Travel Industry Embraces Plastic-Free Movement

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The akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok hotel has opened as a single-use plastic free hotel and offers its amenities in alternative packaging.

The United Nations may have dubbed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, but it is clear that the travel industry is keeping the ideals of sustainability alive in 2018 and beyond as many companies and organizations aim to reduce or entirely eliminate their usage of single-use plastic. 

The list of companies introducing initiatives to address the issue of plastic over use is long and includes big names such as American Airlines, which this month started to replace all drink stirrers with wooden alternatives and serve drinks with biodegradable straws; and Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, which launched a 3-part Waves of Change project that has already reduced plastic usage by 10 million units by ridding properties of plastic straws and serving drinks with more eco-friendly options upon request. Even the up-and-coming Virgin Voyages has taken a pledge to eliminate all single-use plastics when its first vessel sets sail in 2020 as part of its aim to create one of the cleanest fleets at sea.

“‘Plastic-free’ is not a new concept for us, but we want to go well beyond the elimination of straws, which seems to be the new ‘marker’ of sustainability,” says Ellen Bettridge, president and CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection. “It’s a fantastic start for the industry and we applaud those taking these initial steps, but we believe there’s more to be done, which is why we’re working with our vendors for long-term solutions like eliminating plastic wrapping on dry cleaning delivery and introducing Asprey luxury bath amenities in refillable bottles this year.”

Uniworld has already eliminated all plastic straws, water bottles, and related single-use plastic from its fleet. In addition, they have taken the efforts even further by publishing an annual sustainable river cruising guide to provide recommendations on best practices. Now in its fifth year, the publication of this guide is being celebrated with the announcement that Uniworld will become entirely single-use plastic free by 2022.

“At Uniworld, we are in the business of exploring and sharing the world’s natural and cultural marvels. Making sure these historic and environmental sites are still here centuries down the road is extremely important to us, and we are committed to playing our part in protecting them,” says Bettridge. “Eliminating plastic was the next logical step in our plans to support sustainable tourism.”

Uniworld’s S.S. Antoinette sailing down the Rhine River.

This Uniworld initiative is also in line with recent announcements from the cruise line’s parent company, The Travel Corporation (TTC), which over the next five years will phase out all single-use plastics from its extensive collection of travel and tourism companies. Under the guidance of its not-for-profit TreadRight Foundation, TTC created a Multi-Year Plastics Elimination Strategy that has kicked off with the immediate ban of more than 60 types of single-use plastic items, including plastic bags and cutlery, from TTC’s 40 global offices. TTC’s TreadRight Foundation also spearheads more than 50 sustainability projects around the world.

Inside a Premier Bedroom at the akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok

In Asia, the Akaryn Hotel Group (AHG) aims to become the first hotel group on the continent to operate completely free of single-use plastics. So far, the hotel group has a head start with the June 2018 opening of its latest property, akyra TAS Sukhumvit Bangkok, as a single-use plastic free hotel. In addition to providing guests with stainless steel water bottles upon check-in, other eco-friendly features implemented at the property include bathroom amenities presented in locally manufactured celadon ceramic containers and biodegradable garbage bags, plus toothbrushes and combs made from corn starch. The plastic foil used for room amenities and in-room dining will also be replaced by pinto boxes and glass jars, while the hotel group is even working with its suppliers to use reusable plastic containers to deliver supplies.

“Environmental preservation has always been part of our DNA from day one,” says Anchalika Kijkanakorn, founder and managing director of AHG. ” We want to ensure that we preserve and protect the places where we operate and keep our clients wanting to come back for more.”

Kijkanakorn also adds that while guests may not choose to stay at a specific property for its sustainability efforts, AHG’s plastic-free initiative has been well received by travelers.

“Your basics have to be lined up first, but once they are there and guests know this is what you are trying to do for the environment, it’s a feel-good factor for everyone and it enhances their stay with us,” Kijkanakorn says.