The Global Tourism Initiative commits signatories to remove all unnecessary or problematic plastic packaging from their businesses by 2025


More than 20 official signatories to the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative (Credit: Pixabay)

As the tourism sector begins to reopen after Covid-19 closures, it has pledged to continue action against plastic pollution.

The Global Tourism Initiative — led by the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and in collaboration with charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation — provides a plan of action for both public and private sectors to address the root causes of plastic pollution.

It illustrates how reducing the plastic footprint, increasing engagement of suppliers, and working with waste services providers can contribute to the responsible recovery of the tourism sector.

UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili said: “As the tourism sector restarts, we have a responsibility to build back better.

“Not managing the transition into the new reality we are facing, including the strong focus on health and hygiene measures, in a responsible manner may have a significant environmental impact, which is why this renewed commitment is vitally important.

“We are proud to announce the first signatories to the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative.”


How the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative is looking to tackle plastic pollution

Hotel and holiday businesses Accor, Club Med, and Iberostar Group are among more than 20 official signatories to the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative.

Accor chairman and CEO Sebastien Bazin said: “Every year, we use and display 200 single-use plastic items in our restaurants, in the meeting rooms, in the spa wellness facilities.

“Each of us, you and me, actually swallow and eat, every week, one credit card’s worth of plastic. We have to stop this.”

Iberostar Group’s CEO Sabina Fluxà Thienemann and COO Gloria Fluxà Thienemann added: “Responsible tourism must lead the way to help tourism companies to build back better.

 “We say this not only as owners or managers of more than 120 hotels in 19 countries, a business responsible for the health and safety of almost eight million guests a year, and the livelihoods of 34,000 employees.

 “We say this as part of an industry that’s responsible for our oceans, 80% of our properties sit alongside them.

“Iberstar’s entire operations will be single-use plastic-free by 2020, as far as local regulation allows.

“We’ll be waste-free by 2025, carbon neutral by 2030, and launching our roadmap for our transparent and time-bound goals to get there by the end of this year.”

Those signed up also include major industry players and supporting organisations that will act as multipliers.

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative requires tourism organisations to meet a set of commitments by 2025, such as removing plastic packaging and helping to boost recycling and composting rates for plastics.

plastic pollution tourism
Members of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative also want to make positive contributions to improving the natural environment (Credit: Pixabay)

It also commits companies to increase the amount of recycled content in all plastic packaging and items, and to share publicly and annually on the progress made towards these targets.

Sharing information is seen as an important part of how the initiative will support companies, destinations, associations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Jeremy Sampson, CEO of charity and initiative signatory the Travel Foundation, said: “Through the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, we are creating a supportive network for businesses and governments to close the loop around plastic.

“The Travel Foundation has a long track record of successfully working with hotels and other businesses to reduce their plastic and other waste.

“This is currently our focus in Cyprus, Mauritius and Saint Lucia, where we are working at a policy and operational level.

“The pandemic has put increased pressure on businesses to offer single-use items. Yet within this new context, a smart and circular approach to resource use can, and must, be a priority.”

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative also wants to make positive contributions to improving the natural environment, saying that tourism companies, destinations, associations, and NGOs have an “important role to play as custodians” of these outdoor spaces.

Members are looking to do this by raising awareness of conservation among staff, as well as encouraging guests to avoid single-use plastic products.

They’re also aiming to influence their suppliers to produce more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic products and work with governments to improve local waste infrastructure.


A Science-based approach needed to protect health without creating pollution, says UNEP director

The Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand and need for PPE and hygiene products such as face masks, gloves, and hand sanitiser.

When these products are not properly disposed of, they can end up polluting the natural environments around major tourist destinations.

plastic pollution tourism
Covid-19 has increased for PPE and hygiene products such as face masks, gloves, and hand sanitiser (Credit: Pixabay)

UNEP’s economy division director Ligia added: “We need to take a science-based approach and support governments, businesses, and local communities to ensure we are taking the most effective measures to protect hygiene and health without creating pollution and causing harm to our natural environment.

“These recommendations addressing hygiene and disposable plastic can support tourism sector stakeholders in their efforts towards a responsible recovery.”