The Dark, Unsustainable Underbelly of the Cruise Ship Industry

In the days where eco-tourism is gaining fast ground, there are still ways to have a holiday that is highly unsustainable. One of these ways is to take a cruise. The cruise ship industry was called out as the Dinosaur of the Year by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) which is based in Germany. They have come down especially hard on cruise lines  AIDA and TUI.

According to NABU estimates, a single cruise ship emits particle pollution that equals the amount released by five million cars driving the same distance. NABU also said that the cruise ship industry has made no effort to become more sustainable and they indiscriminately dump waste into the ocean. 

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has revealed figures for the amount of waste generated by a large cruise ship on a one week voyage:

  • 210,000 gallons of human sewage
  • 1 million gallons of grey water (water from sinks, baths, showers, laundry, and galleys)
  • 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
  • Up to 11,550 gallons of sewage sludge
  • More than 130 gallons of hazardous wastes

This is in addition to the solid waste that each ship generates. Cruise ships also burn the dirtiest fuel available; it needs to be heated up to very high temperatures so that it can move around the engine and pipes. If a cruise ship has 5,000 people on board, it serves about 25,000 meals each day. The resultant food waste is then ground up and discharged as a slurry into the ocean. The EPA reported that food waste that is discharged in this manner lowers oxygen, creates acid, and a nutrient imbalance in ocean waters.

Most of these cruise ships depend on the very ocean that they are polluting for their business and many travel to protected areas with very sensitive ecosystems. In the late 1990s, the Department of Justice indicted three cruise companies for pollution. One of the cruise liners, Royal Caribbean, paid out almost $30.8 million and had to undergo a probationary period. Now however, the federal government has no authority over these ships and Royal Caribbean continues to be one of the worst polluters.

The FoE released a sustainability report card for cruise ships in 2010. It ranked 10 major cruise lines and their initiatives in sewage treatment, air pollution control, water treatment,  and other criteria. Holland America was the top scorer and according to Eco News Network, they are the most eco-friendly cruise line. Norwegian and Princess Cruises followed a close second.  Royal Caribbean and Disney Cruises brought up the bottom.

The cruise industry is not dying down anytime soon and for passengers, it offers one of the most economical options for a holiday. However, it is bad news for the environment and passengers need to choose greener liners. Additionally, some kind of regulation is necessary when it comes to dumping wastes and pollution on cruise ship companies.

Image Credit: Cruise Ship, Flickr Upload Bot, Wikimedia Commons 

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also