Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Maggie Kohn headshot

Eliminating Single-Use Plastics Becoming “Business as Usual” for the Travel Sector

By Maggie Kohn
single-use plastics

Last week, London's Canary Wharf become the first commercial center in the world to be awarded Plastic Free Community status by the U.K.-based nonprofit Surfers Against Sewage. The milestone marks the achievement of its 2018 commitment, which called on companies using its office buildings and 300 shops, cafés, bars and restaurants to remove at least three single-use plastics products from their premises, replacing them with more sustainable alternatives.

Canary Wharf Group's head of sustainability Martin Gettings said the company's action on plastic is "not going to fade into the background" now that the estate has met its 2018 goal, but that continuing plastic reduction has "now become business as usual.”

The commitment to eliminating plastic is quickly becoming “business as usual” for many consumer-facing sectors, most visibly those in travel and tourism. For some, efforts are in response to stakeholder pressure, including the risk of shareholder proposals or bad press. For others, it’s a way to differentiate themselves among more environmentally conscious consumers, especially millennials. 

Airlines and airports are starting to nix single-use plastics

This Earth Day, Etihad Airways, the United Arab Emirates’ second-largest airline, announced that its ultra-long-haul flight from Abu Dhabi to Brisbane, Australia, would be free from any single-use plastics. The company reported that it replaced most of the 95 single-use plastic products used on its aircraft with eco-friendly alternatives, keeping 110 pounds of plastic out of landfill. The flight is part of Etihad’s plan to reduce its single-use plastics by 80 percent by 2022.

The European budget airline Ryanair has gone one step further, pledging to become “plastic free” in the next five years. As well as switching to biodegradable cups, wooden cutlery and paper packaging onboard, Ryanair said it would make its head offices, bases and operations plastic-free.

Airports are also going plastic-free; earlier this month, Dubai International Airport and Dubai World Central Airport announced both locations would eliminate single-use plastic by 2020. And in January, 16 Indian airports were declared plastic free, including the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, which handles nearly 70 million passengers annually.

Cruises are saying ‘no’ to plastic straws and stirrers

Moving from the air to the world’s oceans, international cruise lines have felt the heat from activists calling on them to do their part to reduce plastic waste from the waters. Now, virtually all cruise companies have plastic-elimination commitments and are making them a big part of their marketing efforts to woe travelers.

Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Cunard have all pledged to ban single-use plastic, while Disney plans to eliminate plastic straws and plastic stirrers on its ships and in its theme parks and hotels by the middle of this year. Additionally, Disney aims to reduce plastics in its passenger cabins on ships by 80 percent by transitioning to refillable amenities over the next few years.

Hotel guests also see change

Marriott International, the largest hotel company in the world, will remove plastic straws and stirrers from all of its 6,500-plus hotels by next month. The company says its action will result in the elimination of more than 1 billion plastic straws and about a quarter-billion stirrers annually. Earlier this year, the hotel conglomerate also began swapping out small toiletry bottles in the guest bathrooms of about 450 select-service hotels with large, in-shower dispensers that reduce waste. The new dispensers are slated to be introduced to more than 1,500 hotels in North America by the end of this year.

“The visibility of plastic waste in our community is becoming much more prevalent, especially in the travel industry,” Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity for Marriott International, told USA Today. “It’s much more visible not to the microscopic portion of the public paying attention to these things, but to everyday travelers."

Hilton Hotels and Resorts also plans to eliminate plastic straws across its managed hotels globally by the end of this year. Many of its younger guests are particularly concerned about efforts to protect the environment, says Maxime Verstraete, Hilton’s vice president of corporate responsibility.

In a survey of about 72,000 guests conducted in early May by Hilton and reported in USA Today, 49 percent of those 34 years old and under said they actively seek information about a hotel brand’s environmental and social efforts before booking a stay.

“Millennials, they get really passionate about these things,” Verstraete says. “That is very important to us because these are our future travelers.”

Image credit: Pixabay

Maggie Kohn headshot

Maggie Kohn is excited to be a contributor to Triple Pundit to illustrate how business can achieve positive change in the world while supporting long-term growth. Maggie worked for more than 20 years at the biopharma giant Merck & Co., Inc., leading corporate responsibility and social business initiatives. She currently writes, speaks and consults on corporate responsibility and social impact when she is not busy fostering kittens for her local animal shelter. Click here to learn more.

Read more stories by Maggie Kohn