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Considering going on a cruise this year? While the sun, sand, and a big boat might sound great, there’s damn near nothing more damaging to the ocean than cruise lines. Here’s why you should never go on a cruise if you consider yourself a “sustainable traveler.”

Why You Should Never Go on a Cruise if You're a "Sustainable Traveler" | The Wanderful Me

Last week I learned something absolutely horrifying…

Cruise ships all over the world dump their waste (aka plastic trash, food scraps, and literal shit) into the ocean every single day.

Now, I know what you might be asking… why? And how can that possibly be legal?

I had those exact same questions. So, I did a little digging…

And what I uncovered was grim.

According to federal law, cruise ships are required to only dump treated wastewater if they are within three nautical miles of shore. And beyond that? Pretty much a damn free for all.

Can anyone else scream out a big “WTF” with me?

And to make matters worse, the cruise ship industry is just getting bigger and bigger. Which means, as the law currently stands, the ocean is just becoming more and more polluted.

A packed cruise ship produces unreal amounts of garbage, food waste, and sewage.

In fact, data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day  — that’s  enough to fill up 10 backyard swimming pools in a week. And in a year? More than one billion gallons for the industry.

Not. Cool.

I mean, heck, it’s bad enough that we can’t control our plastic usage, but now we have to worry about whether or not our shit is going to be dumped into the ocean when we’re sailing the seven seas on a glorious cruise ship?

Which brings me to my overall point: after learning what I’ve learned, I can wholeheartedly say no “sustainable traveler” should ever give their money to the cruise ship industry by heading out on a cruise.

Need some more reasons why you shouldn’t go on a cruise if you’re advocating for the earth (I mean, other than the tons of poo and piss seeping into the beautiful ocean)?

No worries, I’ve got 5 for you.


Cruise Ships Emit the Same Pollution as 1 Million Cars

A packed cruise ship sailing out to sea, only to leave an unsustainable footprint and a crazy amount of pollution.

How crazy is it that cruise ships are more polluting than entire cities?

According to this study, mid-size cruise ship burns through as much as 150 tonnes of fuel a day, emitting as much particulate matter as one million cars.

And according to the World Heath Organization, emissions from the diesel engines that most — if not all — cruise ships have are qualified carcinogenic.

Even worse, the Carnival Corporation fleet produces 10 times more than all 260 million of Europe’s cars! Holy crap.

So, not only are cruise ships terrible for the ocean and environment, they’re also not great for human health. Lose-lose, amirite?

Cruise Ships Exploit Local Shops

Shops selling local treasures are seriously exploited by cruise ships.

When looking deeper into the horrors of the cruise ship industry, I was mortified to find out that many cruise companies seriously exploit local shops and communities.

In this Huffington Post article, it talks about how passengers would be given lectures and maps on what local stores are best for great deals and souvenirs… but what they weren’t told is that these stores have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual fees to be listed.

Not to mention these businesses are required to pay a percentage of their sales to the cruise company…

Talk about corruption, eh?

They’re Seriously Impacting Local Communities

A cruise ship waits out at sea just off the coast of a Greek island.

Ever heard of overtourism?

Destinations like Barcelona, Venice, Dubrovnik, Santorini, and Cinque Terre are seriously struggling to deal with the hoards of tourists flooding in from cruise ships.

The cruise ship industry visits more than a 1,000 destinations around the world, and while it’s awesome that it gives people the opportunity to explore somewhere new, cruise companies need to think about the impact these tourists are having on local communities.

Barcelona locals, in particular, have started spray painting around the city “tourists go home!” Even anti-tourism street marches have occurred (in Venice, too!).

Going on a cruise — only to negatively affect the lives of locals — doesn’t seem like ethical or responsible travel now does it?

Cruise Ships Pretty Much Equal Sweatshops Nowadays

Cruise ship workers are entertaining guests on deck, but below deck they're treated like slaves.
Photo by Gary Bembridge | Used Under CC BY 2.0

…Or shall I say, sweat-ships?

As cruise ships slip deeper into the realm of “luxury”, nothing could be further from the truth for those below deck.

War on Want and the International Transport Works’ Federation put together a report called “Sweatships – What It’s Really Like to Work on Board Cruise Ships” and they found most cruise liners are pretty much hell on earth for thousands of workers.

Below deck, hundreds of workers from Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America staff engine rooms, laundries, kitchens and restaurants. Wages can be as low as US$45 per month for waiters and waitresses and contracts are short and insecure.

Even worse, after surveying over 400 cruise ship workers, IFT found that 95% are working 7 days a week with almost zero time off while in a port. And a third of those workers? Putting in up to 12 hour days.

Did someone say slave labor? Because that’s sure what this sounds like.

Could Cruise Ships Be More Wasteful?

A packed cruise ship sets sail with thousands of guests that'll create huge amounts of plastic pollution, food waste, and sewage -- all which might be dumped straight into the ocean.

In addition to tossing fecal matter and piss into our beautiful ocean, cruise ships produce a horrendous amount of plastic pollution, food waste (which is the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases!), and garbage.

Regarding food waste in particular, it’s estimated that 30% of the food aboard cruise ships goes uneaten. But where does it actually go?

Apparently, this food waste is carefully treated and depending on the type of food, it’s either ground up to be fish food (still not a great solution) or turned into fertilizer (if it’s organic matter).

Sure, this might not sound terrible, but how could any sustainable traveler hop on board a cruise that produces such atrocious amounts of waste?

And let’s not forget to talk about how cruise ships recycle.

While they do recycle, on average, 60% more waste per person than the average person recycles each day, it’s estimated that 91% of plastic produced in the world isn’t recycled.

Although many cruise lines have taken vows to reduce their single-use plastic consumption, it’s not enough.

It’s estimated that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050 (by weight). We need to significantly reduce our garbage and plastic consumption — and going on a cruise will only fuel that horrifically environmentally-damaging fire.

Now, I know what you might be thinking…

This gal is crazy, right? Who wouldn’t want to go on a cruise ship and sail the seas while porting at beautiful destinations?

But as a sustainable traveler, I’ve made it my mission to reduce my environmental impact as much as possible.

This means cutting down (or cutting out) things that aren’t necessary — such as reducing my flying, adopting a vegan lifestyle and plant-based diet, not buying food products wrapped in plastic (it’s hard but I’m trying!), and foregoing any plans to hop on a large cruise ship in the future.

As a human who has the ability to make decisions every single day, you too can reduce your environmental impact. It’s not about being the 100% perfect sustainable person — it’s about everyone doing it imperfectly to have the biggest impact!

What do you think of this blog post? Are you trying to reduce your environmental impact? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Share in the comments below.

Sophie xx

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