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UNEP, UNWTO & EMF announce Global Tourism Plastics Initiative

  • Published on January 22, 2020
Developed by the One Planet Sustainable Tourism Programme, the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative unites the tourism sector behind a common vision to address the root causes of plastic pollution.

The United Nations Environment Programme, the UN World Tourism Organization and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have today officially announced the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative that unites the tourism sector behind a common vision to address the root causes of plastic pollution and enables businesses and governments to take concerted action, leading by example in the shift towards circularity in the use of plastics.

The announcement was made at the FITUR International Tourism Fair in Spain, at an event which saw representatives from lead organisations present the operational structure, key stakeholders and commitments of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, as well as explanations from leading businesses, destinations and associations on why it is important to engage with the initiative.

Developed by the Sustainable Tourism Programme of the One Planet network, a multi-stakeholder partnership to implement SDG 12 on Sustainable Consumption and Production, the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative is jointly led by the World Tourism Organization and the UN Environment Programme, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative acts as the tourism sector interface of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which unites more than 450 businesses, governments, and other organisations behind a common vision and targets to address plastic waste and pollution at its source. As such, the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative will implement the New Plastics Economy vision, framework and definitions to mobilise the global tourism industry towards concerted significant action against plastic pollution.  

“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 UN Environment Programme Economy Division Director, Ligia Noronha.

“Through the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, tourism companies and destinations are supported to innovate, eliminate and circulate the way they use plastics, to help achieve circularity in the use of plastics and reduce plastics pollution globally,” said Ms Noronha.

Each year, an additional eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans where it is responsible for the deaths of up to one million sea birds, 100,000 sea mammals, marine turtles and countless fish. With 80 per cent of all tourism taking place in coastal areas, plastic from the sector can be a large contributor to this pollution.

During peak tourist season, marine litter in the Mediterranean region was found to increase by up to 40 per cent. In-land and urban tourism can also contribute to marine plastic pollution, with huge amounts of plastic pollution ending up in rivers and getting carried into the oceans. If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.

The production of more than 300 million tonnes of new plastic every year also depletes natural resources and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. More than 99% of plastics are derived from oil, gas and coal — all of which are dirty, non-renewable resources. If current trends continue, plastic could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption by 2050. The process of extracting, transporting and refining those fossil fuels, then manufacturing plastic, pollutes billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases.

If growth in plastic production and incineration continues, cumulative emissions by 2050 will be over 56 gigatons of CO2e, or 10–13% of the total remaining global carbon budget.  

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative aims to stop plastic ending up as pollution while also reducing the amount of new plastic that needs to be produced. To realise this vision, tourism companies destinations commit to eliminate the plastic items they don’t need; innovate so all plastics they do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything they use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment.

The Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization, Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, said the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative is a great opportunity for tourism companies and destinations to step forward and lead the global effort addressing plastic pollution. “Frontrunning tourism companies and destinations will set quantifiable targets as part of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative and accelerate the transformation of the tourism sector towards more integrated solutions and circular business models,” said Mr Pololikashvili.

“We welcome the launch of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, led by UNEP and UNWTO, which unites the tourism sector behind this vision for a world in which plastic never becomes waste or pollution," said Gerald Naber, Programme Manager of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. "It will be a challenging journey, but through concerted action, we can eliminate the plastics we don't need and innovate so the plastics we do need can be safely and easily circulated – keeping them in the economy and out of the environment.”

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative requires tourism organisations to make a set of concrete and actionable commitments by 2025: 

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and items by 2025; 
  • Take action to move from single-use to reuse models or reusable alternatives by 2025; 
  • Engage the value chain to move towards 100% 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. 

By transitioning to circularity in the use of plastics, the tourism sector can make positive contributions like reducing landfill, pollution, natural resource depletion and greenhouse gas emissions; raising awareness of conservation among staff and guests to avoid single-use plastic products; influencing their suppliers to produce more sustainable alternatives to single-use plastic products; working with governments to improve local waste infrastructure and community facilities; and creating sustainable livelihoods and long-term community prosperity in harmony with nature. 

By taking serious action in a coordinated and determined manner on plastic pollution, the tourism sector can help preserve and protect the places and wildlife that make destinations worth visiting.

Find out more about the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative.

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