The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has hit the tourism sector hard, putting more than 100 million jobs at risk; as countries begin to recover, new UN recommendations advise that the tourism sector builds back better, continuing its push to fight plastic pollution.
The Recommendations for the Tourism Sector to Continue Taking Action on Plastic Pollution During COVID-19 Recovery were released by the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which unites the tourism sector behind a common vision to address the root causes of plastic pollution.
Director of UNEP’s Economy Division, Ligia Noronha said, “When not properly disposed of, plastic products such as gloves, masks and hand sanitiser bottles end up polluting the natural environment around major tourism destinations. We need to take a science-based approach and support governments, business, and local communities to ensure we are taking the most effective measures to protect hygiene and health without creating pollution and causing harm to our natural environment. These recommendations addressing hygiene and disposable plastic can support tourism sector stakeholders in their efforts towards a responsible recovery.”
Representing 10% of global GDP, tourism is one of the economic sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and may face a decline in international tourist arrivals of 58-78% during 2020, putting 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs at risk. The sector has responded with a strong focus on health and hygiene, however these measures, if not properly managed, may have an environmental impact such as additional waste generation, water consumption and pollution from chemicals usage.
The recommendations are addressed to tourism stakeholders with the aim of supporting them to continue fighting plastic pollution during the COVID-19 recovery. The document illustrates how reducing the plastic footprint, increasing the engagement of suppliers, working closer with waste service providers, and ensuring transparency on the actions taken, can significantly contribute to a responsible recovery of the tourism sector. They further highlight the importance of cleaning and sanitation procedures as well as ongoing and transparent communication with both staff and guests during and after the pandemic.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is a member of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative Advisory Committee. John Duncan, Lead of WWF No Plastics in Nature Initiative, says that plastic has become one of the most commonly used materials of the 21st century due to its flexible and durable qualities, but it brings with it many challenges, some of which we are only realising now.