This summer, Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO) is working with cruise operators 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 the AECO in May to lead the association’s efforts to combat marine plastic pollution. Working from AECO’s Longyearbyen office, Auffret has visited 16 expedition cruise vessels sailing in Svalbard. The goal is to collect, systematize and later share best practices to help reduce plastic consumption on expedition cruise ships. Simultaneously, AECO is working to enhance cruise passengers’ involvement in beach cleanups.
According to Auffret, the industry is eager to do their 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,” says Auffret.
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.
In addition to cutting the plastic footprint of ships, AECO’s members 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,” says Auffret. The cleanup guidelines are available on AECO’s website.
Being exposed to the natural wonders of the Arctic, passengers are very receptive to the onboard 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,” says Auffret.
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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