5 tips to reduce single-use plastic

Single-use plastic has seen a come-back during the COVID crisis, but it doesn’t have to be the default response to creating safe environments while travelling.

by | Sep 25, 2020 | Sustainability | 3 comments

A revert to single-use plastics

As the world starts to slowly open back up to tourism, all of the focus is on health, safety and hygiene. We completely agree that this is of utmost importance. However, we don’t believe that it needs to come at the cost of the environment and our health.

To revert single-use plastics now to ‘protect’ ourselves from COVID-19, is to store up health problems for the future. Whether it’s microplastics in the food chain or toxic fumes from air pollution. There is not much point to shift the burden, we need to find a better balance in reducing single-use plastics.

Tour operators have the opportunity to influence supplier and customer behaviour to some extent. Find our top 5 tips to leverage influence and create positive change below.

1. Know your customer

No doubt you already know your customer very well, but have you re-assessed this since the COVID pandemic? Do you know how your customers now feel about travelling? What are they worried about? What reassures them that their well-being is protected? Are they also uncomfortable that single-use plastic seems to be the answer to hygiene at the moment?

What process changes are acceptable to them? And what steps are they willing to take themselves to avoid single-use plastic products whilst travelling with you? What sort of information do you need to answer these questions and what information do you need to share with your value chain so that they are also part of the solution?

2. Share knowledge about single-use plastic

One of the best things a tour operator can do is share knowledge. It’s great to recommend credible tools and resources to your network of:

  • Hotels and accommodations
  • Restaurants and cafes
  • Transport providers
  • Excursion providers
  • Venues and guides

Help them to build the confidence to critically assess their own operations and identify where they use single-use plastic because they are ‘perceived’ as being safer when, in actual fact they could be contributing to the spread of germs.

3. Work within your circle of influence

If you haven’t done so already done, it’s a good idea to identify all the points in the customer journey where single-use plastic is encountered, for example:

  • Your own offices
  • Tours and itineraries
  • Accommodation providers
  • Methods of transport and transport hubs

When you make this list, identify any items that appear common across your operations such as:

  • Water bottles
  • Food packaging
  • Coffee cups
  • Plastic bags

This is where you are likely to make the biggest impact in terms of reducing unnecessary single-use plastic waste.

Reduce single-use plastic waste

Remove or reduce without compromising health

Next to each item, discuss with relevant team members how you can remove or reduce these items, without compromising the health and safety of your guests or staff. Think about what is within your direct control and what lies within your circle of influence? For example:

  • Do itineraries include picnics that rely on multiple single-use plastic items?
  • Can you remove picnics completely by planning in extra time to stop for lunch and refreshments at venues where reusable plates, cups and cutlery are hygienically washed after every use?
  • Can you include more frequent bathroom stops for handwashing in order to avoid single-use cleaning wipes. As they are often made from plastic and are devastating to local environments and wildlife.

Identify water refill stations

Work with local colleagues in destinations to identify restaurants, cafes or other venues that already offer water refills (or would consider this) and include these places within tour itineraries. Water refills don’t have to be free of charge, but ideally, they are cheaper than bottled water. This may help to convince suppliers who are concerned about a loss of income.

It’s a good idea to promote ‘free water refills’ with lunch, knowing that the cost of the water refill is already included in the tour price. This is a USP for you and the supplier has their costs covered.

Offer water refills

Hygiene fo refill stations

To clean and sanitise refill stations regularly, should be part of a daily routine. Touch free technology is increasingly available. Where refill dispensers have a spout it’s a good idea for a staff member to dispense the water, whilst the customer holds the bottle to avoid bottle rims coming into contact with the spouts.

4. Revise brand standards on single-use plastic

Brand standards have (and continue to be) one of the biggest challenges to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic, specifically guest amenities in accommodations. Aside from hand-washing soap, most amenities are unnecessary and add no value to the customer experience. However, there is a general fear that removing them causes complaints. Plus every additional product is a potential vehicle of virus transmission. It’s time to engage in a conversation with accommodation suppliers and your guests about which items can be removed.

5. Reassure guests with communication

Identify all of the communication opportunities you can use to reassure your guests that you are taking the appropriate safety measures. Help them to understand how they can also be part of the solution. For example:

Before Travel

Contain information on what to pack, to avoid being reliant on single-use plastic in destinations on your:

During their stay

If your staff interact with guests during their stay, be sure that they are leading by example. Among others, include information on hygienic water refills and where handwashing opportunities are along the trip.

Remove single-use plastic from your supply chain

It takes time, innovative thinking and collaboration to remove single-use plastic from your supply chain and maintain hygiene standards. However, it’s worth it to future proof your business from an increasingly unsustainable reliance on single-use products.


  1. Magada Miriam

    Very useful information, will implement in our operations

    • Jo Hendrickx

      Great, let us know how you get on.


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About <a href="https://goodtourisminstitute.com/library/author/johendrickx/" target="_self">Jo Hendrickx</a>

About Jo Hendrickx

Jo is a sustainable tourism professional and has worked in the sector for over 20 years. In 2017 she created Travel Without Plastic, to support hoteliers in reducing single-use plastic without compromising the guest experience.

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