It’s the key word in one of the best known lines from the Oscar-winning film “The Graduate.” The title character is taken aside by a family friend at his graduation party and told, “I just wanna say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics.”
That was more than 50 years ago and may have been good advice at the time. Things have changed.
Discarded plastic now heavily pollutes oceans around the world. It floats in massive trash islands. Sea creatures are trapped in it, displaced by it and ingest it, most notably by whales that wash up on shores and are found to have massive amounts choking off their digestive systems. In April, a sperm whale – an endangered species – was found on the coast of Spain with 64 pounds of the stuff inside. Earlier this month, it was a pilot whale found in a Thailand canal, beyond saving, with 17 pounds of the stuff in its stomach.
Royal Caribbean has begun a process to reduce the plastic used on all of its 50 ships, starting with single-use plastic straws.
“Healthy oceans are vital to the success of our company,” says Richard Fain, RCL chairman and CEO. “For over 25 years, our Save the Waves program has guided us to reduce, reuse and recycle everything we can. Eliminating single-use plastics is another step in that program.”
More than a year ago, the cruiseline began a “straws upon request” policy. By the start of 2019, guests who ask will be given a paper straw. Plastic coffee stirrers and garnish picks will also be replaced by Forest Stewardship Council-certified woods stirrers and bamboo picks.
After that, the company will target such other single-use plastic items as condiment packets, cups and bags. A full plastics audit is underway, with the overall plan to be completed in phases by 2020.
Save the Waves, referenced by Fain, started in 1992 and brought state-of-the-art recycling centers on board RCL ships, including shredders, balers, compactors and crushers for glass, light bulbs, tin and aluminum.
Once processed on board, these are transferred to ports with the facilities to accept them. The amounts that go to landfills have been cut to less than a half-pound a day, or 12.5 percent of the American per-person average.
Plastic straws in particular have drawn the outrage of environmentalists because paper straws served perfectly well even as plastics came along.
The United Nations Environment Programme said late last year that globally eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the oceans every year, and besides killed marine life, it enters the human food chain.
And according to the California-based non-profit Plastic Oceans, fully half of plastic is used just once and thrown away. In addition, it says, “Over the last 10 years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.”
The organization and many others like it are trying to change public attitudes about indestructible plastics being disposable.
With its new initiative, Royal Caribbean is doing its part.