I just returned from a themed cruise to the Caribbean that featured classic movies and movie stars from the past.  It was just what I needed – rest and relaxation sprinkled with movies, good food, good times, and a therapeutic saltwater Jacuzzi and pool. On the cruise I got to wondering about the environmental impacts of a cruise ship.  It is definitely not the greenest type of vacation you can take, that would be to say home.   I have seen ads for “environmental cruises” that take you to Antarctica to see the impacts of climate change. I wonder how much impact you are making on the environment by going on that cruise, or any cruise.

Some cruise ships can carry over 5,000 passengers.
Some cruise ships can carry over 5,000 passengers.

When I got back I did some research on cruises and learned that according to a 2008 EPA report, in one day cruise ship passengers will generate:

  • 21,000 gallons of sewage
  • One ton of garbage
  • 170,000 gallons of wastewater from sinks, showers and laundry
  • More than 25 pounds of batteries, fluorescent lights, medical wastes and expired chemicals
  • Up to 6,400 gallons of oily bilge water from engines
  • Four plastic bottles per passenger

The majority (75-85%) of the garbage generated is incinerated. The incinerator ash and sewage sludge is released into the ocean, which is legal in most areas of the US as long as it is more than 3 miles from the shore.

Cruise lines have been working to reduce the garbage and waste they produce and the energy they use.  Some actions have been by choice and some because of regulations.  Cruise lines have been making positive changes like:

  • Installing solar power panels
  • Turning cooking oil into alternate fuels
  • Donating old furniture, bedding, and televisions to local charities instead of sending them to the landfills
  • Reclaiming air conditioning condensation
  • Printing materials on recycled paper with soy-based inks
  • Replacing plastic dinner with reusable or biodegradable products

Would I go cruising again? Probably, but before I go I will do some research to find out what the cruise lines environmental policies are before I book.  Here are some resources to help you decide.

  • EPA information about cruise ships
  • Investigate the cruise ship company’s environmental policies before booking a cruise
  • Participate in ship’s recycling and energy conservation programs (if available)
  • Let the cruise line know your ideas for how they can reduce their environmental impact
  • Consider cruising on a smaller ship

Bon Voyage!


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