The travel industry is no longer being hospitable to plastic waste.
Momentum is growing to minimise the use of single-use plastic among hotels, airlines, airports, and cruise lines. That means plastic straws, cups, bottles, laundry bags, and even packaging for hotel guestroom slippers are starting to disappear.
Plastic waste has wreaked havoc on tourist destinations around the world. Late last year, authorities in Bali declared a "garbage emergency" because of the amount of plastic washing up on a nearly four-mile stretch of beach on the island's west coast.
"The visibility of plastic waste in our community is becoming much more prevalent, especially in the travel industry," says Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity for Marriott International. "It's much more visible not to the microscopic portion of the public paying attention to these things, but to everyday travelers."
Some recent efforts to reduce plastic:
Hilton will eliminate plastic straws across its managed hotels globally by the end of this year. It will also get rid of plastic bottles from its conference and event spaces. Across Greater China and Mongolia, its managed hotels have been removing plastic water bottles from meetings and events, health clubs and spas since September 2017. That has resulted in the elimination of 13 million plastic bottles annually. In Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, Hilton's managed hotels have already transitioned away from plastic straws. The properties now offer biodegradable paper straws on demand, which has led to the reduction of 2.5 million plastic straws annually.
Marriott is replacing individual, small amenity bath bottles at five select-service brands in North America with recyclable 8.5-oz. dispensers containing Paul Mitchell Tea Tree products. The company expects about 1,500 hotels in North America to participate in the initiative by year's end. That will result in the elimination of about 34.5 million bottles and 375,000 pounds of plastic in an average year. So far, 450 hotels have already started getting rid of their plastic. The brands include Courtyard and Fairfield Inn. Marriott has also removed plastic straws from 50 of its hotels in the United Kingdom.
AccorHotels' parent company of Fairmont, Raffles, Swiss'tel, Novotel and more - recently announced a pledge to ban the use of plastic straws at its North and Central America properties starting this July. Already, several hotels have instituted a "straw upon request only" policy.
InterContinental Hotels Group is implementing bulk-size bath amenities across many of its brands, including Holiday Inn Express, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants, avid hotels, EVEN Hotels, Staybridge Suites and Candlewood Suites.
Delaware North, one of the largest privately held hospitality and food service companies in the world, has started scaling back its use of straws at the company's 200-plus dining locations at 23 airports and travel hubs across the USA. "The Last Straw" campaign aims to curb excess plastic waste by offering drinking straws on a request-only basis. Last year, the company served an estimated 8.1 million plastic drinking straws at airport dining locations.
Alaska Airlines will begin replacing plastic stirring sticks on its flights and frequent-flier lounges with compost-able versions made of white birch. Citrus picks will switch from plastic to bamboo starting July 16.
United Airlines has made several environmentally-friendly initiatives, recycling 13 million pounds of plastic, paper, aluminum and other materials in 2016.
Carnival Cruise Line announced in April that it will no longer automatically serve plastic straws for sodas or cocktails, except for frozen drinks. Guests will have to request straws if they want them.
The industry has gotten a boost from initiatives in Europe to reduce plastic waste. The European Commission last week proposed a ban on single-use plastic items such as straws, plates and cutlery in an effort to clean up its beaches. The European Parliament and Council will have to approve the proposal.
However, France has already imposed a ban on disposable plastic cups and plates. The law requires that those items be made from 50 percent biodegradable materials by January 2020. It must increase to 60 percent by January 2025.
In April, the United Kingdom, which is leaving the European Union, proposed a law to ban plastic straws, cotton swabs and drink stirrers, citing studies that more than 100,000 sea mammals die from ingesting plastic waste each year.
Even the Queen of England has banned the use of plastic straws and bottles from Royal estates, including at any public cafes open to visitors touring the grounds.
The movement has been buoyed by influential documentaries made by the likes of BBC naturalist David Attenborough, whose "A Plastic Ocean" has been wildly popular, so much so that Hilton offers it as a complimentary viewing option on its guestroom TVs in China.
Hilton has made a commitment to cut its environmental footprint in half by 2030. 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, 49 percent of those 34 years old and under - known as Millennials - 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."
As new brands get introduced, Hilton is adopting more stringent environmental standards. Canopy by Hilton, for instance, does not provide plastic water bottles. Instead it has water filtration systems throughout and refillable water bottles. The new Tru by Hilton brand will have bulk dispensers for amenities rather than tiny bottles.
Even luxury brands, which were once slow to adopt such efforts, are becoming more environmentally-conscious. Marriott's Edition hotels, a partnership with famed boutique hotel developer Ian Schrager, has vowed to go plastic-free by the end of this year.
The brand has also partnered with bottled-water company Just to provide guests with reusable paper-based containers.
Parent company Marriott's goal is to reduce waste by 45 percent by 2025. It is working with its suppliers to remove unnecessary plastic packaging from cleaning products and to deliver food in re-usable bins.
"Dozens of plastic alternatives are being developed," Naguib says.