Most of us will get along just fine without throwaway plastic in our daily lives. That said there are nevertheless many legitimate applications for single-use plastics such as in medical research, laboratory settings and emergency food and water packaging. While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become addicted to single-use or disposable plastic with severe environmental consequences. Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once - and then thrown away. Plastic waste is now so ubiquitous in the natural environment that scientists have even suggested it could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era. Plastic has been found at the deepest depths of our oceans and the greatest heights of our mountains, and single-use items have a big contribution to it. No country on Earth is immune to plastic pollution, from our tropical island to deserts. All of this pollution has happened in less than a century.
Hospitality is one of the world’s largest industries with a global economic contribution of over 7.6 trillion U.S. dollars annually. Hospitality has become awash with single use plastic. A trend that started for convenience is now being dramatically rethought as awareness of plastic pollution grows and corporate responsibilities are shifting to a more sustainable business models. The need to embrace alternatives to single use plastics is even more relevant when the respective hotel/resort is operating within a territory that does not have established recycling facilities to manage plastic waste.
As a society we are realising the damage that single-use plastic is doing to the environment. That’s why a carefully legislated ban on almost all single-use plastics is a good idea. From throwaway food containers, to drinking straws, to coffee cups – we can live without all of it.
Globally we are also seeing a shift in governance and policy. Early last year, the European Union announced a ban on single-use plastic products with readily available alternatives. The Bangladesh government was the first to impose a ban back in 2002 and “Costa Rica is taking dramatic action against plastic waste with plan to ban all single-use plastics by 2021. This includes straws, bottles, cutlery, cups and bags.” The move away from single-use plastics has also been adopted by organizations such as McDonald’s, which will trial plastic-free straws later this year.
More regionally the recently announced initiative by Sandals & Beaches to eliminate cocktail and regular straws from their operations across 19 resorts removing 21 million straws annually. On a national level in Saint Lucia the focus so far has been on phasing out the use of Styrofoam (extruded polystyrene foam) totally by the end of 2019 accompanied by the initiative of Massey Stores incentivises the use of your own bags by charging for film plastic bags (low density Polyethylene) while offering multi-use bags at cost price to all of its customers.
Within the Saint Lucian hospitality sector we also keenly recognize the need to act responsibly and to demonstrate our responsibility to our guests. Changes are happening slowly through the integration and provision of more Eco Eco-friendly products. We can see the trend that hotels have seeking to change either away from a single use plastic usage altogether or minimize use by turning to alternatives. “For the purpose of making good alternative choices it’s important to know a little bit about which plastic types we use and what they are commonly used for.
Written by Carl Hunter in collaboration with the SLHTA Environmental Committee and the UN Environment.