Reducing single-use plastic waste: a practical guide

The impact of single-use plastic is well-known but reducing plastic in the tourism industry remains a challenge. Get started with our practical tips.
Reducing single-use plastic waste: a practical guide

The negative impact of single-use plastic pollution is well-known

There’s plastic in our oceans, wildlife and even in our food. The negative consequences of single-use plastic have been widely discussed and are well-known. The number of people actively reducing their own single-use plastic use is growing. However, things are getting more difficult when we’re travelling.

While we’re travelling around we’re using and leaving more single-use plastic in tourism destinations. Thereby, not considering the local waste management system. Most of our single-use plastic ends up on the streets or in the oceans and stays there.

So, even though the negative impact of plastic pollution is well known, it seems difficult to put reducing into practice while travelling. Tour operators have an important position here, being able to influence both their supply chain as customers.

“There is no away – because plastic is so permanent and so indestructible. When you cast it into the ocean, it doesn’t go away” – David Attenborough

Practically reducing plastic waste

As a tour operator, you won’t be able to directly reduce all single-use plastics. But there’s a lot to gain by setting the right example and raising awareness among partners and customers. Generally, there are three main ways where you can practically reduce single-use plastics:

  1. In your office
  2. Throughout your supply-chain
  3. Via your travellers

1. In your office

Reducing single-use plastic in your own office is the easiest first step to take. You have direct influence on what happens here and can make changes rather quickly! Running a sustainable office is essential when you want to be a good tour operator.


In your office, it’s important to remove all single-use plastic items and to replace them with reusable products. For all products that can’t be replaced, make sure to reuse and recycle. You can:

  • Remove single-use plastic water bottles and invest in a water filter or water dispenser
  • Replace single-use plastic cups, cutlery, plates, and straws for reusable items
  • Exchange single-use plastic lunch packaging for reusable (or paper) lunch boxes
  • Buy from local markets and avoid (plastic) packaging on your groceries
  • Purchase larger products and in bulk to reduce on packaging
  • Remove bin bags or switch to biodegradable bin bags
  • Change to plastic free office supplies such as stationary
  • Invest in plastic free office cleaning supplies
  • Implement a (plastic) waste separation and recycle system

Plastic free groceries


Before you can start to reduce your single-use plastic use, you first need to analyse where you’re actually using it in the office. Conduct an analysis and write down all single-use plastic items that are currently used in the office. Per item, define if it:

  • Can be replaced with something reusable
  • Can be replaced with another sustainable material
  • Can be removed entirely

Even if your plastic reduction strategy is well defined, the actual implementation is necessary for your office to actually reduce its plastic use. Create an action plan and train your staff in the new guidelines. It has to be a shared effort for it to be effective!


It’s known that brainstorming solutions together with your staff gets you further. By involving them in the decision-making process and listening to their input creates a common shared interest in making it work. When you brainstorm reducing single-use plastic practices together, they are more likely to adhere to the new guidelines. Because they were part of the change process.

2. Throughout your supply chain

A tourism supply-chain consists of accommodations, transport and excursion providers, restaurants, and local guides and drivers. And in this supply-chain a lot of single-use plastic is used which causes your travellers to use a lot of unnecessary plastic items.


Just like reducing single-use plastic in the office, it’s important to try and remove all single-use plastic items from your supply-chain and to replace them with reusable products. For example:

  • No plastic water bottles but a water filter or water dispenser with glasses
  • Large shampoo dispensers and biodegradable bathroom toiletries
  • Local products to reduce on plastic packaging
  • Zero plastic straws and plastic cutlery in restaurants and bars
  • Reusable water bottles during travel experiences
  • Large water dispenser in vehicles for drinking water refills
  • Packed lunch in reusable or paper lunch boxes
  • Own reusable water bottle and lunch box for guides and drivers

Reusable steel straw


Even though you don’t have a direct influence on the plastic use in your supply-chain, there are still opportunities to reduce it. Communication is the best way to approach this. Start the conversation with your partners and communicate your preferences and wishes. Back up your (new) policies with background information and the urgent need to reduce single-use plastic in tourism.

Make them aware of the plastic issue and guide them by providing tips and support in making changes. You can also start working with codes of conduct or basic agreements where you establish your reduction practices and commit to them. Keep it transparent and practical and create a common goal: a single-use plastic free supply-chain.


Your local guides and drivers are key in making sure single-use plastic is reduced and avoided during travel experiences. They’re responsible for making sure no single-use plastic is used during the trip and to inform and remind travellers of this. Good tour guides are key in making sure the travel experience is run sustainably.

3. Via your travellers

Did you know the average traveller uses 30 single-use water bottles for a two-week round trip? Travellers use a very high amount of plastic when travelling. Besides encouraging your partners to reduce single-use plastic, there are also specific ways for the traveller to reduce their use.


Similar to reducing single-use plastic in the office and supply-chain, for travellers it’s all about removing certain products or replacing it with sustainable and reusable materials. Stimulate them to:

  • Travel with a reusable water bottle or even with a water filter bottle
  • Say no to plastic straws and bring a reusable steel one
  • Bring a reusable shopping bag and refuse plastic ones
  • Ignore the free plastic water bottles in hotel rooms
  • Request accommodations or restaurants to reduce plastic
  • Pick up trash and put it where it belongs
  • Participate in (beach) clean-ups and raise awareness

Beach clean up


A large group of travellers is unaware of the negative impact of plastic and how they contribute to the problem. They don’t know about the limited recycle facilities in some destinations and how most of their single-used plastic ends up in nature. Therefore, raising awareness about the plastic issue is key.

Travellers need to be aware of this before they develop their own motivation to actually reduce their plastic use. Provide them with practical tips on how they can reduce single-use plastic during their holiday. Make sure to keep a positive approach. Don’t only tell them what they can no longer use but explain them how they can personally contribute to the solution!

Common interest

Reducing single-use plastic in the tourism industry is a shared goal and of common interest. To preserve the natural resources and protect wildlife in our tourism destinations, we all need to collaborate. The tourism industry isn’t solely responsible for the plastic issues but is in a position to make a change. By working together and to raise awareness among our partners, employees, travellers, and the locals in tourism destinations. Let’s go single-use plastic free!

Practical tips to get started

  • Actively reduce single-use plastic yourself
  • Facilitate travelling single-use plastic free
  • Stimulate your partners to do the same
  • Share your experiences and challenges
  • Raise awareness among your travellers and partners
  • Participate in clean-ups and joint initiatives


  1. Very well written Anne, I like the idea of brain storming and constantly sharing information with your partners and employees, rather than just enforcing new rules & regulations.

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