Bans on Plastic Straws Are Growing. But Is the Travel Industry Doing Enough?

Many independent hotels have had plastic bans in effect for years, but big chains are only recently catching up. Anantara Hotels will remove straws from its properties by the end of 2018. So will Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, which, in April, announced a ban on plastic straws from all 110 of their properties. India-based Taj Hotels will phase out straws from in-room dining at all 98 of their hotels, while AccorHotels will prohibit plastic straws in its 83 North and Central American properties by July.

Marriott, the world’s largest hotel company, is making the most substantial changes across several of their hotel brands, including a straw ban at all 60 British properties; Marriott’s 11 upmarket Edition Hotels will eliminate single-use plastics by 2019, a move made in collaboration with Lonely Whale, an environmental organization. Marriott will also phase out mini-plastic shampoo bottles from 1,500 of its North American hotels, including the brands Courtyard, Fairfield and Residence Inns, to be replaced by wall-mounted dispensers; Marriott’s changes are projected to eliminate 10.4 million plastic bottles, accounting for 113,000 pounds of plastic waste per year.

Spirit companies have joined the fight, stating that there’s no place for plastics in cocktails. Bacardi launched its No Straw campaign in 2016, estimated to eliminate one million straws a year. This year Diageo and Pernod Ricard, owners of Absolut, Baileys and Smirnoff brands, banned straws and stirrers from global affiliates, functions and ads.

While this all adds up to progress for conservationists, the big question is why is so much of the travel sector resistant to change? Many big luxury hotel brands, airlines and cruise ship companies — notorious for their oceanic waste and high carbon footprints — remain slow to curb unnecessary single-use plastics like bottles, slipper wrappers and plastic swabs that end up in the very oceans and beaches their guests travel across the world to experience.

“It’s surprising that the travel industry doesn’t show more leadership in terms of sustainable practices,” said Clark Mitchell, a former editor at Travel & Leisure and now a director at The Band Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to biodiversity conservation. “People go on a cruise to see beautiful islands, clear waters and gorgeous beaches. These companies have a direct stake in keeping these places pristine. And yet single-use plastic, like straws, are literally everywhere a traveler looks, in the drinks being sold, in the water and on the beach.”