How to Go Green With Silv: Green Your Cruise? by Silvia Milanova, May 26 2016, 6 Comments

As a cruise goer, I’ve had many fond memories on cruise ships: winning a beanbag toss championship, exploring the crystal-clear waters and beautiful islands of the Caribbean and seeing a coral reef for the first time, just to name a few! Well, I just went on my most recent cruise to the Bahamas, and although I still had fun, I have a beef with cruise lines. If you’re a cruise lover, you’re probably thinking, “Why? Cruises are the best!” And believe me, I used to think the same. But hear me out.

The thing is, cruises still offer the same things that make them convenient and great—all-inclusive food, plethora of bars, shops, gym, spa, arcade, casino, water rides, pool, fun daily agendas and entertainment, social events, cleaning/serving staff. You name it, cruise ships most likely offer it. However, although cruises haven’t changed much since my last cruise in 2010, I have. In the last five years, I have become much more knowledgeable about the detrimental impact human activities have on the environment—something not so true of my freshly-out-of-college 22-year old self. And a 2014 Cruise Ship Report Card produced by Friends of the Earth revealed that most major cruise companies received an overall grade of C+ or below for their environmental impacts—which makes cruises one of the most harmful forms of travel. The report card inspected 16 popular cruise lines and 167 cruise ships.

So although all of the same cruise elements were present this time around, the person I’ve evolved to no longer seemed to belong on this giant floating vessel of “fun”.

Here are a few reasons why cruise lines may receive a low grade:

  • There is a lot of food waste—most of the food is also unhealthy. Most cruises include an “all inclusive” food package. But to me, all inclusive usually translates to poor quality. No one gives away quality products for cheap, let alone “free”. And believe me, now that I eat mostly organic, home-cooked, ‘real’ food, the food on the ship seemed mediocre and rather unhealthy. The texture of the fruits and vegetables resembled plastic and lacked flavor, the fish didn’t taste as fresh as the wild salmon I choose to buy and most of the carbohydrate sources were white and refined. And because food is available buffet style almost 24/7 (at least on the cruises I’ve taken), there is a lot of food waste. Not to mention that sometimes this waste even gets thrown overboard*, as long as the ship is at least three nautical miles from shore (What??). How is this still legal? Haven’t these companies seen the Great Pacific garbage patch? I guess not…
  • Some staff members work too many days/hours in a row, without breaks, for low pay. Depending on the cruise line, staff members may work up to 7 days a week, much longer than the 48-hour week proposed by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). They’re also often paid much lower than acceptable—some as little as approximately $1.10 per hour. In the past, some cruise companies such as Carnival, have been condemned for their low wages and unfair treatment of employees without much resolution or positive changes.
  • Ships contribute to major air and ocean pollution. Even while at dock, most cruise ships continue running dirty diesel engines to provide electrical power to passengers and crew. In addition, sewage from laundry, pool, medical facilities, photo labs, spas, dry cleaning stations and toilets can actually also be dumped untreated into the ocean. This sewage and pollution can contaminate fish, other marine life and coral reefs, and harm port communities and the people who live there. According to the Cruise Ship Report Card and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “each day an average cruise ship is at sea, it emits more sulfur dioxide than 13 million cars and more soot than 1 million cars.” This is almost unthinkable. If we are requiring cars to be more environmentally friendly, why aren’t we mandating the same for ships?

Unfortunately, all of this ‘criminal behavior’ by cruise lines is possible because of a “flags of convenience” ship registration system. What this means is that a ship can fly the flag of another country for a fee, which excludes ships from heavy government regulations.

How you could green your cruise:

  • Choose companies that offer higher quality food, ships with modernized and more sustainable designs and construction, and those that treat their employees humanly and with respect. The three companies that performed the best on the Cruise Ship Report Card were Disney, Princess and Holland America, earning a C+, C, C, respectively. There are also holistic cruises that offer retreats focused on wellbeing, complete with yoga, pilates and other fitness and nutrition classes, natural/vegan/gluten-free and/or organic food choices and speakers from the integrative and mind-body medicine community.
  • Wait until Ecoship by Peace Boat enters the waters! The ship will feature an onboard garden, solar panels, a closed-loop water system, energy recycling and zero water dumping, among many other green features.
  • Explore other types of tourism instead. Eco-tourism is gaining popularity, which means that trips are becoming more common and affordable. These vacations can prove to be the perfect getaway for you and your family, with an equal fun factor, a lower environmental impact and a greater sense of philanthropy and satisfaction.

*This information was actually confirmed by a crew member aboard my most recent cruise.