Tourism to tackle plastic pollution with new commitment

Tourism to tackle plastic pollution with new commitment

February 5, 2020
Marcia González

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative unites the tourism sector behind a common vision to address the root causes of plastic pollution

Every year, billions of people go on holiday to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Eight out of 10 tourists travel to coastal areas, hoping to relax under blue skies, clear waters and white sandy beaches.

Increasingly, however, they risk finding an ocean colored 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%. 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 eight million tons of plastic that enter the ocean every year, 300 million tons 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% 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 re-using schemes. However, in order to tackle the enormity of the plastic problem, equally enormous action is needed, across the entire tourism value chain.

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.”

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2020 will take place at Cologne Messe, Germany, on Tuesday 16 June and Wednesday 17 June. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email

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