The Impacts of Travel on the Environment
I love to travel. I love visiting new places and discovering various cultures and traditions. There’s no feeling like when a plane lands and you look out the window to realize you’re in a whole new place. Unfortunately, despite the euphoria of travelling, it’s not always tropical beaches and cute postcards.
I was recently travelling when I realized that I had been acting in a way that was not beneficial to the environment. I began to notice the amount of waste I was creating, from plastic utensils on airplanes to styrofoam takeout containers. When I was at the hotel, I easily disposed of my towels like nobody’s business with little regard about how I was getting new ones. It was appalling because I know I wouldn’t act so thoughtlessly if I was at home. That’s the thing: when we travel we opt for the easiest and convenient options but most of the time these options aren’t environmentally friendly. In addition to our own behavior, it doesn’t help that most hotels, airlines and other participants in the travel industry rarely have sustainable practices. It’s a big issue and starting a conversation about it is fundamental to making a change.
Two of the biggest culprits when it comes to the negative environmental impact in the travel industry are airplanes and cruise ships. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the aviation industry “accounts for four to nine percent of the total climate change impact of human activity”. Additionally, aircrafts contribute approximately 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse emissions. On top of that, as previously mentioned, practices on aircrafts aren’t exactly sustainable--if you think about the amount of people on a plane and how many plastic cups, containers, etc. that are used you can imagine the impact. Cruise ships are even worse. Studies have shown that the air on cruise ships is so polluted it rivals some of the most polluted cities on the planet, Shanghai included. And as the number of individuals taking cruises increases, so does the problem. What can be done? Sure, people can take less flights or stop going on cruises but that doesn’t get to the core of the problem. In this situation, it’s important that both individuals and businesses are working to make a change.
For Big Business
Airline companies such as Lufthansa and American Airlines are investing in aircrafts that burn less fuel, and some aircraft manufacturers are beginning to look at building aircrafts that run on more environmentally friendly sources. According to a 2017 article by The New York Times on the future of sustainable travel, the American airline, JetBlue made news for purchasing 330,000 million gallons of biofuel which, when used, will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cruise ship companies like Royal Caribbean use scrubbers to reduce carbon emission, which are “machines that eliminated nearly all the environmentally harmful sulfur dioxide from a ship’s exhaust system.” Although none of these solutions are perfect, they’re a step in the right direction and demonstrate real promise.
Just as important it is that businesses make significant changes, travellers must do the same.
What We Can Do
When it comes to travel, it’s easy to prioritize ease and comfort while forgetting about being environmentally conscious. We all do it. But it’s time we started being a bit more thoughtful about our travel options. While we may not be able to fly on biofuel run airplanes yet, there are lots of choices we can make that will make a difference. You can start by carrying your own snacks and a reusable water bottle. I know that TSA can be a big pain when it comes to that but packing snacks in transparent and reusable containers means reducing the amount of food you buy at restaurants and kiosks, therefore reducing the amount of plastic and non-recyclable waste you produce. When you stay in hotels, make an effort to reuse your towels so as to reduce the amount of electricity and water it takes to clean and prepare towels each and everyday. According to The Eco Traveller Guide, opting out of housekeeping can save the average hotel "the water equivalent of 30 hot tubs per month". If you're on a cruise, forego the plastic straws and extra embellishments that come with your cocktails. All of that stuff creates extra waste that we quickly forget about once we start to consume, Furthermore, before you leave on your trip, do some research. According to the New York Times, 65% of travellers did not know if they stayed at eco-friendly hotels or not. When it comes to hotels or restaurants or tours we need to look beyond the (very) good-looking surface. And even if you can’t stay at an eco-friendly hotel, don’t be afraid to ask questions wherever you stay. If hotels see that their guests care about staying in an environmentally space, they’re more likely to start making changes.
The environmental impact of travel is immense and taking that on is a real challenge. But I believe if that we all put in just a little bit more effort, we can really make a change.