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The Last Straw: How the Travel Industry Is Phasing Out Plastic

By Jessica Colley Clarke

Sep 25, 2018

From the November/December 2018 issue

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Hotels, cruise lines, airlines, bars, and entire cities are joining the movement to reduce plastic consumption.

Photo by The Voorhes

Hotels, cruise lines, airlines, bars, and entire cities are joining the movement to reduce plastic consumption.

In the dining room, the hotel room, and beyond, businesses across the travel industry are finding ways to eliminate plastic.

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Businesses across the travel industry agree: It’s time to rethink plastic. Hotels, cruise lines, airlines, bars, and entire cities are joining the movement to reduce plastic consumption, targeting straws, water bottles, cutlery, single-use bags, and even those mini shampoo bottles we all love to take home.

According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, we discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year in the United States alone, and only 8 percent of it is recycled. The rest winds up in landfills and the oceans. Plastic has found its way into our groundwater, our food chain, and our social media feeds, with hashtags such as #skipthestraw and #saveourseas. If statistics don’t prompt a change in how we use plastic, a viral image of a turtle with a plastic straw through its nose just might.

SFO Bans Sale of Single-Use Plastic Water Bottles

In the past year, travel companies big and small have taken steps towards eliminating plastic. At sea, the 50-ship Royal Caribbean fleet will be free of plastic straws by the end of 2018, and companies such as Cunard and P&O have announced plans to remove single-use plastics from their ships. In the air, Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are switching from plastic stir straws to bamboo. It might sound small, but for American, the move will eliminate more than 71,000 pounds of plastic per year. (For reference, that’s about the weight of 12 small elephants.)

Millennium Hotels is eliminating single-use plastics including cutlery.
Hotel brands are also making substantial changes. Marriott International is converting to a shampoo dispenser system in 1,500 hotels that will do away with 10.4 million plastic mini bottles. As of September 2018, plastic straws and drink picks are no longer available at Hyatt properties worldwide. The list goes on: Hilton is eliminating plastic straws globally by the end of 2018. Millennium Hotels is targeting other single-use plastics including cutlery. The Six Senses hotel group uses only glass water bottles, which saved 1 million plastic water bottles in 2017 alone.

Sustainability leader 1 Hotels replaced plastic key cards with room keys made out of five different types of reclaimed wood. All rooms offer filtered water, hangers made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials, and a small chalkboard instead of a paper message pad. “The 1 Hotel brand is the first mission-based hotel company in the world,” says Hannah Bronfman, the company’s director of sustainability. “We have seen that change starts small, and grows.”

What can you do? Support brands as well as individual properties aiming to make a difference.


Local governments are also getting involved. In Florida, Fort Myers Beach banned the use or sale of plastic straws in early 2018, and neighboring Sanibel Island followed suit in July. The ban helps protect the region’s shoreline, which encompasses 18 miles of beachfront hosting some 675 turtle nests. In the Galápagos Islands, a ban on single-use plastics including straws and plastic bags was announced in April as part of the islands’ Earth Day celebrations. Miami Beach, Seattle, Scotland, and Belize have all made announcements to ban plastic straws.

Edition Hotels Gets Serious About Going Plastic-Free

What can you do? Support brands as well as individual properties aiming to make a difference: For example, new policies at the Shelbourne Dublin, a Renaissance Hotel in the Irish capital will save 150,000 plastic straws and 55,000 plastic stirrers per year. A boutique hotel in Fiji, Namale Resort and Spa, banned plastic straws and single-use plastic bags, saving 36,000 bags per year. In New York City, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group announced the replacement of plastic straws with biodegradable alternatives at its restaurants and bars, including popular spots such as Maialino and Porchlight.

On a more micro level, consider investing in a portable, reusable straw. Buy a water bottle you like—S’well makes a variety of travel-friendly bottles—and use apps such as Reefill or Tap to find filling stations around the world. If you’re interested in learning more, check out organizations such as Earth Day Network, the Plastic Pollution Coalition, EcoCycle, and the Plastic Oceans Foundation, a nonprofit that also offers resources for travelers looking to taking action.


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