If we are going to stimulate the recovery then public guidance needs to catch up with science to deliver sustainable travel solutions and that means the end (again) for single-use plastics

20 August, 2020

The traveller experience may have changed forever, but that doesn’t mean we need to lose sight of the long-term values of some of the industries that have a vital role to play in safeguarding the environment around us.

The travel and tourism and transport industries (aviation especially) have a big black mark on them for their perceived approach to the environment. But the industries have been working hard to build future sustainable solutions, many of which are not as widely recognised as factors such as overtourism and air travel emissions that particularly grab the spotlight.

Covid-19 has hit the world like a bolt out of the blue and left it in a confused state. Quite rightly, emergency measures have been introduced with the priority to safeguard public health, but we must ensure that the circumstances do not mean we lose focus on the bigger picture. There is a lot to deal with right now, but public guidance needs to catch up with science to ensure that coronavirus doesn’t do more damage to any already fragile environment.

Earlier this month Mr Victor A Forcenteain, our disgruntled corporate traveller, highlighted his own dissatisfaction of the fragmented way the Covid-19 crisis is being handled and highlights the need to maintain our longer-term outlooks when devising short-term solutions. Things may be a little different right now, but he highlighted how single use plastics have started to return on aircraft, at airports and in hotels and restaurants as a solution to avoiding coronavirus spread.


Early in the pandemic, public health experts worried that reusable items could spread the virus from one individual to another through contaminated surfaces – a fear the plastics industry seemed happy to encourage. Governments suspended or delayed regulations that banned or disincentivised single-use plastics and many public health agencies recommended or required the use of disposable items.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) describes this as “a situation in which much of the public health guidance has lagged the science”. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been no actual documented cases of Covid-19 that can be attributed to contact with a contaminated surface. Nor is there evidence to support its transmission.

This means there is no particular reason why disposable plastics are returning. In fact, this health expert statement released as far back as the end of Jun-2020 cites more than 125 virologists, epidemiologists, and health experts from 18 different countries making a persuasive case that reusables are safe to use during the pandemic. As they and address, the key is “basic hygiene”.

There’s no inherent reason to believe that a disposable plastic cup or utensil is less likely to be contaminated than its reusable counterpart, say these experts. In fact they acknowledge a study examining the persistence of the virus on various surfaces found that it remained infectious for the longest amount of time on plastic.

Beyond the Covid-19 worries, single-use plastics cause additional public health concerns that are probably bigger and wider than the risk of infection from using reusable products and therefore as MIT acknowledges, while we “must take every necessary precaution” to limit the spread of the virus, we “need to let the science be our guide”.

Sustainable travel solutions are not new, but are a principle that underpin the whole framework of the travel and tourism industry. The are clear cases where poor management has damaged its longevity. It is simple on paper… finding a way that travel and tourism can be maintained long-term without harming natural and cultural environments…. But, a little harder in practice.

It’s time to get serious about sustainability. As The Blue Swan Daily highlighted as the Covid-19 pandemic was in its infancy, almost half of travellers now say an environmentally-friendly option is important, but nine in ten travel buyers didn’t believe the industry was doing enough to minimise its impact on the environment.


It is a clear that a better, more sustainable travel industry could emerge once Covid-19 disruption recedes and the recent deep collapse in travel due to the travel restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19 has provided the time for companies to readdress travel, business to revise policies and make sure they all support sustainability and environmental needs. A green travel policy will be the standard for the future, we just need to ensure that public guidance catches up with the science and doesn’t hold us back from delivering the sustainable travel solutions we all crave.