New Approaches to Single-Use Plastics on Cruise Ships

As industries worldwide move to replace all single-use plastics with more environmentally friendly alternatives, the cruise industry is setting initiatives and bans in motion, ensuring that it remains at the forefront of the sustainable movement. Below we highlight some of the cruise industry’s plastic-reduction pledges and new approaches to single-use plastics on cruise ships.

The average cruise ship will use approximately 400,000 to 500,000 plastic bottles every year – 300,000-400,000 of which will end up in landfill or in the ocean. Removing all single-use plastic bottles on cruise ships would result in a reduction of around 80,000kg of CO2, per ship per year. With ~314 ships in operation, this amounts to 25,120,000kg per year – equivalent to 15,554 flights from London to LA – as well as 1.2-2.5 million gallons of water per ship per year.

And that’s just plastic bottles – ‘single-use plastics’ refers to a wide variety of items, from food containers and drinks cups to wet wipes and balloons. As such, the industry has been putting in a lot of work to ensure all single-use plastics are replaced with environmentally friendly alternatives.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Norwegian have recently partnered with Jaden Smith-owned JUST Goods to replace all single-use bottles on board across its fleet. The company are banning the use of such bottles, replacing them with JUST Goods water bottles, made from paper and sugarcane. The ban will come into force on 1st January 2020 and will eliminate six million plastic bottles from the cruise line annually.

As of July 2018, the cruise line has also eliminated the use of plastic straws across all 26 of its ships (including the Oceania Cruises’ and Regent Seven Seas’ fleets). Norwegian say that eliminating plastic straws across the fleet builds on their Sail & Sustain global environmental program.

Carnival Corporation

Carnival Corporation announced in July 2019 that they would significantly eliminate the purchase and consumption of non-essential single-use plastics by 2022. The effort would be across its nine brands, including Carnival UK, Cunard, P&O, and Costa Cruises. Carnival Cruise Line has also completely stopped placing plastic straws in drinks glasses, instead providing them only upon request.

Currently in planning within the line are initiatives to reduce or eliminate plastic straws, cups, lids, and bags, among other items. The brands will also potentially eliminate individual servings of packaged food, in an effort to reduce food packaging on board.

MSC Cruises

As of 2018 MSC successfully replaced plastic straws across their fleet with a variety of alternatives, including corn or sugar based bioplastic, bamboo, or paper. All alternatives are 100% compostable and biodegradable. By March 2019, all single-use plastic shopping bags, spoons, glasses, and stirrers will have been eliminated and replaced with environmentally friendly alternatives.

Uniworld cruise ship
Uniworld SS Bon Voyage – the river cruise line have put in place bans on over 60 single-use plastic items

Royal Caribbean

Starting with a ‘straws upon request’ policy, the cruise line is phasing out all single-use plastics across it’s 50 ships. Currently underway is a full plastics audit, with an overall plan completed in phases in 2020. Plastic coffee stirrers have been replaced with wood alternatives, and the company are targeting condiments packets, cups and bags. Eddie Segev, assistant vice president of environmental stewardship, security and public health at RCCL, told Travel Weekly that the company picked straws, coffee stirrers and cocktail spears as their first target – “because they’re so small, we had to pay attention to them, because the risk of them falling through our garbage-sorting process into the water is greater”.

On board Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Edge, cruisers are provided with two bottled water alternatives – glass Evian bottles or commemorative aluminium bottles. These can be refilled from the taps in cabins – and multiple Cruise Critic reviews say the tap water on Celebrity ships is very good!

Marella Cruises

TUI Group subsidiary Marella Cruises, aimed at the British market, has replaced single-use plastic straws with biodegradable alternatives, with purchasable metal straws also an option for passengers.

Virgin Voyages

New-to-the-market Virgin Voyages are bringing their debut ship Scarlet Lady to the seas with no single-use plastics on board. Instead they will be offering biodegradable or repeat use alternatives to plastic bottles, condiment packets, straws, shopping bags, coffee stirrers, food packaging and coffee cups.


Popular river cruise line Uniworld have put in place bans on more than 60 types of single-use plastics across all of their operations – this includes straws, water bottles and plastics, and will be fully in effect by 2022. Water carafes with glasses are provided as alternatives to plastic bottles in cabins, and there are taps placed around Uniworld’s vessels for refilling bottles.

A plastic-free future…

The list goes on, with similar pledges being made by Azamara, Lindblad Expeditions, Hurtigruten, Crystal Cruises, Disney Cruise Line, and many more. This amounts to a brighter, plastic-free future for the cruise industry. With advancements also being made in lower emission fuels, waste reduction technologies, and efficiency-enhancing design, the industry looks to be moving towards being far more environmentally friendly than in previous years.

Have an plastic alternative that should be in use on cruise ships? Make sure you’re exhibiting at Cruise Ship Hospitality Expo Europe!

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