People, Circular Economy, Planet

Tourism to tackle plastic pollution

UN Environment | Jan 30, 2020


Image by Dustan Woodhouse

This article was originally published by UNEP and is republished with permission.

Every year, billions of people go on holiday to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Eight out of ten tourists travel to coastal areas, hoping to relax under blue skies, clear waters and white sandy beaches.

Increasingly, however they risk finding an ocean coloured not by vibrant species of fish and coral, but by chocolate wrappers, single-use bottles and plastic straws. The sand too, is buried under layers of cigarette butts, discarded flipflops and ice cream tubs. In fact, during peak tourist season, marine litter in the Mediterranean region has been found to increase by up to 40 per cent. With great irony, tourism, which often depends upon the Earth’s natural beauty, is making enormous contributions to its decay in a very visible way.

Alongside the 8 million tonnes of plastic that enter the ocean every year, 300 million tonnes of new plastic is created annually, utilizing non-renewable resources such as oil, gas and coal, and contributing to climate change. If growth in plastic production and incineration continue, cumulative emissions by 2050 will make up between 10 and 13 per cent of the total remaining global carbon budget. As a result, the implications of plastic overconsumption extend even further than the litter that is visible in the ocean.

Many stakeholders in the tourism industry have been taking action against plastic pollution—moving away from single-use plastics, reducing consumption of unnecessary plastics, and moving towards circularity through better recycling and reusing schemes. However, in order to tackle the enormity of the plastic problem, equally enormous action is needed, across the entire tourism value chain.


Towards a circular economy for the tourism industry

The goal of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative is to bring the tourism sector together under a common vision to transition to a circular plastic economy and sustainability in the sector. The initiative has been developed by the Sustainable Tourism Programme of the One Planet Network, a multi-stakeholder partnership to implement Sustainable Development Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production, and is led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Tourism Organization in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. This initiative is the tourism sector interface of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which currently has over 450 signatories from businesses, governments, and other organizations, with the common objective of reducing plastic pollution through ambitious targets.
The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative requires tourism organizations to make a set of concrete commitments by 2025, including:
  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and items by 2025
  • Take action to move from single-use to re-use models or reusable alternative by 2025
  • Engage the value chain to move towards 100 per cent of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable, or compostable
  • Take action to increase the amount of recycled content across all plastic packaging and items used
  • Commit to collaborate and invest to increase the recycling and composting rates for plastics
  • Report publicly and annually on progress made towards these targets

“Plastic pollution is one of the major environmental challenges of our time, and tourism has an important role to play in contributing to the solution,” said UNEP’s Economy Division Director, Ligia Noronha. “The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative supports tourism companies and destinations to innovate, eliminate and circulate the way they use plastics, to help achieve circularity in the use of plastics and reduce plastic pollution globally.”

By pulling the entire tourism supply chain together, we can #BeatPlasticPollution.


About the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment

The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment unites businesses, governments, and other organisations behind a common vision and targets to address plastic waste and pollution at its source. Signatories include companies representing 20 per cent of all plastic packaging produced globally, as well as governments, non-governmental organizations, universities, industry associations, investors, and other organisations. The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme.


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