Start with the plastic bottle but what next?

CHIANG RAI, 9 August 2019: Plastic is a pain. We have all come to accept the plain fact that single-use plastics must go.

Decades have passed since the first observant travel executive threw a tantrum, during a regional conference, waving a plastic bottle and demanding they be banned from the hall pronto.

I recall the conference host dutifully replacing the plastic bottles with stainless steel urns filled to the brim with chilled water. Hidden from view staff stacked the empty plastic bottles into neat pyramids as they transferred the contents to the urns. It became a new routine for venues.

We have gone a long way from that stunt, but there is still considerable greenwashing in the tourism and hospitality industry designed only to generate publicity.

Hotel groups are big offenders. Keen to capitalise on the trend they make announcements on goals that are unattainable, mainly because of tight-fisted financial controllers rule the roost, not the GMs.

Last week, Facebook posts berated the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau for organising an event where plastic bottles greeted the delegates.

In Phuket, green campaigns are underway focusing on banning plastic from the tourism and hospitality sectors. Hefty prizes are on offer if you can tell a video story of a project that is reducing the scourge of plastic or promoting a green alternative. These projects deserve our support, especially from the trade media.

As I point the finger at the love affair with single-use plastic, I should admit that my entire media career prospered from the destruction of forests chopped down to produce newsprint.

I never batted an eyelid when TTR Weekly pumped out daily newspapers for trade shows around Southeast Asia. Most of the copies were dumped in the garbage after the show closed and we overprinted copies by the thousand for an audience of just 300 to 400 international tour operators, all to stay competitive.

Today, we can embrace the digital era where possibly 90% of all our promotional requirements can be satisfied through an online or digital presence ending the need to use paper.

There are still media dinosaurs out there who often write about saving the planet while still generating tons of paper waste at trade shows, worldwide. Thousands of trade show daily copies are printed for imaginary buyers when 300 copies would have done the trick.

So like the conference host who turns a blind eye to plastic bottles, some trade media organisations need to revisit their commitment to a cleaner and greener way of communicating news. They could set an example and be part of the solution to rein in waste and adopt sustainability to save our planet.

A report from Singapore’s Channel News Asia this week suggests much more can be done, and many of the options involve personal choices.

The report tells us to fight climate change by reducing driving and flying, resist the need to buy the latest fashion clothing and avoid eating meat.

It tells us to look beyond single-use plastic and make more significant changes in our daily lives.

The Mediacorp survey released Wednesday showed that “more than nine out of 10 Singaporeans and permanent residents agreed that they would do their part to “minimise the impact” of climate change.”

That’s impressive and should encourage travel and hospitality players around the region to do the same. Do we fly to many meetings that could be concluded with a Skype conference call?

But the report claims that most of an individual’s carbon footprint comes from energy consumed, at home or for transportation, or to “make the stuff that we buy, or food that we eat.”

“The most impactful actions are avoiding long flights, cutting car or taxi travel and opting for a vegetarian diet or avoiding beef would also help.”

And we thought the delegate waving a plastic bottle under the nose of a conference organiser was weird. Not anymore.



  1. The term single use needs be examined. I was stranded in a pacific village last December. During our two weeks there the bottles would have been used 100 times. I noticed in the village the bottles were in fact a valuable commodity. It’s only in the big cities where they are thrown away once used that the term single use applies.

  2. Do not attend conferences that are not plastic-free. Duh!

    Plastic drinking straws and single-use plastic bags are next. Straws are more pernicious than bottles. Thais are addicted to plastic bags. At the weekend market, they will buy 12 things, put them in individual plastic bags, then put all the bags in a bigger bag. What a waste! Take reusable bags with you to the supermarket.

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