Thursday, 05 August, 2021

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Report on impact of plastic pollution on travel, tourism launched

A new report showing the impact of plastic pollution on travel and tourism has been launched.

Authored by the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), it is titled: RETHINKING SINGLE USE PLASTIC PRODUCTS IN TRAVEL & TOURISM.

The report is seen as the first step to mapping single-use plastic products across the Travel & Tourism value chain, identifying hotspots for environmental leakages, and providing practical and strategic recommendations for businesses and policymakers.

It is intended to help stakeholders take collective steps towards coordinated actions and policies that drive a shift towards reduce and reuse models, in line with circularity principles, as well as current and future waste infrastructures.

“WTTC is proud to release this important high-level report for the sector, focusing on sustainability and reducing waste from single-use plastic products in Travel & Tourism.The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the sustainability agenda with businesses and policymakers now putting an even stronger focus on it. As a growing priority, businesses are expected to continue to reduce single-use plastic products waste for the future and drive circularity to protect not only our people, but importantly, our planet. It is also becoming clear that consumers are making more conscious choices, and increasingly supporting businesses with sustainability front of mind.”

Virginia Messina, Senior Vice President and Acting CEO, WTTC


With around 90% of ocean plastic derived from land-based sources (WasteAid 2020) and the annual damage of plastics to marine ecosystems amounting to US$13 billion per year (UNEP 2014), proactively addressing the challenge of plastics within the Travel & Tourism ecosystem is key.

Through an examination of SUPP hotspots specific to the Travel & Tourism sector, this report identified that water bottles, disposable toiletries, plastic bags and bin liners, food packaging and cups are the five most frequently polluting SUPPs.

“Travel & Tourism has a key role to play in addressing the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, as well as making circularity in the use of plastics a reality. The advent of COVID-19 and consequent proliferation of single-use plastic products has added urgency to the crises. With this report, we hope to encourage stakeholders in this industry to come together to address this multifaceted challenge. Only by doing so, can we ensure meaningful and durable change.”

Sheila Aggarwal-Khan, Director of the Economy Division, UNEP

These are items directly procured by tourism businesses and offered to their guests and consumers.

Other sources of plastic pollution which create significant impacts at the destination level, even if not directly procured by tourism businesses, were also identified, notably cigarette butts, wet wipes, sanitary products, fishing nets, agricultural plastics and tyre abrasion.

From a destination perspective, leakages were found to most likely occur as a result of mismanaged waste facilities.


The report comes as the global economy starts to show signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic which has been devastating.

The Travel & Tourism sector undoubtedly plays a key role in global prosperity: it supported 1 in 10 jobs and contributed US$8.8 trillion to global GDP in 2019.

Its role in job creation and lasting positive social impact is immense.

However, without a healthy and thriving environment the sector and our planet cannot survive.

With increased understanding of the damage that plastic pollution inflicts upon the environment, the sector is pivoting and increasingly creating awareness of the impact of SUPPs, promoting the use of reusables, providing more sustainable solutions and creating SUPP elimination strategies with the aim of moving towards a more circular approach based on a strong collaboration with local governments and waste facilities to ensure the recycling loop is closed.