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Arctic cruise operators double down on plastics reduction, beach cleanups

PHOTO: ©Adam Rheborg, PolarQuest
The expedition cruise industry wants to make sure polar bears can roam on plastic-free beaches
This summer, the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators is working with companies in the field to identify how the expedition cruise industry can drastically reduce the use of disposable plastics on ships. AECO will also continue to engage thousands of cruise passengers in beach cleanups in the Arctic.

It’s been a busy season for environmental agent Sarah Auffret, who was hired by AECO in May to lead efforts to combat marine plastic pollution. Working from AECO’s Longyearbyen office, Auffret has visited 16 expedition cruise ships sailing in Svalbard. The goal is to collect, systematize and later share best practices to help reduce plastic consumption.

Simultaneously, AECO is working to enhance passengers’ involvement in beach cleanups.

Greater awareness

According to Auffret, the industry is eager to do its part in reducing the consumption of disposable products on ships.

'It’s been great meeting people in the field and seeing how motivated and keen everyone is. Operators are becoming more aware of this issue. When I visit ships to assess how much disposable plastic is in use, it often opens up a very productive discussion on what they are using and what they can do better,' Auffret said.

Many of the ships have already taken several steps to cut back on disposable products. This includes providing reusable drinking bottles, installing water dispensers and replacing plastic straws and individually wrapped products with sustainable alternatives. Operators are also asking suppliers to deliver goods in more sustainable packaging.

Beach cleanups

In addition, AECO member lines are continuing their efforts to clean Arctic beaches during landings. In Svalbard alone, expedition ships pick up several tons of beach litter each summer.

'Passengers are generally very enthusiastic about getting a hands-on experience in protecting the Arctic environment. This week, AECO is launching new cleanup guidelines to motivate passengers to be part of this important effort,' Auffret said. The guidelines are available here.

Educating travelers

Being exposed to the natural wonders of the Arctic, passengers are very receptive to the on-board educational programs.

'After you’ve visited a remote Arctic beach and helped pick up litter that has been brought there by ocean currents, it’s a lot easier to understand why it’s necessary to cut back on the use of disposable products. Our hope is that passengers who travel with our members will be inspired to make more sustainable choices when they return from their voyage and continue taking part in cleanups all over the world,' Auffret said.

AECO is working with UN Environment to combat marine plastic pollution as part of the Clean Seas campaign, with financing 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.

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