The humble plastic drinking straw has become a hot-button issue across the world in recent months. With a global travel industry dependent on clean waterways and beaches what are hotels, resorts, airlines, cruise lines and venues doing to help?
We’ve all seen the videos of the catastrophic damage plastic causes marine life around the world. In many places what were once sandy beaches are now part micro-plastic – tiny shreds of straws, bottles and micro-beads. The travel industry is actively ditching one part of the problem – plastic drinking straws, but is it too little too late?
Whether you #choosetoreuse, say #strawnomore or #refusetouse – change is happening. The bad news is 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the US and 10 million are used by Australians per day.
On Fitzroy Island off Cairns, I witnessed first hand the devastating effects of plastics on marine turtles. Plastic bags, straws and bottles, fishing line and lures pose a catastrophic threat to turtles and other marine creatures. Founded by Jennie Gilbert and Paul Barnes, the voluntary, non-profit Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (CTRC) rescues and helps injured and sick turtles to recover.*
The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world’s seven marine turtles and many of the turtles that end up at the CTRC have ingested enough plastic to cause floaters disease. The indigestible plastic means the turtles can no longer dive or feed and many starve or become easy prey for sharks and crocodiles.
Marine biologist Nicole Nash founded Last Straw on the Great Barrier Reef, as plastics aren’t merely killing sea creatures they’re greatly increasing the risk of disease in already at risk corals. To date over 430 Reef tour operators, resorts, hotels, tourist attractions and venues from Daintree to the Whitsundays have signed up including Thala Beach Nature Reserve and Hemingway’s Brewery.
Whales, sharks, seals, fish and marine birds are also dying at alarming rates from discarded plastic. According to the LA Times** a staggering 98% of Midway Island’s Albatross have ingested plastic. 40% (200,000) of their chicks die each year from dehydration or starvation after their parents regurgitate plastic debris. Albatross fly over the Eastern Garbage Patch – a swirling mass of garbage about twice the size of Texas that drifts off the US West Coast.
Now the good news: how the travel industry is doing its bit.
The days of the rainbow poolside cocktail with multiple plastic straws and picks with five types of tropical fruit are seriously numbered. Now we’ll all have to take that holiday ‘sunset’ Instagram moment sans plastic. Not a big sacrifice for most, but the bartenders I’ve spoken with often have customers complain when refused a straw, “F#!k the turtles”.
Alternatives include paper, stainless steel, glass, bamboo and believe it or not uncooked pasta. Final Straw raised $US1.8m through a Kickstarter campaign for a world-first fully reusable and collapsible straw.
With growing concern from some tourists on how they impact the environment, the industry has started to gear up to tackle waste. Here are some of the many eliminating plastic straws.
Close to home, the Crystalbrook Collection is a new luxury group about to shine a light on the entryway to the Great Barrier Reef – Cairns. Besides farming their own beef at Crystalbrook Lodge, they have banned single-use plastics and are using sugar cane or corn-based products as replacements. And that’s only the start. Stay tuned for more.
For a small, luxury group Soneva Resorts outdoes the big players to win the ‘Visionary” prize as perhaps the first to ban plastic straws in 1998! After banning the import of branded, bottled water in 2008, the 100% carbon neutral resorts each resort now filters and bottles its own Soneva Drinking Water in reusable glass bottles. More in part Two on how the group is reducing its impact and helping local communities in the Maldives and Thailand.
Hurtigruten is the first cruise company to remove multiple single-use plastics – from straws to glasses across its fleet. Cocktails will soon come minus straws on P&O, Cunard and Carnival Cruises while Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises have taken the pledge.
The carbon-neutral, small-ship line Peregrine Adventures call it ‘sustainable cruising’ with no single-use plastics and 90% of food sourced from local communities. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines have removed straws, plastic cutlery as well as those pesky single-portion jam and butter portions. Thomas Rennesland, Hotel Operations Director said, “As a cruise line, we make our living out of the sea. We need to do our utmost to conserve this precious environment and make sure that it is safeguarded for marine life and the enjoyment of generations to come”.
Phum Baitang in Cambodia (a Zannier Hotel) offers resort-grown bamboo straws and now in The Lobby Bar at London’s One Aldwych Hotel only mojitos and caipirinhas come with straws (re-usable glass). Koh Samui’s first luxury hotel, The Tongsai Bay mixes it up with resort-grown lemongrass to sip cocktails. Last year, the Modern Honolulu used a staggering 612,000 plastic straws and now only biodegradable paper straws are available on request.
Hilton Hotels are transitioning away from plastic eliminating 2.5 million straws in the Asia Pacific alone. Hilton Waikoloa Village used 800,000 plastic straws in 2017 and recently became the first resort on the island of Hawaii to go straw free. Hyatt, Accor, Four Seasons, Anantara, Six Senses, Avani, The Peninsula Hotels and Taj Hotels have already or soon will be ditching straws.
The world’s largest carrier, American Airlines announced last week that they are banning straws, stir sticks and more to eliminate more than 71,000 pounds of plastic per month. Thai Airways has banned plastic straws except for the elderly, the disabled and children. Alaska Airlines has opted for marine-friendly white birch and bamboo toothpicks, straws and stirrers.
Going green may be the new miracle-marketing tool especially for luxury brands or it may be the first step in a long road to doing right by the planet.
In Part Two, the innovative ways some resorts, tours, airlines and cruise companies are fighting the ubiquitous plastic bottle.
*You can visit the CTRC on Fitzroy Island (only 40 minutes from Cairns) and all monies raised go directly to the Centre to care for the turtles.