Plastics have a fundamental part in the modern economy, due to their functionality and low cost. Although being universally present in almost all economic sectors, due to the inability to recycle or reuse the majority of the plastic material, businesses and governments start to recognize the economic and environmental drawbacks of plastics. Recently there has also been growing evidence that plastic particles may carry toxic substances making them possibly hazardous.

The world is producing more than 400 million tons of plastic and half of it is single-use! Only 15% of plastics are recycled worldwide and a staggering 8 million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans every year. Continuing in this speed by 2050 there will be as much plastic waste in the oceans as there are fish. 

The biggest application of plastic is in packaging (26%) and the main reason is that it extends the shelf life and brings down the packaging weight during transportation.  However, only 5% of the total plastic packaging is retained for subsequent use, while the rate of recycling for other plastic products is even lower. In comparison, 58% of paper and 70-90% of steel, are recyclable.

The tourism industry is one of the significant contributors to the problem with plastic-use, however, it is also an industry that suffers from it. According to National Geographic 73% of beach litter worldwide is plastic, while in the Mediterranean Sea it constitutes 85% of the floating litter and 45% to 95% of the litter found on the seafloor. The most commonly found items are straws, bottles or cotton buds. It is a twofold problem, where tourists are responsible for the generation of waste but also at the same time are being repulsed by the quality of the destination’s environment. 

According to a recent study by WWF, data demonstrates that the Mediterranean is the world’s fourth-largest producer of plastic goods, and in the summer season,  the amount of plastic waste is exacerbated by tourism related-activities up to one-third. During summer, for example, Greece sees an increase in waste of 23%-26%, while in coastal areas in Italy it is up to 30%. The Blue Economy represents 6% of the region’s GDP however it also loses 641 million to marine plastic pollution each year.

In order to sustain the environment and strengthen their economies local authorities and private businesses should act together and introduce ambitious objectives and coherent policies. Some countries, like France, where a total ban on plastic cups, plates, and cutlery was introduced, have already adopted advanced plans. Initiatives like “Strawless in Seattle”, which united hundreds of restaurants, airports, sports organisations and other businesses, have also shown that the private sector has an important role to play. As it can be seen from the 4 cases below, only after the participation of a wide range of stakeholders like local authorities, private business, associations, and local communities, a destination can be successful in the fight against plastic use.


This November the Tourism and Hospitality Chamber of Slovenia signed an agreement on reducing the use of disposable plastic products. The Environment Minister of Slovenia, the director of the Tourism Chamber, together with the Tourism and Hospitality Chamber introduced a document focused on the reduction of disposable plastic products in the hospitality sector. According to it, bars and restaurants joining the campaign will not offer plastic straws, plates, cups, and plastic cutlery.

Capri, Puglia and Tremiti

This year the island of Capri banned single-use plastic and as a result, it will start fining people €500 in case they use non-recyclable plastic plates, straws, cups, and cutlery or non-biodegradable plastic bag. Similarly, the islands of Tremiti have adopted identical fines. Having found that Tremiti has the second-highest amount of plastic litter on the Italian coast, the island mayor decided to ban the use of non-reusable straws, cutlery, cups, and plates. In August this year, the beaches of Puglia also have been officially classified as “plastic-free”.


The tourism board of Iceland launched a new promo campaign, inspiring tourists to give up on bottled water and instead drink Kranavatn (literally meaning tap water in Icelandic). After identifying that 65% of travellers from Europe and North America drink more bottled water when they travel and that 80% of plastic bottles end up in the ocean or go to landfill, Inspired by Iceland decided to highlight the quality of its tap water while also encouraging tourists to abandon single-use plastic.

Plastic Waste-Free islands

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) together with IUCN and The Didier and Maritime Primat Foundation launched a Plastic Waste-Free Islands initiative focused on three regions: The Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and Oceania. The e main goal is to facilitate the establishment of a circular economy and reduce the accumulation and leakage of plastic waste. The participating islands will be provided with data and analysis to reduce the amount of plastic waste, guidance in adopting plastic waste reduction initiatives and the final outcome will be a blueprint with recommendations for other islands based on the results of the project.

Major Hotel Chains

InterContinental Hotels Group decided to tackle plastic waste by switching to bulk-size bathroom amenities. This initiative follows the commitment to remove plastic straws from all its hotels by the end of 2019. This year, Marriott also launched a similar plan to introduce bulk-size toiletries in all of its hotels by 2021. In 2018, Hilton Hotels & Resorts following its 2030 environmental and social targets, also pledged to phase out all plastic straws and stop using plastic water bottles in meetings & events.

However, many businesses still ignore the issue with plastic waste due to a lack of proper information. A first and very important step is identifying unnecessary single-use items and eliminating them. Secondly, managers need to determine which plastic single-use items can be replaced with reusable alternatives. Lastly, if some of the single-use items are unavoidable, it is necessary to ensure that they are made from recycled plastic and it is possible to recycle or dispose them ecologically.

A practical and simple step through which hospitality business can tackle plastic waste is eliminating plastic water bottles and replace plastic straws with alternatives from paper, bamboo or lemongrass. Establishments should also encourage the use of reusable water bottles and other reusable items by charging more for single-use. Purchasing local food and using local suppliers is another very effective approach as the food would not be shipped and there won’t be a need for plastic packaging. Below are some initial steps showing how businesses can launch a plastic-free scheme. 
  1. Feasibility analysis (e.g. benefits, costs, local recycling system)
  2. Staff involvement (e.g. inform employees, establish a budget, outline procedures)
  3. Plastic waste audit (e.g. identify items to be replaced, potential savings)
  4. Execution (e.g. replace, avoid disposable items, inform guests)
  5. Evaluation (e.g. measure changes, communicate progress)
Shifting away from plastics and the issue with plastic waste requires serious involvement of public authorities, private businesses, and science. Clean-up activities are a short-term solution, and we need to change how plastic is being produced and used. As the EU is adopting the circular economy model, coordinated actions from all sides are required- waste management systems have to be improved, innovative business models need to be set up, new materials, technologies, and designs have to be introduced. Efforts need to be more focused and better classified. Mapping the different types and uses of plastics, prioritizing and adopting specific policies related to each type is essential. Otherwise, the scope of the waste prevention strategies could be too generic and ineffective, while our biggest asset, nature, is in danger.

You can also check our blog posts on food waste management in the tourism industry, where we highlighted various benefits for hospitality establishments when tackling food waste and also several progressive initiatives from the public and private sectors focused on waste prevention. Furthermore, in our recently finalised Destination Management Plans for Rhodes and Santorini, waste prevention and recycling are some of the main aspects that we addressed, as they are one of the fundamental prerequisites for the sustainable development of the two islands.





I ‘ll have our blog posts delivered fresh right to your inbox.


We have received your input and we will get back to you shortly.