Some topics make us queasy. And for that reason, we try not to think about them. Like: what happens to all of the waste that a cruise ship generates? The average ship has hundreds of bathrooms, and, according to Women's Health magazine, produces 210,000 gallons of sewage per week. But they can't just dump that waste out, right?
...Think again. Laws state that ships must be at least three nautical miles from land to dump treated sewage, or 12 nautical miles for untreated sewage and pulped food waste. Some ships do hold the waste until they get to land, but by 2010, all cruise ships will be required to have a sewage treatment plant or a sewage holding tank for their waste.
And there's more: ships spew gallons of diesel exhaust (see: sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide) into the air while they're plowing through our bright blue seas. They are also harming coral reefs, and marine life. According to the Surfrider Foundation, here's what your typical 3,000-passenger ship produces on a week-long journey:
- 1 million gallons of "gray water" (from sinks, showers, and laundries)
- 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water
- Over 100 gallons of hazardous or toxic waste (perchloroethylene from dry-cleaning, photo-processing chemicals, paint and solvents, print shop chemicals, light bulbs, and batteries)
- 50 tons of garbage and solid wastes
Websites to visit before you cruise:
Cruise Junkie lists documented egregious offenses by cruise ships, and lets you know how much the ship was fined (in all too many cases, they weren't).
Surfrider Foundation explains cruise ship pollution simply and effectively.
Cruises to consider:
Royal Caribbean International has invested funds into improving its green practices.
Lindblad Expeditions makes its message part of its trips by marketing the company as one that cares about the environment and helps to conserve its natural resources. (Interestingly, you have to look hard to find a photo of a ship, car, or plane on the website; the photos are of majestic bodies of water, humans frolicking with sea turtles, and sweeping landscapes).
Princess Cruises reduces its diesel emissions by "cold ironing" in U.S. and Alaskan ports, meaning it plugs into shore power while docked (one average-sized cruise ship can produce more diesel exhaust in a day than 1,000 trucks).
Crystal Cruises details its attention to environmental practices, including educating its staff and customers on eco-friendly living. The company even reimbursed employees' movie tickets to An Inconvenient Truth!
While you're on the cruise:
If you are on a cruise ship and see dumping of plastic or hazardous materials, call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
After you return from the cruise:
Purchase carbon offset credits.
If you live in Seattle, buy a percentage of your energy as renewable power helping to offset the emissions caused to cruise ships that dock at the city's Terminal 30 by allowing them to use electricity from the city, not from diesel gas. (One of the ships is Princess Cruises, which, as you read above, has continued this 'cold ironing' practice in other cities.) If you don't live in the area, find out if your city has a similar program, or start paying for wind-powered electricity.
In the future, try to find ships that were manufactured with gas turbines, which reduces emissions up to 90%, as well as ships that compact, shred, dehydrate, and pulverize their solid waste (both systems are being installed in newer ships).
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