The company announced a new commitment on Monday (5 November) to “eliminate single-use plastic wherever possible and give a new lease of life to what otherwise would be thrown away”, with the phase-out set to begin across its airlines and hotels by the end of 2018.

Thomas Cook’s first step to achieving this aim will be removing all plastic straws and stirrers from its aircraft, airport lounges, SENTIDO Hotels, Sunwing Family Resorts and Cook’s Club hotels before the end of November. The straws will be replaced with paper alternatives, while customers will be offered biodegradable bamboo stirrers on request.

The company’s ongoing target is to replace all of its single-use plastic items with biodegradable, compostable or 100% recycled and recyclable alternatives. A date has not yet been set for the completion of this aim. 

“Our hope is that by showing our commitment to do something, we will be able to influence others to work with us to cut radically the amount of plastic in the holiday industry, for the sustainable benefit of our employees, the destinations we love and, of course, our customers,” Thomas Cook’s director of corporate affairs Alice Macandrew said.

“We are starting with the big-volume items like straws and stirrers where we expect to see immediate action and focusing on our own-brand hotels and our airline because this is where we have the greatest control to effect change.”

The move from Thomas Cook comes after its own customer research of more than 3,000 holidaymakers found that 90% were concerned about single-use plastics when they were travelling.

The survey also found that one-fifth of Thomas Cook customers were more likely to throw away plastic items while they were on holiday, leading the company to seek a solution for discarded lilos, armbands and inflatables.

In a bid to create a circular economy for these items, Thomas Cook has partnered with upcycled fashion brand Wyatt & Jack to launch a takeback scheme. Under the scheme, used plastic items donated by holidaymakers will be turned into handbags, backpacks and luggage tags.

Making waves

Recent research by WWF found that plastic pollution in the Mediterranean sea increases by around 40% during the summer holiday season.

Local authorities in Thailand this year closed the popular Maya Bay beach to tourists during the summer for the first time, following a spate of littering.

With the onus on the travel and leisure industry to lead the war on plastics, Thomas Cook is the latest big-name brand in the sector to announce a phase-out.

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), for example, pledged last month to remove plastic straws from its global estate of more than 5,400 hotels by the end of 2019, following similar action by the likes of HiltonMalmaison and Hotel du Vin. Since then, Whitbread-owned Premier Inn has followed suit with a commitment to eliminate the use of 12 million plastic straws annually.  

As for the transport sector, single-use plastic bans have been implemented by big-name firms including Virgin AustraliaHeathrow Airport and Eurostar since the start of 2018.

Sarah George

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