackle plastic usage systematically, involve and collaborate with partners across supply chains. This includes, for example, replacing single-use bottles with refillables across logistics providers, which can help drive industry-wide change. We have implemented refill solutions with DMCs that have impacted various partners across their supply chains.
  • Beyond Reduction: We have supported tourism organizations in sourcing sustainable alternatives for takeaway containers, food wrapping, and other potential pollution sources. Collaboration with suppliers offering biodegradable or reusable options minimizes plastic reliance throughout the tourism experience.
  • Share the Success: Don't just implement – share! By showcasing successful initiatives like Glassia Water or waste management partnerships, tourism organizations can inspire and encourage others to take action. This collaborative approach fosters a domino effect for a more sustainable future.

By focusing on reduction, smarter waste management, collaboration, and sustainable procurement, along with sharing success stories, tourism organizations can become powerful agents for change in the fight against plastic pollution.

Brad Nahill Co-Founder & President at SEE Turtles

Travelers Against Plastic - Reducing Plastic Waste In the Tourism Industry

The travel industry is one of the biggest contributors to the plastic waste problem. Being away from home, travelers often purchase single use plastic bottles, buy snacks in plastic bags, and those snacks are often plastic as well. This waste puts a major burden on the destination, especially in rural areas and developing countries without strong waste disposal infrastructure. Local communities and wildlife bear the impact of this mountain of trash which often ends up littering the very natural areas that travelers are coming to visit.
Travelers Against Plastic (TAP) is a project first created by Crooked Trails to engage the adventure travel industry to reduce its plastic footprint. With support from leaders like the Adventure Travel Trade Association and Wildland Adventures, TAP enlisted dozens of companies to take a pledge to encourage travelers to bring reusable bottles while traveling. SEE Turtles was one of the first members of the campaign and contributed a blog post about the impact of plastic waste on sea turtles.
In 2023, SEE Turtles took over the campaign from Crooked Trails and is now leading this effort to advocate for less waste in the travel industry. The TAP website now provides handy guides for reducing plastic pollution while traveling, at home, during holidays, and much more. TAP works with leading tour operators to raise funds for our Sea Turtles & Plastic program including Lindblad Adventures, Natural Habitat Adventures, The Footprints Network, and others.
To date, the program has funded dozens of projects in coastal communities around the world who collectively have cleaned more than 250,000 lbs of plastic from sea turtle habitats and benefited thousands of coastal residents. Many of these projects are investing in infrastructure to recycle the collected plastic on site, creating new products whose sale benefits the community and conservation efforts while reducing litter and burning of plastic, which has serious health and climate impacts.

Tatjana Peters Project Manager at Futouris e.V.

Empowering Businesses, Staff and Stakeholders to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic Products from Our Holidays

Worldwide up to 14 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans each year. According to estimates, about 80% of the garbage found in the sea is plastic waste1. The Mediterranean is one of the most affected marine regions, losing an estimated €641 million to marine plastic pollution annually2.

Plastic pollution creates a serious threat for nature, humans and the economy. However, the tourism industry is not only a victim but also a contributor as guests are often offered single-use plastic items such as plastic bottles as part of their holiday. A study by the environmental organization WWF shows that due to tourists, marine litter increases by up to 33 % on Mediterranean coasts during the summer season3!

In the frame of our industry project "Plastic-free Holidays", Futouris members joined forces with the Balearic government, local stakeholders and their hotel partners with the goal of reducing the amount of unnecessary tourism-related single-use plastic waste and improving waste separation processes and recycling rates.

To achieve the goal, numerous innovative measures were developed and tested in practice by the participating hotel partners in Mallorca and Ibiza. For example, a test of four different alternatives to commonly used single-use plastic products at one hotel provided valuable insights into the savings potential as well as the acceptance of the products by guests and employees.

By installing water dispensers and the provision of local refillable personal care products, as well as recycling options for guests, approximately 536,000 plastic water bottles and approx. 732,000 shampoo and shower gel bottles are being eliminated annually.

In order to ensure the support of the employees in the implementation of the plastic reduction measures, five interactive workshops were held with more than 130 hotel employees learning about possible reduction measures and discussing solutions to pre-identified challenges in role-plays.

In co-financing with the European COSME project "SUSTOUR" a range of supporting materials as well as a digital plastic waste reduction toolkit were created that are available free of charge. The toolkit supports businesses to implement their own plastic management system, to find sustainable alternatives to common single-use plastic products and to communicate the implemented measures and achievements to staff and guests.
And here are some of our “lessons learned” and tips for others in the industry:

  • Involvement and motivation of staff is crucial!
  • Communication to guests helps to get their approval.
  • Start with measures that are easy to implement.
  • Don’t give up at the first hurdle, try new ways of doing things or new ways of communicating them.
  • Monitor and record the impacts so you can see progress and set new targets and action plans.
  • Celebrate success and communicate about your progress to continue motivating stakeholders.  

  1. IUCN, 2021: Marine Plastic Pollution
  2. WWF, 2019: Stop the Flood of Plastic
  3. WWF, 2019: Stop the Flood of Plastic
Laura Kotyga B2B Sustainability Manager at Evaneos

Leveraging a Global Network for Knowledge Sharing and Tangible Transformation

At Evaneos, our marketplace connects local travel agencies and travelers around the world, and over the years we’ve grown it into a thriving and creative community connecting 600+ committed travel agencies to transform tourism together.

“Sharing best practices by locals and for locals” with friendly support from Evaneos

While learning is important to understand the plastic issue, we observed that training materials for travel businesses often lack concrete practical advice for SMEs: blueprints that make sense in the reality of their destination and for their business. Inspiration “from the field” plays a significant role in turning ideas into actions, rather than leaving SMEs alone with training materials and reports that they find difficult to bring to life.

The good news is: There are hundreds of different solutions out there in our partner community to transform tourism in a positive way, in this case helping each other go plastic-free. For example:

  • Clementina in Tanzania, who has added water tanks in her safari vehicles to allow travellers to refill their reusable water bottles.
  • Elena in Jordan, asking travelers to not throw plastic bottles in the trash, but leave with the driver who stops at the recycling station
  • Martina in Peru, who provides plastic-free locally-made goodies for travelers and business partners.
  • Sandra in Malta, who has highlighted refill stations in maps for her travelers and proactively encourages them to bring refill bottles from home.

… just to name a few! As travel companies we only need to listen. And share.

The Evaneos Plastic Free Program in cooperation with Travel Without Plastic

To make our plastic free journey an engaging reality, we launched a company-wide plastic-free program in cooperation with Travel Without Plastic, the leading expert in plastic reduction. Our first round in 2023 and 2024 saw 62 local agencies from around the world participating, learning about plastic-free strategies and making tangible commitments to reducing plastic waste.

At the same time, we are sharing some of the success stories of the participating agencies within the group to inspire others. A monthly email newsletter includes tips and inspiration in preparation for celebrating “Plastic Free July” together.

Ultimately, we aim to publish a guide in cooperation with Travel Without Plastic and our partner agencies’ best practices as a learning resource and inspiring blueprint for the industry.

Evaneos is a signatory of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative led by the UN Environment Programme and the World Tourism Organization, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Shobhana Jain Sustainability Officer, Communications, at RARE India

Community-Led Initiatives to Replace and Reduce Plastic Usage in Hotel Operations

RARE India is a community of owner-driven small, private, community inclusive, planet sensitive hotels and experiences. The first hotel that joined RARE in 2003 was a wildlife conservation lodge in central India that set the tone for the kind of hotels that would be added to the collective over the years. This led to creating a self-audit policy with ten parameters, one of which is on eliminating single-use plastic, and RARE becoming a signatory of Global Tourism Plastics Initiative in January 2023.
India generates 3.4 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, of which an estimated 30% comes from the tourism industry. The recycling rate stands at a low 9%. The onus thus lies on all stakeholders to reduce and perhaps eliminate plastic waste, especially single-use plastic items.
Here are some examples of how hotels from the RARE India Community have replaced plastic items in their operations:

  • Hotels are doing away with offering packaged water, despite some resistance from the travel trade. These include the Sarai at Toria (Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh), which began operations without offering it, and Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge in Nepal, which uses sterilized wine bottles as on-the-road giveaways for drivers and guests moving to the next destination.
  • Single-use toiletries have been replaced with dispensers at The Lodge at Wah (Palampur, India) and other bathroom amenities like shower caps, dental and shaving kits are offered on demand. Cabo Sarai in South Goa uses coconuts from its own grove to make the amenities with the help of a local organization.
  • In-room loose tea, coffee and sugar are placed in glass jars, and Kariappa House in Puducherry has a tea room accessible to guests with freshly brewed options.
  • On picnics and jungle safaris, reusable containers at Jamtara Wilderness Lodge are the norm and in case guests would like a packed meal, compostable containers such as bagasse (waste sugarcane pulp) are used.

Avoiding plastic packaging for purchased products continues to be an issue, even though most hotels follow the farm-to-table concept with organic ingredients grown in-house or sourced locally, and buy in bulk as much as possible. The staff is trained and sensitized to avoid bringing in plastic and to safely dispose of any plastic waste, particularly where recycling is not an option.
These are just a few examples of practices adopted as awareness grows within our community. As a collective, a common consensus is reduction in usage is the way forward to avoid creating plastic waste, since few options for recycling are available. By encouraging dialogue between community members, seeking solutions and vendors that share a similar ethos, RARE continues to encourage and nudge its partners to eliminate single-use plastic.

Caitlin McNamara Senior Travel Expert at Amity Tours

Zero Waste Efforts Through Staff Engagement and Local Partnerships

In our experience, tourism organizations can effectively address plastic pollution, create solutions, and advocate for sustainable change through a variety of concrete actions. For instance, since 2019 we at Amity Tours have embarked on a Zero Waste Commitment, which involved scrutinizing our trip shopping lists, sourcing local alternatives, and engaging with producers and suppliers to minimize packaging waste.

By investing in new equipment and forging partnerships with local entrepreneurs and recycling facilities, we've been able to reduce our environmental footprint and promote sustainable practices throughout our operations.

Furthermore, proactive engagement with our suppliers, hotels, restaurants, and local communities has facilitated the adoption of sustainable alternatives and practices, such as replacing plastic with recyclable options. We've also prioritized staff training and engagement, empowering our team members to champion our Zero Waste efforts and contribute their ideas towards environmental stewardship.

Educating our guests about our Zero Waste mission and encouraging their participation throughout their journey has also been crucial in fostering a culture of sustainability. Despite challenges such as resource constraints and the impacts of the pandemic, we remain committed to finding sustainable solutions and fostering local collaborations to address plastic pollution and promote sustainable change.

Moreover, we actively share our experiences and lessons learned with industry stakeholders, contributing to broader efforts to promote sustainability within the adventure travel sector. Through advocacy at local, regional, and international levels, and support for climate action initiatives such as reforestation projects, we strive to create a positive impact and inspire others to join us in our journey towards a more sustainable future.