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AECO guides Arctic visitors how to reduce their plastic footprint

Polar bears with plastic litter
Polar bears with plastic litter PHOTO: Kevin Morgans/AECO
Continuing its work with cruise operators to tackle plastic aboard ships and remote Arctic locations, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators issued new guidelines for visitors.

These guidelines suggest passengers prepare before their trip to ensure they take reusable items. During the trip important measures such as avoiding disposable items and responsibly disposing of waste are recommended.

Pre-trip planning

Some examples of pre-trip planning tips: Travel with reusable items such as water bottle, coffee cup, reusable bag, reusable cutlery, etc., that can be taken home. Consider taking a reusable waterproof bag to protect your camera from the elements. When packing toiletries, choose eco-friendly alternatives such as cosmetics free of microbeads.

Choose products with non-plastic packaging such as soap and shampoo bars. Your accommodation may also be equipped with refillable dispensers. If you need to use plastic bottles and containers, choose reusable ones.

Synthetic clothing sheds small plastic fibers. It may not be possible to entirely stop using synthetic clothing but reducing the amount used is a great first goal.

During travel

Some of AECO's guidelines for during travel include avoiding the use of disposable cups, straws, bottles, food containers and other items. Do not throw any non-organic items in the toilet, including wet wipes.

Items like cigarette butts, tea bags, contact lenses, chewing gum and paper cups (which are plastic-lined) should not go into nature.

Make sure belongings are well secured when ashore or on deck. A moment of inattention and a gust of wind can easily blow light bags and other items away.

Ask about local environmental initiatives and how you can reduce your plastic footprint to support the community you visit. Talk to other travelers and staff; not everyone has the same experience and knowledge, so it is a good opportunity to learn from and inspire others.

Continue efforts at home

As well, the guidelines encourage travelers to continue their plastic-reduction efforts once home by following the 'Reduce, reuse, recycle' principle.

'Our members are working to broadly reduce plastic consumption on ships. These guidelines are a way of inviting guests on AECO member vessels to take part in cutting back on plastic. Often, from being exposed to Arctic nature, guests are already very aware of such matters and very receptive when it comes to making more sustainable choices when they return home,' AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen said.

UN #CleanSeas program

The new guidelines are part of AECO’s Clean Seas Project that aims to significantly cut back on single-use plastic aboard Arctic expedition cruise vessels, increasing travelers' involvement in beach clean-ups and educating passengers, staff and crew about plastic reduction measures. AECO has signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN Environment #CleanSeas program.

This is the second set of guidelines AECO has issued. The first focused on the 'Clean Up Svalbard'initiative, which led to a group effort resulting in some 20 tons of waste being removed from the beaches around Svalbard.

The new guidelines have been developed in collaboration with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, which will be issuing guidelines for visitors to the Antarctic.

The project has been made possible with funding from the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund and the Norwegian Environment Agency. AECO’s Clean Seas initiative is also accepting donations through 1% for the Planet network.