Sainted and Tainted: Cruise Lines

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Sainted: Disney Cruise Lines – While sailing the seas on a cruise ship is far from carbon neutral, Disney Cruise Lines (DCL) started working towards being better stewards of the environment years ago and now routinely score higher than their competitors on environmental sustainability issues. The core of their efforts have taken a simple approach; reducing consumption and waste, obtaining power from cleaner sources, and purchasing offsets. Lots of hotels (and floating hotels) can claim they are being ‘green’ by offering not to wash guest towels daily but DCL has taken this a step further and actually uses the condensation from the air conditioning units to provide their laundry and deck cleaning water supply. Excess heat is used to power evaporators that turn 1,200 tons of seawater in to potable water every day. In addition, they have installed low flow shower heads and toilets, installed high efficiency commercial washing machines, and upgraded waste water purification systems. DCL also attaches to shore based power when in port, sorts all garbage and recyclables, works with vendors to reduce packaging, and has environmental education programs for crew and passengers alike led by an on board environmental officer. To increase efficiency, they have implemented a new non-toxic hull coating which reduces resistance in open water and have adjusted shipping routes to increase efficiency. In staterooms, HVAC systems self-adjust for efficiency and return to guest preferences upon their return. According to the Friends of Earth Cruise Ship Report Card, DCL is the most environmentally responsible cruise line and the first line to score an A on the annual report card.

 

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Tainted: Carnival Cruise Lines – Carnival has the world’s largest fleet of ships (23) and only 2 have advanced sewage treatment capabilities. Carnival also owns other brands of lines, many referenced in the above report card (Seabourn, Cunard, Holland America, Princess Cruises, P&O, and Costa). The remainder of the Carnival fleet take advantage of the law which allows for untreated sewage to be dumped directly in to the ocean when more than 3 nautical miles from shore. The EPA says an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage each day. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much gray water from sinks, showers and baths. Generally, anytime a company’s environmental stewardship policy references adhering to laws and regulations, it is clear they are likely more interested in profit than being a good citizen of the planet. This point was further illustrated in the NY Times by Carnival’s tax status and ability to avoid paying most taxes by leveraging numerous loopholes. Consider that of the 500 big companies on Standard and Poor’s stock index, 115 paid the corporate tax rate of 35% and only 39 of those 500 companies paid a rate of less than 10%. Of the 11.3 billion in profits Carnival makes, they paid 1.1% in taxes. Despite Carnival executives sitting in Miami, they takes advantage of a provision which allows shipping companies to legally incorporate overseas and Panama is a great choice from a tax perspective. When faced with new air quality standards in Baltimore, Carnival acted like a bully and threatened to leave port for good unless concessions were made. Carnival did end up leaving Baltimore and months later after announced a plan to install exhaust cleaning technology on their aging ships to reduce emissions and reached an agreement with the EPA that would allow them to return to Baltimore. This will help mitigate the effects of the dirty ‘bunker fuel’ which is 2,000 times dirtier and more pollutant than diesel fuel sold at everyday gas stations. While there are sites you can go to and send Carnival feedback, the best course of action here is to vote with your dollar and if looking for a cruise vacation, choose a cruise line with tangible environmental principals as opposed to one who does the bare minimum and uses the ocean as their personal sewage plant.

Confessions of a (Palm) Tree Hugger

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My family and I recently returned home from a Caribbean vacation where we faced a 100 degree temperature swing upon our arrival home.  Our family was overdue for a break from everything and in deciding where to go we chose some place warm and that would guarantee a fun time for the kids, Bahamas Atlantis Resort.  I had rationalized the carbon footprint of our flights and various other environmental costs of taking a trip like this and we did a great job of ensuring our house used minimal energy while we were gone.  At the recommendation of a friend, we even packed lots of dried goods to avoid significant costs for food while in the Bahamas since our suite had a full kitchen.

One thing I was unprepared for and unfortunately had not researched at all was a total and complete lack of recycling.  Imagine a resort with 2400+ rooms, water parks, restaurants, a golf course, and more that does not have a single recycle bin for guests on its property.  Now add in that the tap water has an undesirable taste and color, so bottled water is bought and sold in enormous quantities.  Then add in the normal things like aluminum cans, bottles, cardboard boxes, paper, etc.  Every single item has no potential to be recycled on the grounds.  I was mildly disturbed and had taken the ability to recycle for granted.

After inquiring with the resort staff, resort management company, and doing some additional research I learned a few things; the most important is that the Bahamas does not have any significant infrastructure for recycling.  An island nation that prides itself on tourism and natural beauty lacks a fundamental way to separate waste from recyclables…  The country is working on developing its recycling program and one of the local waste providers is just starting a recycling program.  There are also discussions about piloting a project to collect and ship recyclables to the U.S. and determine if that is an economically viable option.

Other items I learned which offered some hope are that the Atlantis Bahamas delivers their unused food to Hands for Hunger to help feed the needy and eliminate food waste.  The resort also self-treats all toilet and shower water and reuses it for irrigation, is switching to green cleaning products that have zero toxicity, uses CFL’s and has various other efforts in place to reduce electricity usage.

Despite those efforts, seeing countless recyclable containers be thrown in to the trash day after day was troubling.  Moving forward I will be more diligent in researching destinations and continue to use my voice when there are things that should be fundamentally improved.

Locks and honesty

Growing up my dad had a saying that locks were for keeping honest people honest.  That is the simple way of saying that most people are honest but when presented with an easy opportunity to steal some will make different choices.  In addition, a lock will not stop a person who is determined to steal.  Most of us adhere to this principal by locking doors, keeping valuables out of plain sight in our vehicle, hiding valuables in our shoe while at the beach, and so on.

The world is made up of rules; some social, some moral, and some legal.  Often rules that begin as social or moral will evolve in to legal rules in order to help a greater portion of society do the right thing and create consequences for those that do not.  There are countless examples of this.  Years ago it used to be just fine to burn old tires, dump mercury filled electronics in landfills, use leaded paint on toys, treat asbestos construction debris the same as all other construction debris, dump waste directly in to waterways, etc.  While we might still see a pile of tires on the side of the freeway from time to time or hear about a load of old CRT computer monitors being found at the bottom of a lake; it is safe to say that the majority people understand the reason for laws and abide by them.

As new laws and regulations are introduced for discussion, the default argument against them tends to be that it will have a negative impact on the economy and result in job loss.  As it relates to environmental issues, introducing economic fear in to the equation is typically an effective means of creating inaction.  Businesses, especially those who rely on fossil fuels should be diversifying their portfolio of products and protecting their own financial sustainability while adapting to a changing marketplace.  Laws and regulations have shown us the positive environmental impact of shifts to unleaded gasoline, regulating CFC’s, implementing the clean water and the clean air acts, and countless other efforts put forth by the EPA, PCA, and other agencies.

Today we have regulations around recycling that are intended to prevent hazardous materials from making it in to landfills.  In addition, the list of materials which are banned from MN landfills includes source separated recyclables like aluminum, glass, paper, and certain plastics.  Despite this, in MN over 1/3 of what we throw away is recyclable.  To add some perspective, according to the MN Pollution Control Agency 6 out of every 10 aluminum cans (3.6M per day) are sent to the landfill every day in MN despite being 100% recyclable.  In recent years I have run in to several people who ‘do not believe in recycling’.  This is a bit mind boggling to me as recycling has been made so convenient for homeowners where for the most part we no longer need to sort the recycling and there are obvious environmental and economic benefits.  The money trash haulers make from recycling helps keep waste removal costs down.

Adding regulations to recycling has helped a great deal but making it convenient for people has been equally as important.  In the past few months I have seen a lack of convenience be an issue while at an amusement park, a high school football game, and even a backyard party.  In all three instances there were lots of beverages in single use recyclable containers and yet no easy access to a recycling bin.  Most people when presented with this dilemma simply choose to throw the recyclable item away in the trash.  We (myself included) need to demand more in these situations.  This could be as simple as sending the establishment an e-mail asking for improvements or as heinous as making a spectacle while turning your cooler in to a make shift recycle bin so you can bring the items home and keep them out of the land fill.  Today, there are even options for recycling car seats, shoes, keys, holiday lights, and more.  Many options can be found at Recycle Minnesota and the reasons not to recycle do not hold much weight in today’s society.

While recycling alone is not going to save the planet, it certainly helps make it a lot more habitable and has tangible economic benefits.  Please ensure that events you are a part of organizing have ample recycling capacity so we can keep the honest people honest and reinforce people making good social, moral, and legal decisions.  Just like locks won’t prevent all thefts, recycle bins will not stop all recyclables from getting in to landfills but they certainly increase the percentages.  Recycling should be just as automatic as using a lock to protect something of value.