Tourism industry declares war on single use plastics

The global travel and tourism industry has published a new report as the first step in its efforts to eradicate the use of single use plastic across the sector, in the face of growing demand for sustainable travel.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has published a major study addressing the complex issue of single-use plastic products within travel & tourism.

‘Rethinking Single-Use Plastic Products in Travel & Tourism’ was published as countries around the world begin to reopen, and the Travel & Tourism sector sees signs of recovery from the COVID-19.

Virginia Messina, Senior Vice President and Acting CEO, WTTC said: “WTTC is proud to release this important high-level report for the sector, focusing on sustainability and reducing waste from single-use plastic products in Travel & Tourism.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the sustainability agenda with businesses and policymakers now putting an even stronger focus on it. As a growing priority, businesses are expected to continue to reduce single-use plastic products waste for the future and drive circularity to protect not only our people, but importantly, our planet.

“It is also becoming clear that consumers are making more conscious choices, and increasingly supporting businesses with sustainability front of mind.”

She added the report is a first step to mapping single-use plastic products across the travel & tourism value chain, identifying hotspots for environmental leakages, and providing practical and strategic recommendations for businesses and policymakers.

It is intended to help stakeholders take collective steps towards coordinated actions and policies that drive a shift towards reduce and reuse models, in line with circularity principles, as well as current and future waste infrastructures.

The report’s recommendations include redefining unnecessary single-use plastic products in the context of one’s own business; giving contractual preference to suppliers of reusable products; proactively planning procedures that avoid a return to single-use plastic products in the event of disease outbreaks; supporting research and innovation in product design and service models that decrease the use of plastic items, and revising policies and quality standards with waste reduction, and circularity in mind.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had both negative and positive impacts on single-use plastics pollution,” said the report. “The demand for single-use plastics items has increased with safety being a high concern among tourists and take-away services being on the rise. According to the Thailand Environment Institute, plastic waste has increased from 1,500 tons to a staggering 6,300 tons per day, owing to soaring home deliveries of food.”

However, the pandemic has also catalysed consumer demand for green tourism experiences around the world, with a 2019 global study finding 82% of respondents are aware of plastic waste and are already taking practical actions to tackle pollution.

Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of the Economy Division, UNEP said: “Travel & tourism has a key role to play in addressing the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, as well as making circularity in the use of plastics a reality.

“The advent of COVID-19 and consequent proliferation of single-use plastic products has added urgency to the crises. With this report, we hope to encourage stakeholders in this industry to come together to address this multifaceted challenge. Only by doing so, can we ensure meaningful and durable change.”

“With around 90 percent of ocean plastic derived from land-based sources and the annual damage of plastics to marine ecosystems amounting to US$13 billion per year, proactively addressing the challenge of plastics within the Travel & Tourism sector is key,” the report added.

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The report is intended to help stakeholders take collective steps towards coordinated actions and policies that drive a shift towards reduce and reuse models, in line with circularity principles, as well as current and future waste infrastructures.

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