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  • Natalie Lessa

How to: Make a Cruise More Sustainable

Sometimes the people we love ask us do to do things we don't want to do. It happened to me recently. My longest time friend of 18 whole years is getting married and had been wanting to go on a cruise. So instead of being a jerk and throwing online facts at her, like that - A person on a 7-day cruise produces the same amount of emissions as they would during 18 days on land. Or that each day an average cruise ship emits more [greenhouse gasses] than 13 million cars on the road (a shocking fact from the EPA....).

Or that a 3,000-person cruise ship generates 150,000 gallons of sewage per week — enough to fill 10 backyard swimming pools. Instead I said - hell ya! LETS DO IT!


Let me preface this by saying, I am in no way an expert in these waters (!). What I am providing here is my professional opinion from observations on my 3-day cruise to Ensenada Mexico on the Carnival Imagination, which according to Friends of the Earth, received a failing (F!) report card for its environmental practices...


Top 5 Tips for a Cruise to Waste Less


  1. No plastic water bottles - for $10 we got a 32 pack of water bottles delivered to our door. This seemed very unnecessary. The dining area had water dispensers but it was on the complete opposite end of the ship. I love Earth, but I was not about to walk a 1/4 mile every time I was thirsty. If they would've just put water dispensers throughout the ship and provided cups in various locations... problem solved.

  2. Educational food waste signs - my visual observations in the all-you-can-eat buffet area (which I frequented often) actually showed that most people were finishing the food on their plates. Yay! Including small signs about taking smaller portions may help reduce any wasted food here.

  3. Paper cups at cafe - I was stoked to see that only 1 cafe on the ship was serving drinks in single-use paper cups. I wondered why they weren't using ceramic/real mugs like the other dining areas. This seems like it would be an easy fix.

  4. Cigarette butts - There were 2 smoking areas on the ship - 1 in the casino and 1 on the top deck, which was very windy. There were ashtrays that seemed to keep cigarette butts in place pretty well, but there were cigarette butts throughout the deck. A plastic backing on the rail here might help prevent them from blowing into the ocean, or signage to educate people how to throw them in the ashtray correctly.

  5. Unnecessary giveaways - Certain organized events around the ship used raffles and giveaways to incentivize cruisers to show up. I'm sure you've won a raffle item that you didn't really want before... what happens to this cr*p?


What Is Being Done Well
  1. Trayless dining - trayless dining has the potential to prevent 18 thousand tons of food waste, the equivalent of 30 million meals! Our cruise didn't provide trays for meals, so that's great.

  2. Reusable cups - only 1 cafe on the cruise sold drinks in single-use paper cups while all of the other dining areas and bars provided drinks in real glasses/mugs. Sturdy plastic meant minimum potential for breakage, which is great!

  3. No straws - our drink package included 15 drinks a day, and none came with straws! This is great to see especially considering how windy the decks were and easy it would be for straws to blow away. Although we did bring our own for the bachelorette party...


This article claims that the average medium-sized ship can produce 14,000 pounds of trash A DAY. I find that a little high actually considering what I saw on our ship. How this compares to the normal impact of the same amount of people on land during this time - I really don't know.


Anthony did promise us that in the bottom of the ship they keep trash, recycling and compost separate, which presumably they take care of at the Port of Long Beach. I haven't done any investigating here but would be curious to know what really happens to it. He said there is a large refrigerated area for the compost to keep it from smelling/going rank. He also promised me that the waste sewage was treated in a huge water tank and that nothing was dumped at sea. I begged him to smuggle me beneath deck to see it, but he was no Jack.


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